MILFORD – No doubt one of the busiest intersections in Pike County, Pa. is at Milford Borough’s lone traffic light, where Harford and Broad Streets meet, the junction of Route 6 and Route 209.
In the midst of Milford’s Historic District, drivers and passengers waiting at a red light may enjoy the grand historic landmarks of Forest Hall, Milford Community House and the Hotel Dimmick, each well over a century old.
But that’s only three corners. On the fourth, southwest corner is a Walgreens pharmacy. The business occupies a building of much more recent origin than its historic neighbors. What was there before? This is the story of the fourth old landmark, the Crissman Hotel, which was lost in a fire.
Milford, Pa. and the surrounding area along the Delaware River Valley saw a boom in hotels, resorts and boarding houses following the Civil War.
Train loads of tourists and summer vacationers arrived from the city to the Port Jervis, NY station, and switch to the waiting Hiawatha stagecoach – and later a jitney bus- to reach any one of numerous, well-appointed lodging accommodations, taking advantage of the fresh air, scenery and outdoor recreation abounding here.
The rumbling ride from the depot was well worth it, with the vistas laid before you, from Port Jervis to Milford, giving you views of the massive ridge – Taylor’s Bluff on one side, the Delaware River on the other; bucolic farms were spread out between. Along came the Victorian charm of Milford, and soon enough your driver pulled up to the Crissman House. You meet the proprietor, Frank B. Crissman.
An article published in Commemorative Biographies in 1900 stated, “Frank Crissman … has won the esteem of the travelling public by his efficient management of that well-known hostelry.
“A select class of guests from the larger cities make it their headquarters during the summer season, and at all times of year parties of wheelmen and others find there a pleasant place for an evening’s recreation.”
Crissman House was already an old landmark, however, in 1900.
The house was originally called The Pike County House, erected around 1818-1819 on vacant land by Timothy Candee. The property would change hands frequently.
In 1820, the sheriff sold the property to John Clark. It was described as having a large home and barn. Clark finished the building and began keeping a store and tavern in 1825 and kept it until 1832.
Clark was followed by: William Dutcher 1832-1836; A.B. Templeton, about 1836-1837; Colonel H.S. Mott, a noted politician, had charge in 1838-1839; Ira Coburn, 1840-1842. George Biddis, 1842-1843; Charles F. Mott, 1844-1845; Jacob S. Sandt, 1845-184; Oscar H. Mott, 1848-1849; H.S. Mott resumed control, 1850-1853.
A well known regional journalist was Ed Mott, who was born at the Crissman House in 1845, when it was operated at the time by his father, Charles Fox Mott. Ed died at Goshen, NY, April 7, 1920. Ed Mott worked at various newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania and beyond. He did promotion work for the Erie Railroad in the late 1870’s, writing much about his beloved Pike County. He was credited with bringing many summer boarders to the area.
In the early decades there was lodging for fifty guests. There was a tap room, dining room and dance hall. It was one the first hotels in Pike County to be open year-round.
Became the Crissman House
Cyrus Crissman then purchased the property from Mott, made many improvements, and changed the name to the Crissman House. He added a third story in 1857. After his death in 1860, the business was carried on his widow through her brother-in-law Ira Crissman. John Jones, Henry Bull (a son-in-law to Mrs. Crissman) and one named Parmer operated it until 1876, when Cyrus’ son, Frank B. Crissman assumed the management.
The house became Democratic headquarters in the 19th century, bringing it a large local patronage. Most of the important political meetings were held there, the 1900 account stated. “…Could those venerable walls speak, many are the stories they could relate, of schemes and plots and counterplots which have been hatched beneath its roof for the promotion of the ambition of office-seekers of that stripe,” the account reads.
We could even list their guests who stayed there, at least during the late 1890’s. The Pike County Press was listing the local hotel registries on the front page.
A description in 1886 stated the Crissman House could accommodate 60 guests comfortably, and one hundred have been fed at their tables. Frank Crissman added a bowling alley, in a long, separate frame building nearby, off West Harford Street.
The 1905 Milford map shows a first floor plan of the Crissman House. The saloon was in an extension of the west side along East Harford Street. The parlor was on the northeast corner facing the two streets; the dining room was in back of this. The office was between the parlor and saloon. Way in the back there was an attached garage, and in 1905 was being used to store bicycles- undoubtedly the wheels of their patrons. Touring groups of bicycle enthusiasts was all the rage in the early 20th century. Previously, the barn in the back served as the hotel livery.
The place was popular with hunters, who lodged there in the fall. The house also had its share of jurors.
One of the rooms, in the northeast corner, still had its original furniture, well preserved. Milford Lodge, No. 82 Free and Accepted Masons, met at the Crissman House.
“The reading room was always a favorite place for the village people,” so said the 1900 article, “and here ‘Uncle Ira’ and the several characters who go to make up ‘Childe Harold’s’ wonderful tales nightly assembled, chewed their tobacco, smoked their pipes and spun their yarns.” On long winter nights one would find townspeople resorting there.
The dining room contained a large, open fireplace over which was inscribed, “As ancient is this hostelry as any in the land may be.”
Frank Crissman’s grandparents George and Sarah Crissman sailed over from Holland early in the 19th century and settled in Sussex County, NJ. They had five children. Cyrus Crissman, Frank’s father, was born in 1826 in Sussex County. After farming for a while, in 1844 he came to Pike County and for six years operated the Shohola House in Shohola, before purchasing what would become the Crissman House in Milford.
Cyrus was described as a man of a mild disposition, a successful businessman and prominent local Democrat. He died December 29, 1860. He and his wife Sarah (Jones), of Milford, had seven children. Frank was born December 26, 1854, on his father’s birthday.
When he turned 17, Frank left his Milford home to make his way in the world. In Port Jervis he took a job as a brakeman on the Erie Railroad, which he held for more than three years. At the urgent request of his mother he then returned home to take charge of the hotel, and in 1888 he purchased the property.
Civic-minded, Frank Crissman kept an active interest in improving area roads and other worthy causes, but declined public office. He was active in Democratic organizations. He was active in the Masonic Lodge.
Frank loved both horses and dogs.
His uncle Ira Crissman, after taking a turn managing the hotel in the 1860’s, continued to live there in his aged years. His faithful canine companion named Cesar would sit by him in the house. The 1886 account stated that Ira was an honored veteran, and served as justice of the peace.
A huge banquet was held there in November 1896 benefitting the Milford Lyceum Association, an organization Crissman supported.
Lighting the way
Tuesday night, March 15, 1898, Crissman turned on the new lights using acetylene gas replacing than kerosene lamps at the hotel. “The Crissman was in a blaze of light and compared to the surroundings seemed like a home of glory,” the Pike County Press reported.
“… People who visited the hotel were able to distinguish things across the room, in fact objects heretofore hidden were distinctly revealed. The place where hair ought to grow on Frank’s head looked like glistening ivory, as he exultingly displayed the advantages and beauties of the new light.”
The editor highly praised Crissman’s innovation. “This practical demonstration of acetylene gas for lighting purposes must convince all other hotels that guests will no longer be satisfied with the old and dangerous method of using kerosene and no doubt will soon follow the lead of the enterprising landlord of the Crissman House.”
That same year, Milford Borough Council agreed to light the streets with 40 lamps lit by acetylene gas. Electric lights did not come to Milford until the 1920’s.
On October 27, 1885, he was married at Milford to Miss Frances M. Gulick. (Other records give her name as Millicent). They raised two children, Millicent and Frank B. Crissman, Jr.
Having the sold the hotel, it appears that sometime between 1910 and 1920, the Crissmans moved to Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California. His wife was from California.
The 1920 census lists Frank, age 65, and Millicent, age 76, living there, along with their son Frank Baldwin Crissman, age 25. They were all listed as having no occupation at that time.
Their son was working in banking. He served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army during the first World War. Frank was married to Hannah, and later to Gladys. He worked as a real estate salesman and later as a broker in Beverly Hills. He died May 17, 1980.
Their daughter Millicent was wed to Charles Switzer in 1917. Millicent lived from 1887 to 1892. Ship passenger records list her trip in 1922 from Baltimore to Los Angeles, evidently by way of the Panama Canal; a trip in 1940 to England. She returned to live in Milford in about the 1940’s.
Their parents, Frank and Millicent Crissman were still living in Beverly Hills in 1930.
Starting in 1912, several movies were filmed in the Milford area under the direction of the famed pioneer film maker David Wark Griffith.
The Crissmans’ children, in later years, recounted to Norman Lehde about their excitement of movie making in Milford. Lehde wrote that Mrs. Switzer recalled that Griffith was a hard taskmaster. She said Griffith had his actors out early in the morning, and he was known to improvise scenes on sudden inspiration, calling on his actors who were waiting around to step in and perform for the added scenes.
She said a team of oxen owned by a local farmer was used in a scene, and the scenic Milford Glen on the Sawkill Creek, as well as the Delaware River, were frequently employed.
Her brother Frank recalled the thrill of being an 18-year old, playing an “extra” in a Civil War battle scene and having lunch with actress Gertrude Bombeck when famed cameraman Billi Bitzer snapped their picture. Frank also drove to the Dietrich farm on the Dingman road every afternoon for milk, sometimes accompanied by Gish sisters (Lilliand and Dorothy) if they weren’t working.
What we haven’t learned if Frank B. Crissman Jr. had any thoughts of stardom when he went to live in Beverly Hills, California.
Frank Crissman sold the hotel and several lots in December 1900 to Pierre M. Nillis, for $8,000.
John Thornton was proprietor at the time. In January 1901, Thornton bought the Dimmick House across the street and took over its management.
At the Crissman House, Nillis expanded the billiard room in 1901. That October, Frank Crissman, who had moved to Bergen Point, NJ, visited Milford with his son and stayed at the Crissman House as guests.
A photograph of the Crissman House was viewed on a popular online auction site. It shows the house in winter, and by the name on the sign the proprietor was Howell Gibbs and the house was ran on the “American plan”. It looks like a cold winter day, with five men bundled up standing on the porch, snow on the ground and roof, as well as dark smoke pouring from a chimney. Gibbs, who came from Stroudsburg, became proprietor April 1, 1913.
He was listed as hotel proprietor when he died in Milford at age 46 in 1917, after an illness.
Another wonderful old photo shows the Hiawatha stagecoach, teamed with four horses and piled high with passengers on the roof as well as seated inside. The coach is in front of the Crissman House.
In May of 1902, the distinguished recorder John W. Goff of New York City stayed at the Crissman House and gave a splendid assessment of the Milford area. Goff was a lawyer and judge, known for unraveling vice and police corruption in Manhattan. He was widely regarded, among his contemporaries, as the “great terror of the New York City Bar Association.”
January 1903- “The supper Saturday evening Dec. 27, at the Crissman House was an unqualified fraternal success. About forty sat down to the repast which was in every particular and detail most excellent, and reflected infinite credit both on the proprietor and his corps of assistants,” the Press reported. There also was live music. No special occasion for this dinner was mentioned.
A Pike County Press story in March 1903, reported that a grand jury determined that fire escapes should be built on several Pike County hotels, including the Crissman House, Fauchere House, Dimmick House, John Beck’s hotel, Sawkill House and the Sylvanus House in Lackawaxen.
Frank Crissman came back to Milford by 1910 and worked as a hotel keeper. The 1910 census lists he and the family as living on Harford Street. They had two servants, Vera Latter and Walter Johnson, and two boarders, Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth and Lillian McClung. In any case, the 1920 census places them in Beverly Hills, CA.
Other owners or managers were George Biggs, Howell Gibbs, Eugene Boillatat, Floyd Thatcher and Joe Gagnon.
During the 1930’s, the Crissman House was advertised as accommodating 60 guests. Rates were $2 to $2.50 per day and $10 to $14 per week.
With the decline in the hotel business and general economy, only the bar and dining room were kept in operations in the last several years. Edith Gregory was the last owner of the hotel. Skip Gregory ran the bar for a short while.
On Sunday evening, February 7, 1960, the Crissman House was destroyed in fire. Winter winds fought against the efforts of the firefighters. Nearby homes were in danger of sparks, embers and fragments, carried aloft by the wind. The cause of the fire was linked to a space heater.
After the Crissman House was gone, a the Grand Union Market was erected on the busy Milford corner at 100 West Harford Street. The market was still there in the early 1980’s. Later it became a Rite-Aid pharmacy, and more recently, a Walgreens pharmacy.
Milford, Pa. Heritage 250 (1983) by Norman Lehde
Pike County Historical Society
Ancrestry.com/ Hawley Public Library
All Roads Lead to Milford, Pa. (2007) by Randolph Gregory & Sandy Lesier
Milford Architectural Study Group