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Heritage Hunt: The History of the Geneseo House

Old Geneseo House photo.jpg

You may know about the Geneseo House, but did you know that there was a hotel that stood in its place before that? It was called the Harrington House, owned by Captain Ransom Harrington, who became interested in real estate after returning to Geneseo once he was done serving the Union army during the Civil War.  It was a 3 story hotel with a porch that ran the entire length of its State Street and Second street sides.  Unfortunately, the night of July 24, 1869 the Harrington House ended up catching fire and was burned to the ground.  The hotel was quite full due to there being a circus in town that night. Hundreds of people rallied together with buckets and ladders to help extinguish the flames, but there was no saving the building.  While the Harrington House couldn’t be saved, the communal efforts of the people in Geneseo kept the fire contained to just the Harrington House, saving the rest of State Street from being consumed by the flames. The Geneseo Republic recalls an account from a Dr. E. B Gilbert, who told them that he watched one of the circus performers coast their trunk down a ladder from their window on the third floor, something he felt only an acrobat could accomplish.  


The original Geneseo House location was operated by Abram Miller and his sons and was located at 114 East Main Street, but similarly to the Harrington House burned down on May 1, 1877.  The first 3 Geneseo House Hotels were built at this address, which is now the First Lutheran Church.  While the first 3 Geneseo House’s all burned down, no one lost their lives from any of these fires, as well as no one suffered any major injuries.  At this point businesses had begun moving away from Main Street due to the Rock Island Railroad laying its tracks in the area north of the original businesses of Geneseo and the Harrington Hotel was never rebuilt, so the Miller family decided to build their new hotel at the old Harrington location, where it currently resides on the corner of Second and State Street.  


The hotel itself operated and hosted guests for 90 years, being well known for having great hospitality and fine dining.  While it was open, the Geneseo Hotel bragged about being the only first-class hotel in Geneseo to have steam heat throughout the building and a free bus service to and from the local train station. On July 1, 1959 the building was purchased by Stan and Bob Bestor, and in 1967 it closed as a hotel.  The building was then converted into the central office for the Bestor Brothers businesses.  While working on the property the Bestor brothers decided they wanted to open a restaurant and cocktail lounge in the building, and that placing it in the Cellar and naming it that was the perfect name for one in the old hotel.  Then in 1977 Robert Scheafer, who had worked in the building since 1960, would end up purchasing the property from the Bestor Brothers.  Schaefer worked to update the building and open up retail shops and offices in the old hotel rooms within the upper levels of the building.  


Currently, the Geneseo House is home to a wide variety of businesses, including The Cellar which still operates on the bottom floor of the building. 

All information stated has been collected from articles of the Geneseo Republic, obtained through the Geneseo Public Library District Digital Archives. To learn more about this location yourself, check out these articles: 

History of the Geneseo House: 1860s to 1986 - Geneseo Republic Newspaper Article (1986)

Railroad brought customers to Geneseo House Hotel - Geneseo Republic Newspaper Article (2017)

Major and spectacular fires plague early Geneseo Hotels - Geneseo Republic Newspaper Article (1981)

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