Henry T. Chittenden was a determined man.
Born into a rapidly changing world, the Columbus native, over the course of a long career, tried his hand at a number of entrepreneurial enterprises. But none of them tried his patience and resolve as did his ventures into American hostelry.
He was born in Columbus in 1834 at a time when the town was growing rapidly.
Created to be the new capital city of Ohio, Columbus was cut off from the major rivers and roads of the state and was little more than a frontier village of a few hundred residents after its founding in 1812.
But then in the early 1830s, the pace of life began to quicken. The National Road had begun its way west in 1811 and in 1831 reached Columbus, where it stopped for a few years. Within a year, a branch of the Ohio and Erie Canal reached Columbus, as well.
By 1834, the population of Columbus had doubled and reached the 5,000-resident benchmark that made a borough into a city.
That growth suited Asahel Chittenden just fine. Born in 1797, he had arrived in Columbus just in time to see its growth begin in earnest. He operated a local paper mill and invested in land when one could do so without spending a lot of money. From the family home near the intersection of Broad and Third streets, he presided over a growing business and a growing family.
Henry Chittenden was one of seven children in the family. The prosperity of the family permitted the children to attend good schools and enjoy some of the finer things in life. All of Asahel Chittenden's sons went to Yale and most of them married well.
Henry Chittenden graduated from Yale in 1855 and earned a law degree shortly thereafter. Like many young men of his time, he went west to seek his fortune. After some traveling and a little adventure, he returned home in 1861 to help his father with the family enterprises.
He was just in time for the outbreak of the Civil War. He did not participate in much of the war but did volunteer for the Squirrel Hunters campaign of 1863 to repel the advance of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan.
In 1872, he improved his prospects and his wealth the old-fashioned way: He married into them. Katherine Mithoff was considered one of best-looking and best-educated young women in post-Civil War Columbus. She also happened to be the daughter of E.T. Mithoff, who was Chittenden's business partner. It was a marriage that seemed to make a lot of sense to all parties concerned.
Secure in his family life, the father of three children set out to increase the family fortunes. He continued to invest family money in land. Some of the land was empty lots near the new Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College. Other land, such as the former home site of Gov. William Dennison, was at Spring and High streets in downtown Columbus.
When he was not dabbling in real estate, Chittenden invested in transportation. The first horse-drawn streetcar appeared on High Street in 1863. By 1880, there were several competing lines in different parts of town. Chittenden and his partners bought a failing line near the university and made it a success. In 1888, they would convert part of the line from the university to the fairgrounds and run the first electrically powered streetcar in Columbus on its tracks.
But the real passion in Chittenden's life was to be a hotel owner. William Neil, the old Stagecoach King, had made a second fortune with his Neil House hotel. Chittenden wished to do the same.
In the late 1880s, he began converting a 4-story office building at Spring and High streets into a hotel. He added floors and tastefully furnished the building. Opened in 1890, it promptly burned to the ground.
Undeterred, Chittenden rebuilt on the same site. He installed even more lavish furnishings and added two theaters to the site: the Henrietta on Spring Street and the Park on High Street. He also began construction on a massive auditorium adjacent to the Henrietta Theatre. The new hotel opened in 1892. On Nov. 25, 1893, a fire broke out in the unfinished auditorium, spread to the theater and then to the hotel. The entire city block was a total loss of more than $300,000. Chittenden had insured the hotel for only $50,000.
At this point, many people would have given up. But Chittenden was not like most people. He retained the prominent local firm of Yost and Packard to design a third Chittenden Hotel. They did, with touches that residents called "Spanish Roofs." The new fireproof hotel opened in 1895.
Henry Chittenden died in 1909. His hotel lasted for 72 years.
Maybe there is such a thing as a historical "told you so!"
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.