Monday, August 3, 2020

Tales of Woe at 1893 Grand Central Ave.

by Erin Doane, Curator  

The house that once stood at 1893 Grand Central Avenue had served as a hotel, boarding house, tavern, inn, restaurant, and private home throughout its history. It was also a place of misfortune for many who lived, drank, dined, and slept there. Police raids, illnesses, car crashes, battles with city hall, and butcher knife fights befell those who passed through its doors. Perhaps 1893 is an unlucky number.

It is important to note that sometime in the last quarter of the 20th century, houses on many streets were renumbered to comply with the 911 emergency system. The property I’m writing about was physically located on Grand Central Avenue near what is now Eldridge Park Road.

Elmira Star-Gazette, January 18, 1895

In the 1890s, John Thetgee was the proprietor of a hotel at number 1893 Grand Central Avenue. He would regularly hold dances that were attended by some shady characters, including workers from the nearby glass factory and women who didn’t have the best reputations. It was apparently fairly typical for the glass workers to get into arguments about who would be taking said women home at the end of the night.

On January 18, 1895 one such quarrel turned violent. Three young man escaped in a sleigh with several glass blowers in hot pursuit. The two parties met again near the D.L.&W. Railroad tracks where the glass workers attacked the other men with butcher knives. The three young men in the sleigh suffered a number of wounds, but were able to get away with their lives. Two glass workers were arrested for the incident. They pled guilty to charges of intoxication and paid $10 fines, but claimed they knew nothing about the knife assault.

In the 1910s Henry G. Foster became owner of 1893 Grand Central and operated a hotel and saloon there. He was accused of violating the liquor tax law on August 16, 1914. At his trial in October, he was found guilty and was surprised at the stiff sentence that was imposed on him – a $200 fine and three months in county jail. He pleaded with the judge saying he had a wife and children to care for, but the judge replied that he should have considered them before breaking the law.

In 1915, Henry Foster’s wife Myrtle was issue a liquor license for the establishment, so it seems she was now in charge. Her luck at 1893 Grand Central wasn’t much better than his, however. 1918 was a rough year in particular. Myrtle’s father Charles Evans died in the house on July 14. In October, the Spanish flu swept through the family. Henry was gravely ill, as were their two daughters, Bernice and Helen. 20-year-old Bernice was taken to the Arnot Ogden Hospital with influenza and pneumonia on October 10 and died just days later.

Star-Gazette, October 19, 1918

By the 1920s, Myrtle was having a tough time running their boarding house and tavern. The property was listed several years in the newspaper for unpaid taxes. Perhaps that’s why she turned a blind eye, or even encouraged, certain goings on at the Foster Hotel. On April 15, 1926, the establishment was raided by federal agents and state police. Six guests were arrested along with Myrtle, who was charged with violating prohibition laws and conducting a house of ill repute. Two of those arrested, Margaret King and Clarence Huntley, were found together in one of the bedrooms. While they were both married, they were not married to each other. They pled guilty to statutory offenses, paid $25 fines, and Margaret agreed to testify against Myrtle.

Star-Gazette, May 27, 1926

Two days before her trial, Myrtle was riding in an automobile with her husband and daughter at 2 o’clock in the morning when the vehicle was hit by another car. Talk about unlucky. She suffered cuts from flying glass, but was not injured badly enough to have her trial postponed. Even though Margaret King, the star witness for the prosecution, had disappeared and thus could not testify, the jury only took ten minutes to decide Myrtle was guilty as charged. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find what her sentence was.

The hotel stayed open for several more years under the Foster proprietorship and its character seemed unchanged. Henry Foster was charged with violating prohibition law in May 1928 and again that November. On August 1932, the location’s bad luck reared its head again when the Fosters’ barn, workshop, and garage containing three automobiles and a large quantity of tools were destroyed by fire. By 1933 their daughter Helen M. Foster had taken over operations. That year, she was granted a license to sell beer and wine at the newly rebranded Century Inn.

Star-Gazette, May 12, 1934

In the late 1930s, the Fortuna family took ownership of 1893 Grand Central Avenue and ran it as the Fortuna Inn. The bad luck that clung to the place seemed to be mostly held at bay until 1961. That was when Thatcher Glass decided to expand their operations. In order to do so, they needed an easement to a portion of Grand Central Avenue that was held by Katherine Fortuna. After not being able to get their way when dealing directly with her, Thatcher representatives went to the City Planning Commission and had them secure the easement despite Katherine’s objections. Thatcher did construct a new entrance to the property and the Fortuna Inn continued to operate as a restaurant and tavern until the early 1990s.

Misfortune struck one last time on June 10, 2015. The former hotel, boarding house, tavern, and inn had sat abandoned for years when fire broke out. It was heavily damaged and eventually torn down, thus ending its years of woe.


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