Today in History: Mizpah Hotel Opens in 1915

Mizpah Hotel

On February 15th 1915, the Mizpah Hotel, designed by architect Gordon Wright, opened on the corner of Montgomery and East Jefferson Streets on the former site of the Central Baptist Church. The building provided a unique combination of religious and commercial uses in the English Gothic style, typified by its pointed arch.  The tower is modeled after that of the Canterbury Cathedral.  The First Baptist and Central Baptist churches were organized in 1821 and 1848, respectively, and consolidated in 1910.  In 1912, the congregation moved into this church.  In 1981, the tower was struck by lightning, prompting the removal of its spires.

The name “Mizpah” was given to the hotel by the Church board of managers to mean “A place of refuge under the tower.” In addition to serving as a lodging place, its lower floors were also a location for religious gatherings of the First Baptist Church and, for a time, a coffee shop. On March 1st, 1968, “The Circuit” opened as Syracuse only young adult coffeehouse. The interior took on pastel-colored walls, flaunting psychedelic paintings.

On August 30th 1984, lightning struck the bell tower and damaged one of the spires. They were all subsequently removed and the roof capped.

On a warm summer night, June 23rd of 1874, the ladies of Central Baptist Church were holding their annual Strawberry and Ice Cream Sociable.  The event was to include a performance “The Little Old Folks Concert,” in which the youngsters of the church were to dress up as little old ladies and gentlemen and perform songs of the day.  It was estimated that close to 500 were in attendance. At about 9:20 there was a rumbling sound and a trembling of the floor.  The truss that supported the roof pulled loose from its fastenings, crashing to the second floor causing timber, plaster, furniture, and people of all ages to fall through to the first floor. Deadly debris then rained down from the roof. As a result of the catastrophe, a law was enacted requiring the inspection of public buildings to insure public safety. 145 people were injured and 14 people died in this accident, one of Syracuse’s worse tragedies.