Living

Early Exchange Hotel was popular until it was twice destroyed by fire

HOULTON, Maine —  With its historic downtown, its location along the border with Woodstock, New Brunswick, and its bounty of woods and waterways for recreation, Houlton has always needed lodgings for tourists.

One of its most prominent early hotels was built by a local businessman and had a storied history of both triumph and tragedy.

Located on Main Street, The Exchange Hotel opened in 1872 after businessman William Buzzell renovated his home into the lodgding place. Buzzell had lived in the community since 1845 and after a stint as an entrepreneur, he decided he wanted to branch out into the hotel industry. Initially, he named it The Buzzell Hotel, according to Cora M. Putnam, author of “The Story of Houlton.” In 1874, he renamed it The Exchange Hotel, and welcomed guests at the location until a fire burned the building and all of its contents in 1880.

Putnam noted that although Buzzell took a $12,000 loss due to the fire, he was determined to build a new hotel at a different location. He found a property on Court Street, where he built the new Exchange Hotel in 1880. Next door was the Osgood Jewelry Store, Putnam said, opened by James K. Osgood, a well known local jeweler.

The four-story hotel was a favorite haunt for business travelers and salesmen, Putnam wrote, although local citizens were initially skeptical.

“When the foundation for the hotel was built in 1880, bystanders warned Buzzell that he could not expect to fill all of the rooms as planned,” Putnam noted. But within a year, “Buzzell had to add on ten more rooms.”

With the business operating successfully, Buzzell turned its operation over to his son, Welman. Tragedy soon followed, however, as the younger Buzzell died suddenly at the age of 26. He is buried with his father in Evergreen Cemetery in Houlton

According to Putnam, the business was passed on to another son, Olin Buzzell, and his friend Dick Earl. A short time later, however, both decided to get out of the business, and leased the hotel to another man, Walter White.

Tragedy struck again in 1942 when the business was once again destroyed by fire. By that time, there were numerous other hotels and lodges operating in the community, and the hotel was never rebuilt.

John Mayhew, 82, of Houlton, said recently that he has fond memories of the Exchange Hotel.

“I used to deliver newspapers to the hotel when I was young,” he recalled. “It really was a beautiful old place, and passengers who came into town on the railroad often stayed there. I remember that my parents would go to dances there once in awhile. It was really sad when it burned down again.”

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