This is the text of an article about the Hotel Lenhart in publication by the Fenton Historical Society about the hotels of Chautauqua.
FIRST HOTEL LENHART
The Lenhart family's long tradition of tourist accommodation was begun by Dr. John J. Lenhart who combined the unlikely professions of medical doctor and hotel manager beginning in 1879. That year Dr. Lenhart, who had been born in Pittsburgh in 1845, came to Bemus Point from Ellery Center where he had carried on a thriving practice for eight years. After the family was settled in Bemus Point, Lenhart and his wife joined her mother in the operation of a small boarding house while he also continued to practice medicine.
Three years later, after noting the increase in demand for summer vacation spots around the lake, Doctor Lenhart built the first hotel which carried the family name. It had a choice location on the point near the ferry landing. When the hotel opened for business the summer of 1882 it was described as being " unsurpassed for sightliness and comfort," with its graceful lines, mansard roof, dormers, peaks and ornamental tower. Both the front, which extended 82 feet along Lakeside Drive and the 65 foot south end, had broad verandas which offered extensive views of the lake. The forty sleeping rooms on the upper floors could accommodate eighty guests. A large lobby, parlor, dining room and kitchen occupied the first level. Lumber for the frame structure was brought up the lake by scows after it was unloaded from the N.Y.P. & O. (Erie) depot in Jamestown.
Summers in the mid and late 1880's found the Bemus Point hotels, large and small, fully occupied week after week. Off season the owners were busy with upkeep and maintenance in the anticipation of the next summer. In 1890 the Lenharts completely redecorated the hotel with new wallpaper, paint and carpeting and built a tennis court for their guests' recreation.
Disaster struck the following year and the beautiful hotel came to a fiery end. In the course of cleaning and closing the hotel for the season, in October of 1891, it was necessary to burn a large amount of paper and general trash. A fire, which seemed to be contained in the chimney when it was first noted in the morning, was discovered in the attic by afternoon. Until the village crews could assemble, the blaze had spread to the roof. Jamestown firefighters arrived but their more powerful pumping engine was not available to augment the methods of the local men. All efforts were too late. The hotel was completely demolished. Although the Lenharts had been able to save furniture, china and silverware from the lower floors, the doctor estimated his loss at $15,000 for which there was insurance for $2,000 on the furnishings and $5,000 on the building itself.
Soon after the October 1891 fire which completely destroyed the original Hotel Lenhart, the family drew up plans for a second, larger tourist accommodation on the same site. In May of the following year it was announced that the new hotel would be open for guests by June 1, 1892.
The new hotel included three segments of varying sizes. The front, facing Lakeside Drive, measured 89 feet, slightly more than the frontage of the first hotel. This larger portion standing four stories high was 36 feet wide. Two three story wings measuring 50 by 36 feet and 28 by 36 feet extended to the rear of the taller building. A steeply pitched roof, with dormers extending at intervals, and 185 feet of veranda stretching around three sides of the building were the only notable decorative features in the functional, sturdy appearance of this second family hotel. The replacement cost of the hotel was $15,000 but the result was a hotel that was " twice as large, more modern and in all particulars a better hotel ." The new hotel's seventy rooms could accommodate 150 guests.
Dr. Lenhart continued in charge of the second Hotel Lenhart in the early years of the 1900's, eventually passing managerial duties over to his daughter, Mrs. Charlotte Johnston. He retired from his medical practice around 1908. He died at the age of 70 in 1914.
In 1941 fire again threatened to destroy the family hotel. Sparks blowing from the incinerator in a high wind, and falling upon the wood shingle roof were believed to have started the fire. The flames ate through the roof to a rear portion, into an attic and then into the attic of the large front wing of the hotel. In spite of difficulties in reaching the high fourth story attic, the firemen were able to turn the full force of their hoses on the fire and bring it under control. Damage done by the blaze was confined to the back wing where the fire first broke out. Major water damage affected almost every part of the building. It seeped through the walls damaging furniture, tearing away plaster from the ceiling and walls. The loss, $35,000, was only partially covered by insurance.
Extensive repairs began immediately. In addition to the interior work of replastering and drying out furnishings, the roof over the main part was cut down and replaced by a flat roof with a sun deck. That same summer the hotel was able to receive its first guests in July, less than a month after the fire!
The Johnston family, third generation members of the Lenhart family continue to own and operate the hotel at the present time. The present Hotel Lenhart, 100 years old in 1992 and the Athenaeum Hotel, across the lake at Chautauqua Institution, are the only two hotels remaining from Lake Chautauqua's busy resort hotel era.
A Bridge Across the Lake
Innkeepers at Bemus Point knew that their prosperity depended upon easy access to the village. Accordingly, Dr. J. J. Lenhart was among those community leaders who met at the Columbian Inn one October evening in 1901. The group had come together to hear the report of John F. Dearing of Jamestown, who was promoting a project to build a bridge across the lake. He submitted two plans which had been prepared by the American Bridge Company at Buffalo based on Dearing's measurements and soundings. One proposal called for a draw bridge which would cost $10.00 a day for the power to lift the draw. The other plan was for a high bridge, 1090 feet long with a 5 percent grade to a span of 200 feet to a height of 50 feet for the passage of steamers. The bridge would be 24 feet wide to allow 18 feet for vehicle traffic and 6 feet for a sidewalk. The total projected cost of the latter plan would be $65,000.
A study committee was appointed at that meeting and nothing more was heard of it.
Over twenty years later, in March of 1923, a corps of surveyors began a study of the lake at the Narrows. According to Ziba Squier of Jamestown who was in charge of the project, application would be made to Albany for a franchise once the survey was completed. He predicted that the work of driving piles and making a long pier on each side of the lake with a "jack-knife" bridge in the center, would begin in early spring and be completed in time for the summer season. He assured the local communities that there was no doubt that the bridge building would be accomplished this time in spite of the disappointments of the past. He also added that at first there would be toll collected for bridge users. Nevertheless, he finished, it would be much cheaper than the ferry.
One year less than sixty years later the Chautauqua
Lake Bridge became a reality.