Tragedy Befell A Nanticoke Hotel Owner 100 Years Ago
Of all the many stories about Nanticoke and its citizens, few are more tragic than that of John Henry James, proprietor of the James Hotel on Market Street in the late 1890’s.
James was born in Wales in 1832 and arrived in Nanticoke in 1869 where he found work in the mines of the Susquehanna Coal Company. Within a few years, he accumulated enough money to purchase property on Main Street where he opened a saloon and became prosperous.
As his popularity increased, James began to make the political rounds and was eventually appointed postmaster of Nanticoke. He sold his Main Street saloon and purchased the Burleigh Hotel at 43 Market Street about 1889 (altered to 143 S. Market Street in 1891), which he operated as the James Hotel and Saloon. The third floor of the hotel, known as James Hall, was rented out for political meetings, social functions and lodges such as the American Protestant Association.
Unfortunately, James’ luck began to turn for the worse. The business failed, he lost all of his property and was forced to return to the mines. Not long after, he was seriously burned by gas, which destroyed his face and crippled his hands. Friends rallied to his aide and he was elected jury commissioner. Not long after his term as commissioner ended signs of dementia became evident and he took up residence with various friends
For some years, he made his home with Thomas Morgan of Main Street (who appears to have been a brother-in-law), but in April of 1897 he disappeared after leaving the house and an effort was made to locate him. In May, a post card from him arrived from Sunbury which directed the searchers to that area, without success.
The Nanticoke Lodge of Odd Fellows, of which James was a member, eventually received word that he was in the State Hospital at Hazleton where he had been taken after suffering an injury while getting off a trolley car.
James spent the last few months of his life at the Retreat Poor House where he died in September 1898. The funeral was organized by the Nanticoke Lodge of Odd Fellows from the home of his sister who lived on Grand Street and he was interred in Nanticoke Cemetery.
James was married. His wife, Caroline, died in 1887. He also had two children, William, a pianist known as Blind Billy who died some years before, and a married daughter who survived him. According to newspaper accounts, he also had three surviving sisters in Norristown, Wilkes-Barre and Nanticoke.
THE FORMER JAMES HOTEL IN 2009; MUCH ALTERED FROM THE 1890’S; IT WAS WARNE’S PACIFIC HOTEL AND LUPCO’S HOTEL FOR MANY YEARS AND THE BLUEBIRD RESTAURANT, A NANTICOKE LANDMARK.
John H. and Caroline James are interred in lot #12 in Nanticoke Cemetery. There is no head stone to mark the location.