As many area residents know, the city of Presque Isle was once the location of the Presque Isle Army Air Field which later became Presque Isle Air Force Base. Much of the land of the base then became the Industrial Park and what is now the Presque Isle International Airport. In fact, the airport terminal is a former base building.
Located directly south of the Presque Isle International Airport’s passenger terminal is the footprint of the base’s “Hotel de Gink.” The building functioned as housing for transient officers, such as pilots not officially stationed here, who flew in to the base and had an unexpected layover requiring overnight accommodations.
The origin of this unusual phrase dates all the way back to the post-Civil War era. The term for soldiers who were homeward bound was shortened to “ho-bo.” “Gink” was a hobo word for man or gentleman.
The first “Hotel de Gink” originated in 1913 in Seattle with a man known as “the king of the hobos,” Jeff Davis. Davis created a self-service hotel for homeless men and transients and the concept quickly spread around the country. It functioned similar to a homeless shelter. However, the “hotels” were self-supporting, with residents contributing what they could including a range of services such as food, medical care as well as tailor and barber services. In the Davis-type hotels, residents slept on the floors on donated blankets.
These establishments soon popped up around the country. This is perhaps thought-provoking in that the Great Depression was still years away at the time.
The phrase “Hotel de Gink” became slang for a short-term, less-than-desirable housing, and the United States Armed Forces informally adopted the name for transient officer housing.
In the near future, Presque Isle International Airport will be building a new passenger terminal. The new terminal will be located south of the present passenger terminal in roughly the location of the old Hotel de Gink.
Interested in knowing just a bit more about Presque Isle’s Hotel de Gink? Visit the Presque Isle Air Museum in the south end of the airport’s passenger terminal. The museum is free to the public and open whenever the passenger terminal is open. Information on Hotel de Gink can be found at the southwest corner of the museum.
Kimberly R. Smith is the secretary/treasurer of the Presque Isle Historical Society.