Monday, June 6, 2016

Lorain’s Oldest Boarding House Closes – May 1938

Although it’s already June, here’s an interesting item from the May 2, 1938 Lorain Journal. It’s an “end of an era” article chronicling the closing of the city’s oldest boarding house, which had been operated by three Lorain sisters for 38 years.

Just a nice little slice of life of a time gone by.

38-Year-Old Boarding House Closes
as Lorain Sisters ‘Call It Quits’

After 38 years of continuous operation, Lorain’s oldest and best-known boarding house served its final dinner Sunday.

The proprietors, the Downey sisters, Misses Alice, Mary and Elizabeth, who are all approaching the three-score-and-ten age, will retire from business and devote their time to “bringing up” two grand nieces.

They came here approximately 40 years ago from Indiana-co, Pa., and started a business in 4th-st. After a few years they moved to 214 6th-st and following the tornado in 1924, they located across the street at 215 6th-st.

As she reminisced Sunday, there were two happenings from the past 38 years' in the boarding house business that stood out in the memory of Miss Elizabeth.

One concerned a sailor fed at the “back door” by the three sisters.

“He was penniless and hungry,” Miss Elizabeth said. “We fed him. We never turned anyone away all the time we were in business. The next year, the sailor returned.

“This time he sat in the dining room and when he had gone, we found a five dollar bill under his plate.”

The Downey sisters’ “star” boarder was at the table Sunday. He is Fay Pennington who has eaten at the boarding house for 25 years. Floyd C. Brunner who has eaten at the house for 14 years, was also present.

Some of Lorain’s prominent business and professional men have eaten at the Downey’s are, Dr. S. V. Burley, Dr. F. R. Garl, Dr. C. J. Love, Dr. J. S. Mead, Sidney B. Royce, Atty. Andrew Keep, Harry Getty, William Scott, Harvey Hennes, Earl R. Lowrie, John Trimmer, H. F. Ingalls, A. C. Anderson and Francis Lust.


The former boarding house lasted until the early 1960s, when it was apparently replaced by the western addition (shown below) to the brick professional building at 209 Sixth Street. The boarding house's 215 Sixth Street address no longer exists.

However, the fine old white house at 219 W. Sixth Street (adjacent to the Lorain Public Library’s private parking lot) survives. Along with the Elks Club, it gives the casual observer a hint of what the neighborhood was like back in the days when the Downey Sisters served up good food and hospitality.

To really date myself, when I hear the words “boarding house,” I think of the classic comic strip, Our Boarding House. The strip featured the blustery braggart and inventor Major Hoople, who wore a fez while bloviating to his captive audience of wisecracking boarders.

Here's a scan of an Our Boarding House strip. It's from the Sunday, December 28, 1952 New York Sunday Mirror, part of an old comic section that was down in my parents' basement for years.

Interestingly, the Our Boarding House strip lasted into the early 1980s. In the last comic strip, Major Hoople finally struck it rich with one of his inventions.

UPDATE (December 28, 2016)
Here's another serving of Major Hoople's antics in Our Boarding House, retrieved from microfilm from the pages of the April 4, 1943 Lorain Sunday News.


Rick Kurish said...

Interesting how times have changed in Lorain. Did you know that for a short period of time a Dr. Charles Frederick operated a private hospital on 5th Street? About 15 years ago a person doing genealogical research contacted me about a relative whose death certificate indicated they had died at Dr. Frederick's 5th Street Hospital in Lorain Ohio. I did a little research and found a Dr. Charles Frederick who was a physician and surgeon who practiced in Lorain during the 1905-1915 time period. I found his hospital listed only once, in the 1912 city directory, so it was apparently a short lived enterprise.

The entry listed him as Physician and Surgeon, Proprietor of 5th Street Hospital. The address was listed as 202 Fifth Street. You could probably win a few beers by betting almost any current Lorain resident that there was once a hospital on 5th street.

Wireless.Phil said...

Next to the brick building that has the steel legs under it, used to be a boarding house until the owners died. It then went to the next of kin, but has remained empty since.

BYW: Did you see the yellow rubber duck around the police station in Lorain?
I could see it out of my hall window on 7th street, but haven't gone down there for a close look.

Wireless.Phil said...

Correction, yes, that is it, went bye it yesterday and took note of the number, 219 W. Sixth Street.

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