LIMA — As Lima approached its 100th birthday in the 1920s, it finally started to grow up.
“A seven-story hotel building to grace Lima’s skyline together with the Lima Trust company’s million dollar home on the Public Square, the Old National Bank’s new quarters on West High Street, and the Dime Savings Bank at the south of the Square, will be constructed just off the Square on East Market Street during the next few months,” the Lima Republican-Gazette reported July 16, 1925.
Two months later, a story in The Lima News revised the stories upward. “The hotel will be a reinforced steel structure eight stories high (and) completely fireproof,” the News noted. “It will contain 68 guest rooms with two business rooms and a hotel lobby.” The hotel, the story continued, would be built at a cost of $150,000 and would be designed to permit the addition of a theater in the rear at a later date. The theater, often mentioned in early stories on plans for the hotel, was never built.
The newest addition to Lima’s skyline, an Aug. 25, 1926, ad in the News boasted, would be “built, owned and furnished by Lima men and backed by Lima capital. The owners, A.J. Ritzler and Dan H. Kirwan, are both Lima men, engaged in business in Lima. Mr. Ritzler is head of a chain of theatres; while Mr. Kirwan is president of the Colonial Finance Co.”
Daniel H. Kirwan, the hotel’s namesake, was born Dec. 10, 1865, in Hilliard Station in Franklin County, the son of Irish immigrants. After employment as a clerk in various stores, he bought a Madison County farm in 1891. He also operated a hardware store in Plain City for seven years, eventually adding a furniture factory and a grist mill to his holdings there.
In 1901, he sold his properties in Ohio and moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where he was one of the organizers of a cement manufacturing business. The restless Kirwan returned to Ohio in 1905 and, in 1906, purchased a 1,200-acre farm in eastern Auglaize County near New Hampshire, a farm the News would later describe as “an extensive livestock farm and one of the showplaces in the vicinity.”
In what the News on July 3, 1919, called “one of the largest real estate deals ever made in Auglaize County,” Kirwan sold his farm — he would buy it back in 1927 — and moved into the Lima Club on West Market Street. Kirwan founded the Colonial Finance Co. and served as its president for many years. He was one of the organizers of the National Bank of Lima, and served for a time as its president, as well. He served on the state highway commission, the Auglaize County commission and, in 1929, was named a Lima city commissioner during the city’s brief flirtation with a city manager form of government.
And, in partnership with Ritzler, with whom he’d eventually own eight theaters in Lima and Tiffin, he built the Kirwan Hotel. A Jan. 23, 1927, ad in the News rattled off a list of the hotel’s virtues, including “reasonable rates and strictly modern equipment, such as running ice water in each room, tub and shower baths, bed lights, desk telephones, trunk stands, dust-proof clothes closets in each room, free parking space for guest’s cars and dozens of other things, large and small …”
On March 17, 1926, the News reported that B.H. Hadley had taken a 10-year lease on the hotel. Three months later, on June 24, 1926, the paper noted that Hadley’s former school mate from Delphos, Vernon Swink, would join Hadley and operate the Ritz Sandwich Shop in the hotel. Although the hotel was not yet ready for customers, the sandwich shop “opened its doors to crowds who flocked in to see the different way in which the food is prepared,” the News reported in a June 25, 1926, story.
Finally, on Aug. 2, 1926, the News wrote that “the newest hostelry in the city, the Hotel Kirwan, informally opened Monday for business with 90 rooms well-appointed to take care of its guests.”
Hadley would run the hotel for less than two years. On April 1, 1928, he conveyed the lease to Arthur William Wheatley. Wheatley, a native of England and former president of the Lima Locomotive works, headed a group which also held controlling interest in Lima’s Argonne, Lima House and Norval hotels.
Two weeks later, when pioneer aviator Charles Chamberlin, the second man to pilot a fixed wing aircraft from the U.S. to Europe, flew in to Lima during a lecture tour, the Kirwan was among the downtown buildings decked with signs to guide him in. The Kirwan sign was dwarfed by a sign spelling out LIMA in “four gigantic letters” 30 feet high and 110 feet in length that were painted on the roof of the First American Bank building at Main and High streets. The News reported April 15, 1928, that the sign was visible at 2,000 feet.
During the Great Depression, despite ads that promised a “New Deal policy and reduction of rates,” the Kirwan went into receivership, only to be rescued by Kirwan and Ritzler. “Courthouse officials say the case is the first instance in Allen County records in which every creditor has been paid in full under receivership,” the News wrote Oct. 12, 1933. “At a hearing May 27, the Dunlap Co., headed by Dan Kirwan and Addie Ritzler won judgment of $6,700. After Kirwan and Ritzler bought the hotel’s fixtures and furniture at the receiver’s sale June 26, they reorganized the company which is now operating.”
Kirwan, 78, died in “the hotel which bears his name” in March 1942. Kirwan, the News wrote March 19, 1942, “returned only two weeks ago from Florida where he annually spent his winters.” Kirwan’s business partner, Ritzler, survived him by more than 35 years, dying at 99 in December 1977.
The hotel continued under the Dunlap Co. until April 1972 when it was purchased by a group of local businessmen doing business as the Cornus Co., according to an article in the April 11, 1972, edition of the News. A spokesman for the group told the News the new owners didn’t plan changes in the hotel operation. The next ownership group did.
In May 1980, the Columbus-based firm of F.P. Neuenschwander and Associates completed purchase of the hotel. At the time of the purchase, the Kirwan had 83 hotel rooms and efficiency apartments and included a lounge and grill.
The Columbus developer planned to remodel the Kirwan to include transient hotel rooms, some office space and a ground-floor restaurant, the News reported Aug. 1, 1982, but subsequently sold the hotel to Ohio Inns, a hotel management and development firm.
On Oct. 1, 1982, the Kirwan reopened as The Inn, Centre Square, a senior citizens’ residence center. By September 1986, however, the hotel again was in the hands of a receiver and would stand empty until Roger Wright purchased “the Market Street landmark in 2008, paying $110,000 for an eight-story shell that hasn’t been used in more than two decades,” the News wrote Sept. 13, 2009.
Wright, whose family is in the recycling business, found a new use for the old hotel. After major renovation, the Kirwan reopened in 2009 as a college dormitory.Reach Greg Hoersten at TLNinfo@civitasmedia.com.