All the Wiser: Building a ‘Great’ place to stay

By Joy Burgess-Carrico | Published Saturday, February 16, 2019
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Shadow of the Past

SHADOW OF THE PAST – The Greathouse Hotel spanned the south side of the square from 109 to 119 Main Street (the four middle sections that are uniform in design). This photo was taken Feb. 14, 2019, classic Ford notwithstanding. Messenger Photo by Joy Burgess-Carrico

Roy Eaton came to me and asked, “What ever happened to the Greathouse Hotel?”

In April of 1919, the businessmen of Decatur met at the behest of the mayor and determined that a new hotel was needed. The International Hotel, which was Decatur’s “luxury” hotel – despite being the site of a murder and several burglaries – had burned down a few years before.

BEST BED IN TOWN – Advertisement from May 26, 1922, urging oilmen to stay at the Greathouse.

C.B. Beard, who owned the property that the hotel would soon stand on, was given a bonus to build a hotel. It was named Greathouse after Henry Greathouse (1828-1902).

Henry Greathouse came to Wise County in 1871, to buy and sell foreign exchange and to loan money. He helped organize the First National Bank of Decatur.

Greathouse had accumulated considerable property at the time of his death and held at least partial interest in most of the south side of the square. C.B. Beard was his son-in-law, having married Ella Greathouse in 1876. Given Beard’s ties with Greathouse and Greathouse’s ties to the land, Greathouse Hotel seems appropriate. Plus, Greathouse Hotel is an obvious choice for a name. Beard Hotel doesn’t sound nearly as good.

The Greathouse Hotel opened for business with a banquet on March 31, 1922. Tickets cost $2 a plate. For the first month, the Messenger published the names of those who registered. The first registrant listed on Friday, March 31, was A.O. Hytt of Dallas.

The hotel rooms were all outside rooms, and most had bath connections. The rooms were furnished with iron beds and wooden wardrobes.

One end of the hotel was reserved as the “cowboy hotel,” where the less desirable, and considerably less clean trail riders stayed.

Joy Burgess-Carrico

The south side of the square is divided into four lots, and the Greathouse occupied the east 1/2 of lot 1, all of lot 2, and the west 1/2 of lot 3.

The hotel changed management multiple times and underwent modernization several times over the years.

It housed a restaurant and a coffee shop at different times. Those businesses also changed hands multiple times.

A chiropractor set up shop in the Greathouse at one point, and it was the gathering location for seminars and meetings of all kinds of groups. The Lions Club held its inaugural meeting at the Greathouse in July 1925.

It is part of the lore of the Greathouse that Amelia Earhart spent the night there once.

She did have lunch on Jan. 25, 1936, but I doubt she stayed the night. “Amelia Earhart, number one woman flier of the world and rated among the five great women of the United States, … stopped in Decatur Saturday, taking lunch at the Greathouse Hotel. She was en route from Wichita Falls to Denton where she was to fill a speaking engagement at [TWU] Saturday evening.” Earhart was on a speaking tour that took her from Denton on Jan. 25 to Edmond, Okla., on Jan. 27. The Daily Oklahoman reported that the group arrived in Oklahoma City late in the afternoon on Sunday, Jan. 26. “The trio drove here from Denton, Texas.”

Sorry to debunk the idea, but it doesn’t look like the famous flyer slept here.

As for Earhart’s lunch at the Greathouse, it created enough of a stir to make the paper. She, her husband George Putnam and a stunt flyer named Blanche Noyes ate lunch and gave out some autographs, then headed to Denton for that evening’s lecture. A good time was undoubtedly had by all.

The hotel does not show up in the newspapers except as the meeting place for various things. A baby photo contest was held in August 1955. The winners were promised publication in the Messenger. First prize went to Michael James Reed, second to Sheryl Frances Boner and third to Debbie Kay White.

At the time the Greathouse was deemed necesssary, trains and horses were the dominant modes of transportation, and Decatur was a convenient stopping place for traveling salesmen. With the building of the highways, bypassing Decatur was inevitable, and the Greathouse was less and less needed. The Greathouse closed its doors on Oct. 25, 1974.

Today several businesses occupy the space that once housed the Greathouse, including Harris Vacuum and Music, Nooks and Crannies, a mediator’s office, Main Street Antiques and Bishop and Bishop Law Office. The upstairs is currently not in use, but the old claw-foot bathtubs are apparently still there, as are other items used while the hotel was in business.

Joy Burgess-Carrico is a Messenger graphic artist. Email her at jcarrico@wcmessenger.com with your questions.

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