Hotels and Our Ancestors

Do you know of any 19th century ancestors who stayed overnight in an actual hotel? Hotel stays in the 20th and 21st centuries are every day occurrences, but how many of our ancestors had the need and money to pay for actual hotel lodging?

I have to admit that in my own mind I know a good number of my ancestors traveled by boat/ship, but I never thought of them in wagons or coaches pulling up to a hotel door for the night.

However, by the close of the Civil War, families started to have more time to travel. Of course, they also had to have the economic means to do so and such “vacations” as they were might have only been to visit family and friends who lived too far away to visit very often.

My early New England families had spread out over many miles by the late 19th century. Close knit communities had become separated and torn apart as the younger generations moved away.

In “the olden days,” when a familial unit moved far from its original home, I imagined that it usually meant that they never again saw relatives remaining behind. In reality, that often wasn’t true. I have Canadian ancestors who moved into Maine by the 1850s and not only did they visit their previous home, some of them made multiple trips back to their places of birth.

Anyone who moved more than a day’s land travel from one place to another needed a place to stay overnight.  Where did they stay? Well, they probably stayed in a town big enough to have something like what we would consider to be a hotel – a comfortable lodging place with meals available.

While working on my Tarbox family, who originated in Lynn, Massachusetts in the 1630s and by the late 1800s could be found not only throughout the Northeast, but in states as far away as Iowa and California, I made a couple of discoveries.

My 3X great grandfather, George Rogers Tarbox, settled in Calais, Maine.


George Rogers Tarbox
Source: My Personal Collection

The brother closest in age to George was Benjamin Franklin Tarbox, who was 2 ½ years younger than George. (An aside – I think there was definitely a strong family resemblance, too!)


Benjamin Franklin Tarbox
Source: My Personal Collection

The Tarbox children had grown up in New Gloucester, Maine after their grandparents left Gloucester, Massachusetts. Like George, Ben moved from New Gloucester, but settled in Farmington and then Lewiston, Maine.

Farmington and Lewiston aren’t more than 50 or so miles from New Gloucester, but Calais is over 200 miles. George was a businessman and was known to have traveled and because I inherited photos of Ben’s family, I think he visited his brother’s family at least one.

Where did he stay along the way? I think I have the answer to that. Also among old photos that I inherited is one for T.B. Ballard, who it just so happens was proprietor of the Cushnoc Hotel in Augusta, located right along the same road that George would have used to visit Ben when he lived in Lewiston. Today, it is Hwy. 202.

The Ballard family has no known tie to any of my many colonial New England ancestors so the only reason that makes sense for George to have Mr. Ballard’s photo, which even says Cushnoc Hotel on the back, is that it was Mr. Ballard’s business card and George got it when he stayed there. I suppose it is possible that George only dined there, too, but he definitely appears to have paid the hotel a visit.


Source: My Personal Collection

The photo dates from the 1870s. Since the original photo wasn’t important to me and I have a digital image, I donated the picture to the Kennebec County Historical Society, which had no photos at all of T.B. Ballard, (Thomas Benton Ballard), who assumed ownership of the Cushnoc with his brother, Jabez, in December 1865. Thomas Ballard died on 29 August 1881 and the Cushnoc Hotel burned to the ground on 13 September 1892. I haven’t been able to find any pictures of the Cushnoc Hotel, but it was quite the place in its day.

I wrote about the sad life of Thomas Benton Ballard on 29 August 2017.

Can you identify any hotels where your ancestors stayed? Do you have any evidence that an ancestor traveled long distances for business? Where did they stay while on the road? Leave a comment, please!

One thought on “Hotels and Our Ancestors”

  1. I think the only members of my family who would have stayed in a hotel were my great-great-uncle, George, who made a lot of money and travelled quite a lot with his second wife. I have travel records for them so would have to assume they also stayed in paid lodging. Certainly my direct ancestors likely wouldn’t have been able to afford it. My maternal grandparents did rent a caravan on Hayling Island during the summers, but that wouldn’t quite qualify as a “hotel”.

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