Civil War Profiles – Georgetown’s Brick Hotel in Civil War Days
In January 1791, the Delaware General Assembly passed an act authorizing the Sussex County seat of government moved from Lewes to a more centrally located area. George Mitchell and several others received a commission to acquire land to construct a court house and jail.
In May of that year, the commissioners successfully acquired two tracts, of 50 and 25 acres, and had them surveyed. Wasting no time, the General Assembly officially moved the county seat to the new location in October and named it Georgetown, in honor of Mitchell. (http://www.georgetowndel.com/)
Today, the center of Georgetown, known as “The Circle,” is listed in the National Historic Record. It is dominated by the red-brick Greek-revival former courthouse and the federal/Greek-revival-style Brick Hotel — both constructed in the 1830s using bricks from a nearby kiln.
In his history of the First Delaware Volunteers, Jeffrey R. Biggs relates that, in the mid-19th century, the Brick Hotel was reputed to be a Union-friendly meeting place. It was there that lawyers and politicians met in the bar to deliberate the issues of the day.
As a result, the Brick Hotel became known as the “Union Hotel” during the Civil War. That distinguished it from the Eagle Hotel, located on the other side of The Circle, where Southern-leaning clientele congregated. Emblematic of the national unrest, legend holds that drunken brawls involving the hotels’ respective patrons occurred in the center of town.
The political atmosphere at the Brick Hotel evidently influenced a young man by the name of Edward P. Harris, who lived there with his stepmother. Harris joined the Union army in 1861 and eventually became commander of the First Delaware Regiment.
The Brick Hotel operated for more than 100 years. In its early days, it dually served as the court house, until the County constructed a permanent home for that purpose in 1839. In the 1950s, the Wilmington Trust Company purchased and remodeled it for use as a bank. During the remodeling, the distinctive second-story porch was removed.
By the 1990s, the bank decided to close the facility. Fortunately, the Georgetown community formed a partnership to preserve the building that was otherwise destined for destruction to make room for a new court house at that location.
The “Save the Brick Hotel” campaign resulted in a successful effort to return the building to its original use, as an inn and restaurant with a tavern. The restoration process included original materials to retain its historic character, such as existing trim around windows and doors, the flooring, plaster repaired rather than replaced, and additions matched to existing exterior slate and brickwork.
The revitalized Brick Hotel reopened for business in 2008, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It achieved this status because of, among other things, replacement of the second-story porch, inclusion of the main entrance door with bullseye moldings, retention of fireplaces with original mantelpieces and display of Civil War-era artifacts as decorations.
If you would like to visit, stay or dine at the Brick Hotel, call (302) 856-1836 for information or reservations. However, for those who may be a bit squeamish, be alerted that management acknowledges that this historic building appears to be haunted (http://www.thebrickhotel.com/history.php).
Paranormal investigators identified two individuals (i.e., ghosts) in residence there whom the staff named George and Ophelia. To view a video of the investigation, including images and voices, check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JURlznSr7B4&feature=youtu.be. Be reassured that these spirits are deemed to be “friendly in nature.”
Thomas J. Ryan is the author of the award-winning “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign” — available at Bethany Beach Books and Browseabout Books in Rehoboth. Contact him at email@example.com, or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.