The Hotel Woodruff
Northern New York's Waldorf Astoria
The Hotel Woodruff was a five-story, luxury hotel that once stood in the center of Watertown’s Public Square. Originally called the Woodruff House, the Victorian stone structure was built in 1851. The Woodruff House was greatly expanded when it was remodeled in the 1920s. The new addition brought the hotel from its original total of 80 rooms to 210 rooms. It was at this time that the building became known as the Hotel Woodruff. By the time it was completed, the iconic hotel was one of the largest in Northern New York. The luxury hotel earned a reputation as being one of the finest in the state and on par with the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.
The Hotel Woodruff was commissioned and paid for by city father, Norris Woodruff. Norris Woodruff was a businessman and entrepreneur and one of the wealthiest residents in Watertown. Woodruff was a city trustee when Watertown was incorporated in 1816, and also served as Watertown’s Fire Chief during the middle of the nineteenth century.
The Hotel Woodruff was constructed after the city’s Great Fire in May of 1849. Like many buildings in the Public Square, the Hotel Woodruff was designed by Otis L. Wheelock, Watertown’s only architect. Despite his status as the only architect in the city, Wheelock was highly regarded among Watertown residents for his beautiful, modern designs and brilliant engineering. Wheelock relocated to Chicago, Illinois in 1856, where he became well known for designing lavish mansions and portions of the University of Chicago.
At its height, the Hotel Woodruff was popular both as a hotel and a fine dining establishment. The hotel boasted a large, Victorian-style ballroom and a grand dining room with towering neoclassical pillars and crystal chandeliers. The Hotel Woodruff's dazzling interiors and fine amenities drew guests from New York City and Canada alike. Throughout the years, the hotel welcomed many wealthy, high-profile visitors and celebrities including abolitionist Frederick Douglass, suffragette Susan B. Anthony, President Ulysses S. Grant, and Senator Bobby Kennedy.
The hotel began to suffer in the 1960's. The first blow to its business came after the closing of the train station, which was located directly behind the Hotel. The hotel’s business suffered further when new, modern hotels were constructed on the city’s west end. By the early 1970s, rising taxes, heating, and electricity costs made the large historic building too difficult for its owners to maintain. After years of neglect and falling profits, the Hotel Woodruff was demolished by the city in 1976 as part its urban renewal plan.