[Note: for those of you who haven’t followed my columns in the past, may I explain the term “Old Cambridge”. Before the formation of the towns of Cambridge, White Creek and Jackson in 1812, the three were lumped in “The Cambridge District”, which was part of a much larger Albany County. My use of the phrase refers to the region made up of the three towns.
[Likewise, when I use the initials WCP they stand for “The Washington County Post,” the local paper from 1849 to 1986, which serves as the primary source for my “tales”. dt]
In mid-May, 1923, Alfred Ellis of Castleton, Vt. bought the Cambridge House. Although he closed the hotel for a month for renovations, he announced that he would continue to operate it as a Hotel. .
May was a busy month in Old Cambridge
The Robert McClellans had purchased the Coulter/Morrison McGeoch farm on North Union (now Common Sense Farm).
The Mary McClellan Hospital Auxiliary brought to Hubbard's Hall the murder mystery, "The 13th Chair". The lights were turned off several times, "adding materially to the proper creepy sensation for a detective story".
Capt. Maxson Post, the American Legion, teamed with the Woodmen of the World Lodge to present at the Hall a fair and an all-night dance.
John Hankard, who had bought the Lauderdale House, was renovating, adding a larger dance hall.
The McWhorters --- father and son --- went partners in a West End grocery business, which survives today as Cambridge IGA.
The annual prize-speaking contest between CHS and Granville High took a step toward equality for women ---a major issue since the Civil War --- when the Granville principal challenged host Cambridge to let women in.
He said that as the 19th amendment had passed, he thought it was about time that boys and girls began competing equally in the debates.
Hubbard's Hall hosted the events. Granville won the over-all cup, but Miss Mary McGeoch of Cambridge won first in the speech contest for her recitation of the Robert W. Service poem, "Fleurette".
During intermissions, the venerable hall rang with singing and cheers. John Galloway, of later football fame, as cheerleader "developed some quite new and original yells, which improved with practice", reported the WCP.
By mid-May, the Cambridge House or Hotel had become "The Hotel Ellis" and was ready for business. That June, the Robert McClellan family moved into the Hotel Ellis while the Morrison McGeoch farmhouse was renovated into a mansion.
The right to sell “booze” has traditionally been a determiner in the success of the local hotels.
That June, 1923, Gov. Al Smith and the State Legislature repealed prohibition in NY State. But Washington County DA Bascomb said that his duty was to enforce the Constitution of the United States. The lines of battle were drawn.
In July, C.O. Pratt died, and Mrs. Pratt sold their W. Main St. home to Mrs. Tudor Harris.
Robert McClellan, brother to the better known Edwin, who gave the community Mary McClellan Hospital, gave the community the nurses’ school, Florence Nightingale Hall. It opened in late August.
One of the chief treasures of the nursing school was a crewelwork pillow that had belonged to Florence Nightingale. It hung framed on the entrance wall. Another was a beautiful grand piano, donated by John McMillan of Jackson, who had also made a fortune in the business world. One wonders where those treasures are today? And how they got there?
Like Walter Gann two decades later, Alfred Ellis wasted little time in getting the local community behind his hotel operation. That summer 80 local businessmen met at the Hotel Ellis to form an association for the advancement of the Village. Mayor B.B. Norton was named temporary chairman. The businessmen decided to sponsor a series of Band concerts, the first in Depot Park.
A permanent organization formed in August 6 at a meeting in the Victory Theatre. This precursor of the present Cambridge Valley Chamber of Commerce was called "The Cambridge Community Association"
A local druggist, Frank Richards, was elected President at that meeting. Richards was for years an officer in the state Pharmaceutical Assoc. He was the first "drug czar" of New York State.
The Victory Theatre was originally a Congregational Church. Until it burned, it was located where A&M Printers was in 2006.
That September, for the first time in its history, the Cambridge Hotel (Ellis) turned white. The Editor wondered at the "temerity", the hotel being so near the railroad station, at a time when the engines were fired by coal.
That fall, the Community Assoc. sponsored a production of "Smilin' Through" at the Opera House. Upon the death of Mary Hubbard, Hubbard’s Hall had been sold to A.B. McNish, the proprietor of the double storehouse on the first floor. He hired a manager and renamed it “The Cambridge Opera House”.
After Gov. Al Smith and Co. encouraged violation of the Volstead Act, bootlegging proliferated. Regular runs from Canada were made through Cambridge. In October, 1923, the WCP reported that the State Police were looking for a large truck that came down Main St. and turned off down Academy St. (right past the tee-totaling editor’s house!) about midnight, more or less weekly. The previous week, shots were heard and State Police were said to have been in pursuit of the bootleggers.
At this time, the WCP went in “hot pursuit” of boot-legers and all local violators of the Volstead Act. This is understandable when you know that Elizabeth Smart owned the weekly. The Smarts had owned and operated the WCP since her uncle James Stevenson Smart purchased it after the Civil War (in 1866) from R.K. Crocker. Elizabeth was, indeed, “smart”. A graduate of Smith College and law school at NYU, she took over the paper upon the deaths of her brother in WW I and of her father, John.
Elizabeth was a life-long force for prohibition and women’s rights, being for many years employed by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in Washington, DC as their legal counsel.
That October at the Victory Theatre, Douglas Fairbanks appeared in "The Three Musketeers". D.W. Griffith's "Way Down East" played to raves. The following week, Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" was shown.
That November a Thanksgiving dinner could be purchased at Hotel Ellis for $1.50.
In late December, CHS' "snappy little football team" was honored with a banquet at Hotel Ellis. They had gone undefeated.
The first baby born at Mary McClellan Hospital in 1924 was Ella Mary Shannon.
In early February came the report of the death of Edwin McClellan. He had suffered a heart attack while on an ocean liner traveling on business to Great Britain.To the community, Edwin McClellan, a local boy who had made a fortune selling patent medicines, gave and endowed “Mary McClellan Hospital. What a shame that we were unable to protect the endowment, nor, ultimately, the hospital itself.