Miles House a Stryker fixture for 35 years
by Kevin M. Maynard
A fixture of nearly every community large or small during the “horse and buggy days” was one or more local hotels that served the traveling public. The advent of automobiles and improved roads eliminated the need for these once-thriving small businesses.
Northwest Ohio’s earliest travelers used local rivers, creeks and canals as thoroughfares or made their way using wagons pulled by horses or oxen, on foot or on horseback.
The first area roads were little more than trails chopped through the woods with no gravel, pavement or drainage. The flat topography and rain turned these dirt pathways into quagmires of sticky mud much of the year, and snowdrifts and uneven, frozen ground hindered winter transportation.
Travel by rail was much quicker, but if the destination was not near a railroad, passengers still faced these impediments on the final overland legs of their journeys.
These transportation difficulties created business opportunities for small local hotels. Many inns had horse-drawn “hacks” that met trains at the railroad station to transport travelers and their baggage to and from the hotel. Most offered meals and many establishments also provided “sample rooms” where traveling salespeople displayed their wares. Early hotels often operated livery stables to house travelers’ horses overnight and to provide patrons with a means of visiting neighboring towns for business or pleasure.
A hotel was among Stryker’s earliest businesses. The village was surveyed September 19, 1853, and the 1882 Goodspeed history of Williams County states, “Tingley built a hotel the same fall.” This hotel stood at the northwest corner of Defiance and Lynn streets and experienced several changes in ownership before it was destroyed, along with George W. Hamblin’s dry goods store, in a December 1866 fire.
Although Stryker was home to several 19th Century hotels, the longest running such establishment was the Miles House, owned and operated by the J. A. Miles family.
James A. Miles was born in New York in November 1826 to Jason and Betsey (Downing) Miles, one of five sons and two daughters. James came to Ohio in 1849, lived in Indiana, Illinois and Michigan, and finally settled in Stryker in 1858.
On November 8, 1859, James purchased Lot 73 in Stryker’s Original Plat at the northeast corner of Defiance and South Depot streets, and the following year had a twostory, wooden frame store building constructed on the lot; it appears that he sold groceries there for a time.
Listed as living in the Miles household in the 1860 federal census of Springfield Township are James A. Miles, 32 [sic], a merchant born in New York; his wife Weltha Miles, 22, born in Ohio; Lucy Miles, 3, born in Illinois; Millia Miles, 1, born in Ohio; Eliza Bradley, 33; Maria [Bradley?], 10; and Abraham McGaw, 19, a clerk.
The Goodspeed history mentions two other children of James and Weltha, “Etta [who] died at Carlisle, Ohio, in childhood; and James B. [who] died in infancy at Wawaka, Ind.”
Weltha Miles died in 1862 at the age of 33 or 34, leaving James to run a business and care for their young children.
According to the Goodspeed history, “Milly W. Miles, [James’] second daughter, was taken by her grandparents to Lorain County on the death of her mother, and has since lived in Wellington and Belden, Ohio.”
On January 16, 1862, Mr. Miles placed this advertisement in the Williams County Leader newspaper, published in Bryan: “Wanted: To hire a young woman of pleasing address to take charge of a small family in Stryker. Applicant must be a good housekeeper, economical, energetic and understanding general house sewing. Wages—$1 per week with privilege of self-work. Good references required.”
To make matters worse, it appears James ran into financial difficulties following his wife’s death. On February 12, 1863, the Press and Leader newspaper, published at Bryan, carried this legal notice: “To J. A. Miles: You are hereby notified that I have this day seized and taken Lot No. 73 in the Village of Stryker, in the County of Williams and State of Ohio, which I will offer for sale on the 24th of day of February, A. D. 1863, at 2 o’clock p.m., at the store on said Lot No. 73, for the purpose of collecting your License Tax, assessed by William Letcher, Assistant Assessor of Division No. 7, Williams County, in September last. Retail Dealer, $10, with 10 percent penalty, and such other fees and costs as may be reasonable, with an officer’s fee of $10. T. W. Stocking, Deputy Collector, Division No. 3, in the 10th Collecting District.” Despite the ominous tone of this legal notice, deed records show the Miles family was able to retain their property.
James survived this dark period, remarried and started a new family. The 1870 Springfield Township census lists James; his wife, Phebe M. Miles, 38, a landlady, born in New York; Lucy A. Miles, 11; John Miles, 4, born in Ohio; Myrta Miles, 6, born in Ohio; and Berdelwin “Bert” E. Miles, 2, born in Ohio.
In the 1860s, Miles’ store building was converted into a hotel and leased to others. In 1869, James and his family took over operation of the hotel, christening it the Miles House.
In 1960, local historian Bernice McElhatten wrote, “Pappy Miles built the hotel and a house next to it where he raised his family. A porch extended across the front and at the rear was a livery stable. Travelers coming by train needed horses and buggies to get to Evansport or to the surrounding farms. Other travelers stopping at the hotel stabled their horses there overnight. Later the barn was moved away when livery barns were built where the Sohio gas station now stands [at the southeast corner of Defiance and South Depot streets].
“Until the late 1800s, Mr. Miles had all the hotel business. Then Lem Peugeot built one and as the trains arrived, the competition was keen, as both men met the trains and tried to draw the hostelry. Mrs. Peter Stuckey recalls a lady coming from Swanton and being met by Mr. Miles with what she understood to be ‘Will you be staying at my house?’ Her vanity suffered until she realized he was asking her to stay at ‘Miles House.’”
In 1874, the Bryan Press newspaper carried this article: “Your correspondent stopped at the Miles House, J. A. Miles, proprietor. We were at once favorably impressed with the manner in which the house is kept. The landlord was prompt, civil and courteous, and the house was kept neat, clean and orderly. The present proprietor took charge of the house in the spring of 1869. He was then not only entirely inexperienced in the business, but numerous changes in the proprietorship had preceded him and the house was run down, but from the first week there was a marked change in the character of the house and a steady increase of patronage has continued from that day to this. Recently the house has been newly furnished and additional rooms have been added until now it is a number one hotel. His tables are laden with the best the markets afford and a card hangs in the office with 13 distinct rules, the observance of which prevents much of the barroom loafing usually so common to village taverns. Mr. Miles is an active, thoroughgoing citizen and has done much to build up the little village with which he has cast his lot.”
While a number of other Stryker hotels came and went during the 1800s, the Miles family continued to operate their inn successfully into the 20th Century. In 1904, the Stryker Advance carried this article: “Stryker has in J. A. Miles the oldest hotelkeeper in the state. Mr. Miles entered the hotel business in 1869 and has continued it in the same building ever since. He is now 78 years old, but makes the trains for transients regularly. He not only makes the trains, stepping with quick, firm tread, but attends to any work, however hazardous, required in keeping his hotel property in repair. He is often seen on the roof of his hotel for the purpose of making repairs to the roof, walking and climbing about with as much dexterity and apparent sure-footedness as any young man accustomed to the work. A few days ago, he trimmed the large shade trees in front of his hotel, cutting off the ends of the top limbs while standing on a tall ladder that swayed with the wind. It is not only probable that he is the oldest hotelkeeper in the state, but the spryest man of his age in this part of the state.”
In November 1902, Miles placed this advertisement in the Stryker Advance: “For Sale— The Miles House with furnishings, cheap for cash, or will exchange for improved farm near town, 40 to 80 acres.”
James was unsuccessful in this and subsequent attempts to sell the Miles House, and in November 1906, the Advance reported, “J. A. Miles, veteran landlord of the Miles House, was 80 years young Saturday and involuntarily celebrated by getting kicked by the family cow.”
In April 1908, the Stryker Advance announced, “D. H. Berrier has rented the Miles House and has thoroughly remodeled it for the accommodation of the public.” This arrangement, however, was short-lived, and in October 1910, the Advance noted, “Uncle Miles has decided to dispose of all his hotel furnishings and will have a public sale of the same Saturday, October 29.”
James A. Miles died at his Stryker home in September 1911 at age 84 and was buried next to his first wife, Weltha, in Stryker’s Oakwood Cemetery. Lucy Miles died in 1915, followed by her stepmother, Phebe, in 1918; both were buried in Oakwood Cemetery.
C. B. Farber purchased the former hotel in 1913 and was soon “engaged in tearing out the partitions in the upper part of the Miles House preparatory to moving the building to the back of the lot for use as a livery stable.”
Farber soon sold the hotel property to Charles Schroeder Sr. It appears Schroeder leased the building to local agricultural implement dealer D. M. Buehrer, as the September 11, 1913, issue of the Stryker Advance stated, “D. M. Buehrer is finishing off the lower room of the old Miles House to use for a buggy repository in summer and a public hall in winter.
Regarding the hotel’s later history, Bernice McElhatten wrote: “It was planned to use it as a theater, but after one picture it was condemned for such use. In the intervening years, the building has been used as a feed mill, for public auctions, as auto storage, and for many years as a hatchery managed by two or three different parties until Rolland Wyse took it over in 1937. After he discontinued his hatchery, the building was unoccupied except for a brief period when a machine shop located there.”
The old hotel building was razed in 1960 to make room for Rolland and Delilah Wyse’s Stryker Dairy Isle/Polly’s Drive-In, which became a Stryker institution in its own right. The site today is occupied by Stryker LP.
---Appeared in the Summer 2007 Bean Creek Chronicle