Riverboat History at the Lafayette Hotel, Marietta, OH

At the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingam rivers, the Lafayette Hotel has commanded its centerpiece spot in downtown Marietta, Ohio for 100 years. On July 1, 1918, the hotel opened its doors after being rebuilt when a fire destroyed the original property. The Bellvue Hotel, built in 1892, burned to the ground in 1916.  The Lafayette, as grand as the original, is a lesson in Marietta and sternwheeler history.

Ever since Marietta became the first permanent settlement of the Northwest Territory in 1788, its location next to the river has made it an important crossroads for trade. The river is still used for transporting goods. In the morning before checkout, I watched several barges and tugboats make their way past my room window.

Each Labor Day Weekend, the Ohio River Sternwheeler Festival finds more than a dozen sternwheelers in Marietta for an ode to yesteryear.

Framed photos and artifacts in the lobby and hallways of the Lafayette Hotel pay tribute to the days that Marietta was a booming river town and riverboats were a common occurrence. One of the most fun artifacts is the bank of lobby phone booths. Pick up a receiver to listen to a recorded history of the hotel.

Victorian era furniture help set the tone for days gone by while the arched windows of the lobby, the rich polished wood trim, and wainscot details evoke the feeling of being on a grand riverboat.

Guest room furnishings, many of them antiques, fit the Victorian era time period. The flat screen TV, hair dryer and coffee maker are purely modern. I was particularly enamored with the bathroom. The pedestal sink and the floor and wall tiles are in the Victorian era style, but the comfort is modern day. So is the free Wi-Fi. Our room, in the Hoag addition built between 1935-37 on the site of the Mansion House which was another smaller hotel circa 1833,  (I was traveling with a friend), had two twin beds which worked out perfectly for us. The room next door had a queen bed.

Two twin bed room, river view

Other guest room options include: one king bed, and queen and king bed parlors with a sitting area. Cabin rooms have one single bed and are decorated with a river boat feel. Each of the hotel’s 77 guest rooms are unique to each other due to the differences in lamp styles, furniture, framed prints, and room configurations.  The framed print in our room was of the Bellevue Hotel prior to the fire.

Because we were staying on a Saturday, we were able to eavesdrop for a few minutes on the Comedy Club act in the hotel’s restaurant The Gun Room. The Comedy Club, every Saturday night November through March features various comedians who perform around the U.S. Along with the Comedy Club, the Lafayette Hotel has other special events that range from a murder mystery dinner to psychic fairs.

Antique china in the lobby cabinet

The Gun Room is the hotel’s main restaurant, although, we didn’t eat here since I was on a mission to see as much of Marietta as I could in less than 24 hours. The Sunday brunch buffet is quite the deal at $11.95. Along with breakfast fare, there are several non-breakfast items like roasted sirloin and chicken dishes.

The Riverview Lounge is another elegant but casual hangout place in the hotel. Original riverboat paintings and model sternwheelers are part of the decor of this circa 1934 bar that was renovated in the 1980s.  Although, we had a weekend of light snow, in warmer weather, I’d head to the roof top to savor a drink and watch the boats go by on the river on one side and look over downtown Marietta on the other. There was a solo glass of some left behind beverage on a table when I took a look-see. Several tables and chairs make this rooftop patio perch quite inviting.

One of the details I appreciated about the Lafayette is its obvious commitment to the Marietta community. Next to the lobby coffee station that is serviced in the mornings, I learned much about what is going on in  town. Theater performances, concerts, special dinners and other events are advertised on a large bulletin board. We headed to a local theater production of “Always Patsy Cline” which is one reason we missed the Comedy Club. There is a lot to do in Marietta.

A riverboat bell near the gift shop and Gun Room

Everything we did was in walking distance of the Lafayette so once I parked in the hotel’s free lot, I left my car. We hit up several of the boutique style stores and the brewery along with the community theater. Each destination was just minutes on foot.

By the way, if you bring your dog to stay at the Lafayette, it can have a dog treat. There’s a treat jar at the reception desk. There’s a pet deposit fee, but you get that back at the end of your stay if your dog has behaved itself.

You can book a room online or call the hotel at 800-331, 9336.  Guest room rates range from $70 to $150 depending on size and amenities. Some rooms come with Jacuzzi tubs and private balconies. Others have kitchenettes. Hotel amenities also include a laundry facility and refrigerators on request. Guests can use the facilities at the nearby YMCA, including the pool, for free. Compare rates on the hotel website with a booking site such as Travelocity or Expedia.

View from a guest room window

My stay was courtesy of the hotel since I was in Marietta to do research for several articles. The Lafayette is quite the treat for its history alone–and watching the boats go by from my room. Very, very cool.

Post and Photos by Jamie Rhein

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