In 1821, the Eagle Hotel was built at the southeast corner of 9th and Cumberland streets in downtown Lebanon. It was the first local hotel to be updated with electric and other modernized amenities, and it earned a fine reputation locally and around the state of Pennsylvania as a luxurious lodging establishment.
In 1904, the Eagle Hotel was sold and renamed Hotel Weimer.
After being a symbol of luxury and a social center in Lebanon for well over 100 years, the landmark was razed in 1963.
A brief history of hotels
Lodging travelers in purpose-built structures became a business starting around the eighth century BC in ancient Greece and Rome. Lodgings that provided accommodations, meals, and other services were built in resort towns, next to thermal baths and along travel routes connecting populated settlements. Most guests were traders, wealthy citizens, politicians and governmental officials.
Traveler demand for lodging in Europe and the Middle East exploded with the spread of Christianity as regular citizens undertook religious pilgrimages, creating a demand for lodging that monasteries and abbeys addressed as well. The Middle Ages also saw the rise of Inns throughout Europe that provided lodging, food, drink and stabling and fodder for horses. They were similar to a modern-day bed and breakfast establishment and typically included a community dining room and provided space for meetings.
By the 1600s, so-called Coaching Inns had become popular throughout Europe and in the European colonies throughout the Americas. Coaching Inns provided a layover, food and drink for people traveling by private horse-drawn carriages and stagecoaches. Coaching Inns were often staffed with hostlers who tended to the horses and exchanged tired horse teams with rested ones.
In 1794, the first functioning hotel in the U.S., the City Hotel, opened in New York City. The five-story structure included 137 rooms, a barroom, coffeehouse, shops and a dining room. It was also a social center that hosted meetings, dances, special events and concerts.
In 1829, the first modern hotel in the U.S., the Tremont House, a luxurious four-story, granite-faced, neoclassical-style building opened in Boston. It provided lavish items to guests for the times including bellboy service, free soap, locks on all guest rooms and a reception area. Most importantly, it was the first hotel in the U.S. to provide indoor toilets, baths and running water. The Tremont House set the standard for luxury and comfort which other major hotels in the U.S. soon followed.
The Eagle Hotel (1821-1904)
The Eagle Hotel was built in 1821. Its name, that of an animal, was common in the 18th and 19th centuries as many customers were illiterate and could only recognize pictures on signs. Hotels used names such as bear, horse and fox and displayed images of these animals on their signs, which identified them as a place of lodging. Similarly, an earlier trading post and hotel built in Lebanon around 1760 was originally called the Swan Hotel, which survives today as the George Washington Tavern at 1000-1002 Cumberland St.
In its early years, many horse-drawn freight wagons, carriages and stagecoaches stopped by as it was also a busy shipping point and transportation hub serving the central Pennsylvania area. Its fine local and state-wide notoriety was its best advertising strategy as many travelers and salesmen were lured to it by word-of-mouth communication.
With the advent of passenger railroad service in Lebanon, several hotels were built on the north side of the city including the Lebanon Valley House and the United States Hotel. By the 1880s, there were around 20 local hotels competing with the Eagle Hotel.
In 1886, the Eagle Hotel, likely prompted by strong competition, was renovated and expanded into one of the “handsomest in the state.” A 165-foot section was added on the South Ninth Street side of the building, which increased the four-story brick hotel’s sleeping rooms to 125, accommodating 250 to 300 guests.
It was the first hotel in Lebanon with electric lighting and steam heat, and it included electric bells and hot and cold running water. Its livery stable, in the back section of the building, was improved and advertised as a “First Class Livery – prepared at all times to furnish teams for weddings, funerals and excursions,” and operated 24 hours a day.
The hotel established bus service to transport guests back and forth to the train station and other locations within the city. These early buses were double-hitch horse-drawn wagons that could seat about eight passengers.
The Eagle Hotel’s restaurant and dining room was expanded to 54 by 55 feet and seated 225 guests. It was elaborately furnished, including call bells, expensive linen, and fancy engraved sterling silver flatware. Upscale menu items such as snapper soup and spring chicken dishes were served.
The dining room also served as a ballroom and meeting place as the hotel became the center for social life in the Lebanon area. Many clubs, civic, fraternal and professional organizations including the Lebanon County Historical Society, Inter-State Baseball League, Daughters of the American Revolution, Tall Cedars of Lebanon of North America, Lebanon County Media Society and the Berks & Dauphin Turnpike Company held their meetings, banquets and social events at the hotel.
It was also the headquarters for the Lebanon County Democratic Party for many years.
Most of the area’s conventions were held here because of its location, facilities and transportation access.
The Eagle Hotel also featured a second-floor parlor, and exhibit areas in the basement for traveling salesmen to display and demonstrate their products to hotel guests and local merchants.
Hotel Weimer (1904-1963)
In 1904, the Eagle Hotel was sold to the Weimer family, noted local industrialists, and its name was changed to Hotel Weimer. Under new ownership, the hotel maintained a lavish appearance and strove to update its facilities to more modern standards. Hotel Weimer’s lobby was furnished with leather upholstered chairs, elaborately carved pillars, tiled floors, fine wood tables, a large extravagant fireplace, brass floor lamps and high-end drapery panels.
The hotel maintained its status as a local transportation hub when motorized vehicles including trolley cars, buses and automobiles became the main mode of road transportation.
During the Prohibition era (1920-1933), when the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol was banned, the hotel relied on its coffee shop to serve beverages, albeit the non-intoxicating variety, to its guests. After Prohibition was repealed in December 1933, the hotel’s coffee shop was repurposed into a fashionable bar and cocktail lounge.
Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, the hotel advertised itself as the Civic Center of the Community, Civic Club Headquarters and the meeting center of Lebanon for good food. Organizations such as the Lebanon Lions Club, Lebanon Kiwanis Club, the Izaak Walton League of America, and the Gamma Omicron chapter of the Beta Sigma Phi Sorority frequently held events at Hotel Weimer.
In 1957, the hotel was sold for about $250,000 to one of the world’s largest hotel chains, Milner Hotels Management Inc., “in what was termed the greatest property transfer in local history.” That same year it was leased to the Bon Ton Department store, which was next door, as plans were being discussed to expand into the hotel’s property.
By the early 1960s, obsolescence was catching up to the structure as newer area hotels became more alluring for most travelers. Additionally, the newly modernized Pomeroy’s Department Store (formerly the Bon Ton) was lobbying to have the hotel building demolished to make way for a parking lot.
In early 1963, Hotel Weimer was deemed a fire hazard and a public eyesore and padlocked after all of its contents were sold at a public auction. Greiner Construction Co. was hired to demolish the building.
By August 1963, the building was completely knocked down and all of its rubble hauled away to a dump site.
Legacy of the Eagle Hotel/Hotel Weimer
Many artifacts including pictures, postcards and newspaper articles survive from the Eagle Hotel and Hotel Weimer, which document the structure’s once luxurious style and importance to the development and history of the Lebanon area. The building stood for 142 years and survived the American Civil War, World War I, Prohibition, the Great Depression and World War II, but time and wear eventually caught up to it.
A Lebanon Daily News article on May 17, 1963, summed up the fate of Hotel Weimer when it stated, “During its existence the hotel had brought considerable fame and honor to the city, but it had outlived its usefulness.”
Although the landmark structure has been gone for several decades it remains part of the folklore of Lebanon County.
Today, the site of this former luxurious hotel is a city parking lot.
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