The United States Hotel


By Edward M. Graf
PCHS Publication Volume 1971 – Number 1


United States Hotel, Paterson, New Jersey

James Bunn

Of modest origins, James Bunn was born in New York City in August 1814.  When still a young boy, his father died, and from that time on, the lad’s struggle for a livelihood was of the severest kind.

Later, he always enjoyed telling of the days when, as a boy, he had peddled fish through the streets of New York, and of the trips he made over the roads between the City and Paterson.

His old white horse was as familiar a sight on the roads to Hackensack and Paterson, as was little Jim himself.   He vividly recalled the ferry before it was run by steam when the wheels of the boat were propelled by cranks that the passengers worked.  Such a trip to Jersey City consumed hours, even in the most favorable weather.

The only road leading to Paterson was by way of Hackensack, for the Plank Road was not yet in existence.  Through the storms and sleet of winter, Little Jim made the journey alone on his fish wagon, often taking days to reach his destination.  After disposing of his produce, he would return to New York and repeat the whole trip the following week.

A keen wit, with a cheerful disposition and a faculty for making friends he gained an early popularity which did not diminish through his long life.  He knew nearly all of the great men who lived in and around New York in the early part of the century, and although he had a persistent gift for telling stories, he suffered from a slight speech impediment bordering on a stutter.

His trips to Paterson continued for more than ten years when he settled there permanently with his wife, the former Rebecca Cornwill.  They had married in New York but came to Paterson in 1842.

In August 1844, he opened an “Eating House” at the corner of Congress (Market) and Hotel (Hamilton) streets.  Later, he located t 212-214 Main Street, near the site of the old Walden’s Opera House.  His business was widely known and patronized by the most prominent people in the city.

When Roswell Colt, who lived in his mansion on the hill by that name, had parties the witty and versatile James Bunn was called upon to help entertain the guests.  In this capacity, he was to meet Daniel Webster and many other celebrated statesmen of the day.

bunnad2In August 1860, Bunn moved into a very handsome new residence he had erected on the corner of Smith and Clark streets, a house built by Peter J. Terhune.  Later, Bunn bought the large residence of the corner of Congress and Union Streets and converted it into a hotel.  The opening date as advertised, was September 23, 1863.  He called it the Monitor House, after hearing of the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack.

The hotel was a popular place until July 1867, when he leased it to George Oates, who changed the name to Commercial House.  Oates also bought the Old Colt Mansion across the street, on the corner of Market and Colt Streets, converting it into a hotel known as the Hamilton House.  Although he bought it in 1868, he had to wait until May 1869, to take possession, but he continued to operate Bunn’s former hotel until that time.

But Bunn took over the old establishment, having renovated it and opened it on December 23, 1869.  At that time, the name was changed to The United States Hotel, and it continued as such until destroyed by the fire of 1902.

Bunn had sold his house at 18 Clark Street, and moved into the hotel in 1878.  The buyer bunnad1was Charles Feder, a clothier of Paterson, but in 1888, it was taken over by Manning F. Ten Eyck, who in 1889 sold it to Jacob Haberle.  In 1892, it was sold again to the Exempt Firemen’s Association.

Bunn continued to live at the hotel until it was leased to Albert A. Van Voorhies, who took it over and opened it December 27, 1882, continuing the name of the United States Hotel.  After Van Voorhies took over, Bunn lived for a time at his seaside farm in East Rockaway, Long Island, but soon returned to Paterson and lived at 1979 Tyler Street until his death.

Bunn had no children, except by adoption.  One was Mrs. Anna Garrison and the other, Mrs. Fred J. Buckley.  Mrs. Bunn had died May 14, 1894, and it had been noticed then that Bunn’s health had been greatly impaired, a condition from which he never recovered.

On the evening of March 2, 1896, he was seated at the supper table when members of the family noticed a change come over him.  He complained of a severe pain in his head and then lapsed into unconsciousness.  Dr. Charles R. Blundell was called, finding Bunn stricken by apoplexy.  He never regained consciousness, and at 7:30, an hour later, he was head at the age of 81 years, 6 months and 12 days.

George Oates

George Oates, born in England in 1813, and married there, came to the United States in 1843.  His family was prosperous, owning horse and carriages, and living in style.

Oates and his wife first settled in Poughkeepsie, and it was there that they adopted Emma (Mrs. Sears) having no children of their own.  Leaving the area, they moved to a place near Pascack, in Bergen County, where Oates bought a woolen mill which he operated, it is a trade he had learned in England.  Up to that time, they were still well to do, but for some reason, he sold the mill and moved to Godwinville (Midland Park) where he bought a similar mill.  But he either failed in business or met with some other misfortunate, and was reduced almost to poverty.

He moved to Paterson about 1856, and for a short time was employed in the locomotive shops.  Then, in 1857, Oates and his wife opened an “Eating House” on the northeast corner of Ellison and Prospect Streets, known as the West Ward Hotel.  It soon became famous due to Mrs. Oates’ mutton pies, which they introduced in Paterson.  People flocked from all parts of the city for the pies.  After only a short time near a larger place, Oates moved to the corner of Burhans Alley and Van Houten Street and continued there for several years.

The establishment became a favorite resort for all the prominent men in town, who whent there regularly to play dominoes, drink ale and above all, to eat mutton pies.  It was the evening headquarters for Charles Danforth and many other leading citizens and manufacturers, and it was there that the Oates family made enough money to move into a hotel that had been established by James Bunn.

Oates leased the Monitor House from Bunn in 1867, changing the name to the Commercial House, and operated it until he bought the Old Colt Mansion on the corner of Market and Colt Streets.

The property was purchased from Elias Boudinot Colt in October 1868 and on a contract to take over the property in May 1968.  In the meantime, Oates continued to run the Commercial House.

He converted the colt Mansion into a hotel, which he named Hamilton House.  The price paid for the property was $38,000, and the Colt family planned to move to Jersey City.

Oates advertised the opening of his new hotel as Wednesday, September 29, 1969, a day he kept open house for the benefit of a host of friends.  Then during 1875, he built a large addition along Colt Street to Ellison Street with stores and offices on the ground floor and hotel rooms on the story above.  All rooms were fitted with gaslights, and the formal opening was on November 17, 1875, when Oates furnished refreshments to all comers who inspected the new rooms.

Hardly had he finished the addition the, on January 17, 1878, he died at nine p.m.  He had been slightly ill for a short time, but having a great prejudice against drugs, and inspire of the entreaties of his wife, he refused sufficient medical attention.  At his deathbed were his immediate relatives – his wife and adopted daughter and Dr. Starkey of St. Paul’s Church plus some medical attendants.  The funeral, in charge of John H. Hindle, took place on Saturday, January 19, at St. Paul’s Church.

Mrs. Oates continued on at the hotel until May 1878, when she leased the property to James P. Mabbett who occupied it until September 1882.  He then gave it up and Mrs. Oates took possession once more, but it had lost much of its former prestige.  She leased it to George Gleason.  He made many subsequent alterations, and in time it was claimed to be the finest hotel in the state.  Gleason died in 1886, but his wife continued the business until April 1889, when John N. Clark became the proprietor.

The Hamilton House was dismantled and moved to a new location in 1892 when arrangements were being made to build the new City Hall on part of Clark’s property.  Mrs. Eliza Oates had remarried to Dr. David McNair after retiring from the hotel business and had built an attractive Queen Anne house on Haledon Avenue, later exchanging the property for a residence at 13 Lee Place, where she died November 17, 1895, in her 79th year.  Her husband had died June 18th the same year.

Albert A. Van Voorhies

Albert A. Van Voorhies was born in Godwinville (Midland Park) in January of 1834.  One of eleven children, he was survived only by his sister, Hannah, with whom he made his home at 122 Preakness Avenue, Paterson.

As a youth, he worked for his father, Abram I. Van Voorhies, in his cotton mill in Godwinville.  Later he lived in New York for a short time, learning the trade of mason.  Returning to Paterson, he went into the building business, located at 9 Main Street, residing at 66 N. Main Street.  A year later, in 1858, he and W. H. Langworth bought a dining saloon at 53 Broadway known as Kings Corner.  Then in May of 1860, with Henry Wilson, he leased the Cottage on the Cliff at Passaic Falls, operating it in the summer months for visitors who came to see the Great Falls.  During the summer of that year, he engaged the French tightrope walker, Mons de Lave, to cross the chasm from the Cottage to Morris Mountain on a rope 1,000 feet long.

He continued to operate the Cottage until 1878, and between 1871 and 1878, he worked with John Mitchell & Co. at 100 Main Street, operating a saloon and tobacco shop known as Kings Corner (and previously, as Parke’s Corner).  In November 1867 and 1868, he was elected for two terms to the Passaic County Assembly from the Third Assembly District.  Always a Republican, he was elected County Sheriff in November 1878, for a term of three years.  Because of this office, he could not be connected with his liquor interests and sold both the Main Street Saloon and the Cottage on the Cliff.

But after his term as Sheriff, he was still interested in the hotel business, and he arranged with James Bunn to lease the United States Hotel, taking it over on December 27, 1882.  The hotel was popular with guests who were attracted to the racetracks in the area.

Business was profitable and Van Voorhies and Bunn put an extension on the building along Union Street, and a 40 x 60-foot three-story addition was made to the original structure, doubling the size.  It was also completely renovated and refurnished when it opened in June 1886.

Van Voorhies was justly proud of the high reputation he established for the hotel.  No one was ever known to get a drink at the bar after midnight on Saturday or Sunday, and he always closed the house at the specified hour of the night.  When he operated the hotel, guests were required to wear coats in the dining room.  Even when white silk shirts made their appearance, and weavers attempted to go into the room, they were turned back by the proprietor.

Only two men ever gave him an argument.  One, a well-known physician and the other, Leo Scheur, a grocer, both tried to convince him that the silk shirt was in fashion and that any restaurant in the country would accept them as proper dress.  “That may be all right,” Voorhies replied.  “But the United States Hotel Restaurant will not accept them as proper dress.  If you want in here, put on a coat or stay out.”  They stayed out.

Business continued to be good until the night of February 9, 1902, when the great fire of Paterson consumed the entire center of the city.  The United States hotel was completely destroyed.  In the safe, Van Voorhies had prized a record of his family tree from 1660 when the first Van Voorhies (Voor haze) came from Amsterdam and scattered throughout the upper parts of New York State.  One branch settled in New Jersey – – Godwinville, HoHoKus, and Wyckoff.&nbssp; All records of these ancestors were destroyed in the fire.

In the middle of November 1905, Voorhies was taken ill, and by December, he was confined to bed.  His physicians held very little hope for his recovery even the, and on March 27, 1906, he passed away at the age of 72.  His sister, Hannah, during the time he operated the hotel, was always closely associated with the operations, and was virtually an assistant manager for him during his years at the “States,” as it was popularly called.  The funeral was held on April 1, 1906, at his last residence on Preakness Avenue, and interment was in the Wyckoff Cemetery.