The Emmitt House,|
The year 1861 may have been the most traumatic year in this nation's history. The nation was split by civil war, and the first man from Waverly was killed in battle, John Barnes, had died in June, 1861. Waverly resident's, caught in the national war frenzy, still took time out to admire the construction of James Emmitt's new hotel at the corner of Water and Market streets. The Emmitt House was being constructed on the site of an earlier frame hotel, originally owned by a former business partner of James Emmitt.
Emmitt, the town's main entrepreneur, was building the hotel in anticipation of his greatest political achievement, the transfer of the county seat from Piketon to Waverly. Waverly was located along the route of the Ohio Erie Canal, which was completed in 1832. Emmitt was the first to see the business potential of the canal, and in the next two decades made a fortune hauling grain, operating a mill, and distilling whiskey. He realized in the late 1850's the potential of Waverly was limited as long as the county seat was located in Piketon. Emmitt organized a group of Waverly businessmen to finance the expensive process of convincing the Ohio General Assembly and, later the citizens of Pike County that the county seat should be moved. The final vote would go before the voters in October, 1861 and Emmitt was sufficiently confident of success to start building his new hotel, a structure he expected would be as fine as any along the canal.
Among the craftsmen Emmitt employed on the project was Madison Hemings, who had first come to Pike County in the early 1830's and was generally considered a master carpenter. It was rumored, and never denied by Hemings, that he was the illegitimate son of Thomas Jefferson by a slave woman, Sally Hemings. A century later, Heming's story would be a central part of a major historical controversy.
The Emmitt House when it was finished gained a reputation as one of Scioto Valley's finest hotels. It was a center for the hardware and dry goods salesmen, who would open their sample cases in front of a room set aside as the "Drummers Room". After the Waverly merchants had placed their orders, the drummers would then hire a horse and buggy and visit the rural storekeepers in Pike County.
Railroads supplanted the Ohio-Erie Canal in the late 1870's. The Scioto Valley Railroad and the Ohio Southern each ran several trains through Waverly daily. The Emmitt House operated a horse-drawn bus which met each train, carrying passengers to and from the Emmitt House. Hotel guests could also take the bus to performances at Emmitt's Opera House on Walnut Street. The Opera House, converted from an unfinished Catholic church in 1875, offered travelling drama and musical troops on a monthly basis well into the 1890's.
James Emmitt encouraged those who suggested he was the Scioto Valley's first millionaire. He was a self-promoter who lived pretentiously. His main source of wealth was his distillery, but heavy taxation and regulation wiped out the profits for small distilleries after the Civil War. By the time of his death in 1893, much of his fortune was gone. The Emmitt House remains a living memorial a century later.
In 1989, a year long construction project was completed and the Emmitt House was restored to resemble its birth in1861. Due to modern demands, some interior changes were made but whenever possible, the historical flavor and design was retained.In addition to offering fine food and drink, the Emmitt House is also the center of many and varied community activities. Dances, Amateur Nights, Comedy Performances, Tournaments, and even Physics will make appearances throughout the year.
The Emmitt House is listed on the National Register of Historical Places.