The Hotel Stephany was a familiar sight and gathering place at 35 North Main St. in Pittsford, NY from 1901 until its demolition on August 23, 1971.
The hotel, originally named the Exchange Hotel, was built in 1901 on the site of the old two-story Hilficker Hotel, which burned to the ground at the turn of the 19th century. Henry Hilficker rebuilt the structure, adding a third floor.
The hotel was nested between the Barge Canal and the Pittsford Railroad Station - offering an ideal location for attracting customers from both the "canallers" and traveling salesmen, in addition to business from the townspeople of Pittsford. Although the bar trade was the mainstay of the Hotel in later years, the hotel did not serve liquor at first. Men working on the canal or the railroad would reside in one of the hotel's 35 rooms for no more than a few weeks at a time.
In the early part of the century the hotel frequently changed owners, and in the 1920s it was renovated as an apartment building. In 1938, my grandfather, Alfred J. Stephany, owner of the popular Trolley Grill at 69 North Main Street, purchased the Exchange Hotel for the sum of $2,250 - changing its name to the Hotel Stephany.
Al Stephany converted the 35 rooms of the hotel into four large apartments. The bar room featured a tin ceiling, a long wooden bar with a nicely carved back bar. The spacious room adjoining the bar became a favorite banquet hall for the town. Good food for hungry customers - (steak sandwiches for 25 cents, and limburger sandwiches with onion on pumpernickel bread were specialties) was served in the dining hall - prepared by Al's mother, Anna Stephany, and his sister, Edna Esker. Al's daughters worked the banquet room as waitresses, and his son Edward remembers reluctantly preparing the smelly limburger sandwiches for bar patrons (who assured him that he didn't know what he was missing). A large Christmas tree was displayed in the dining hall each December, decorated with a piece of popcorn pinned to the end of each branch.
In August of 1940, the Hotel Stephany was the scene of an infamous brawl among several hard-drinking "canallers" and patrons of the Hotel, which ended tragically the following morning with the discovery of a dead man floating in the Barge Canal.
More often, however, the Hotel Stephany was a gathering place for friends, relatives, and neighbors, in addition to serving as host for community organizations such as the Lion's Club. Many card games were played, records from the juke box were danced to, and countless congenial conversations.
My memories of the Hotel Stephany all stem from the 1950s and early 1960s, with visits on weekends and holidays, especially Christmas. The entire family - grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins - would gather every Christmas Eve, with a beautifully decorated tree secreted from the children in another room until our grandfather determined we had suffered enough suspense. A highlight would be guessing how many pieces of popcorn were on the tree, with a special present for the grandchild who guessed correctly. During the summer we would watch parades from the second-story porch, and enjoy the bowling machine in the banquet room. That's me as a young boy in the picture at left below, getting ready to impress my grandmother, Mildred Stephany, my Uncle Ed, and cousin Lynn with my "skill". The picture at right below is of my cousin Chris Westbrook, my brother Wayne (middle) and myself (standing).
When the Hotel Stephany was sold by my grandfather at his retirement in 1963, and then destroyed by a wrecking ball less than ten years later, a piece of the family heart was lost. Although many years have now gone by, it is my hope that this page brings happy reminders of pleasant hours spent at The Hotel Stephany.