Backer House (118-124 Webster Street), Backer Alley

Dublin Core


Backer House (118-124 Webster Street), Backer Alley


An 1886 map shows Backer's House and associated outbuildingsThe Backer House on an 1886 map. The long-gone, three-story "Backer House" at the crook of Main and Webster Streets has been called the city's first hotel, purportedly built in 1850 with timber from the Williamsville sawmill owned by John Batt. An 1860 map identifies a "Jackey, Union Hotel" on the site, and no Backer House. The hotel and associated buildings were on a great wooden platform under which ran the state ditch, and stood opposite the former New York Central train depot, where passengers could conveniently become clientele. (A gas station is on the depot site today.)

Owned by the Backer family

I haven't learned anything about the first Backer who presumably founded the hotel. But in 1867 (according to a 1929 article), Henry B. Backer becomes the proprietor of the hotel, and will continue until 1891. (Perhaps as a family affair, the hotel enjoyed multiple "proprietors," as we see a different Backer so named below).

A desperate family denied

On October 13, 1886, the Backer House is the site of a sensational news story. A traveling Rochester family is returning home when the wife, Julia Trimmer, begins experiencing severe labor pains. The train makes an emergency stop at the New York Central depot opposite the hotel. The husband and wife clamber down the platform and rush across the street to the hotel, desperate for help. They don't find it.

The proprietor, Dr. Conrad Backer, refuses to permit Mrs. Trimmer space even on the floor, and the couple is instead "forcibly ejected with profane and abusive language." The distraught family struggles to the nearby Sears House, and although accepted immediately by staff and attended to with great humanity, by then "the child had been born and had died from its brief exposure." The wife brings a $20,000 lawsuit for "personal damages" against the proprietor of the Backer House. She will be awarded a small fraction of that, $600. When Backer refuses to pay even that small fraction, he is jailed.

More Backers

In 1891 (according to a 1929 article, which describes a return visit to the area), proprietor Henry B. Backer and his wife leave North Tonawanda for lumber interests in New York City. Before that, he was village clerk, and "took a leading part in the laying out of Thompson, Schenck, Robinson and other streets," donated the land for Live Hose, and founded defunct Alert Hose Company.

On October 28, 1892, Dr. Conrad C. Backer dies at 73 and two days, leaving a wife and two children.

Esther at the helm, her secret closet pillaged

By 1893, the hotel is being operated by a woman, Esther Backer, her husband having died the year before. The operation arrangement is novel enough for the News to write an article, included in this collection.

On November 30, 1896, Mrs. Backer's hotel is again in the news, when she is the victim of robbery and arson. "In a peculiarly formed closet...,Mrs. Backer secretly kept her jewelry and silver plate, which had been in the family for many years." Someone stole these, along with linen, lace curtains and clothing. They then set a fire, seemingly in an effort to cover up the crime. The next day a 25 year-old "tramp" by the name of Walter Kimler is apprehended in West Falls, N. Y., and sent to the penitentiary for 30 days in connection with the burglary. A partner escapes.

1897-1920: The City Hotel, The International Hotel

In the summer of 1897 it is renamed the "City Hotel," and by February 6, 1900, it is "The International Hotel." On October 31, 1900, Theodore Roosevelt makes a campaign speech nearby to some 7,000 locals; a historical marker erected in 2021 marks the event.

1920: Simon Marone and the Washington Hotel, deadly fire

In 1920 the hotel is sold to Simon Marone, owner of a fruit and candy store on the first floor of the building.

July 7, 1924 an item advertises "Hotel and boarding house, 21 rooms, complete sitting room, dance hall place and barber shop, bargain, for quick sale, owner leaving city, inquire 122 Webster Street."

By 1924, it is being called the Washington Hotel. In late December, another fire guts the hotel, and claims three lives.

In January 1925, proprietor Simon Marone intends to rebuild the interior. The address is given around this time as 122 Webster, and 118-124 Webster.

1930s: The "indecent acts" of Ferris Saffires

January 20, 1934, proprietor Ferris Saffire is fined $25 for "permitting disorderly acts in his place of business," after a 24 year-old male and 20 year-old female were arrested and charged with indecency at the hotel.

In February, seven of eight people who have been arrested with charges of public intoxication in a "room in the rear of" the hotel are given jail sentences. The eighth, a young woman, beats the charge.

1935: Abraham G. Lewis and the "Lewis Hotel"

Somewhere around 1935, Syrian-born Abraham G. Lewis takes over the hotel, and names it in his image, as is often the custom. After the death of his first wife, in 1935 North Tonawanda furnishes him a second, and they are members of Ascension church.

April 20, 1946 a boarder (Boleslaus Brodnicki, 58) dies of "heart disease" while on strike from Spaulding Fibre.

On May 3, 1952, Lewis dies. A Courier Express claims he has operated the hotel for the last 20 years. The hotel seems to go on in his name for a few years, as in 1955 "Lewis Hotel" is mentioned in ads, and A "Lewis Hotel" (120 Webster) is mentioned in a September 1959 item.

1960s and beyond: Del-Web Inn, demolition, tax sale

In 1964 a man is arrested at "Del-Web Inn," 122 Webster, for threatening patrons with a razor. A 1975 item mentions a building permit given to Walter J. Edin for 120 Webster "remodel." In 1978-12-19, 122 Webster is listed in a tax sale auction, with Walter Edin identified. In 1985-11-11 parcel is being auctioned, 120-122 Webster, "including part of abandoned state ditch."


The alley behind the site is still known as "Backer Alley."