The Hopewell Valley Bistro and Inn building at 15 East Broad Street and Seminary Avenue has been in the news, with plans to demolish the structure and rebuild a historically familiar design for use as an upscale restaurant and apartments (see MercerMe article).
The building has a nearly 150 year history as a residential home and store, bar and restaurant, and lodging and apartments (view the location and images on the Hopewell History Map).
It has been known as the Central Hotel, Cray’s Hotel, Gebhart’s Hotel, and the Hopewell Inn. It has seen multiple renovations with additions and porches. It even was briefly a national landmark with the Lindbergh kidnapping press frenzy, while to the town it has been a local gathering place.
This is a brief summary of the different uses of the building, and the associated owners, extracted from an extensive new History Project brief on the property:
By 1878 – Drug Store, Susan A. and Sarah Sexton
The Hopewell Inn was apparently built by two sisters, Sarah and Susan Ann Sexton, who acquired the property in 1875 after selling their family’s homestead farm. By 1878 the building had been constructed and the Sextons were operating a “drug and notion” store there, and compounding prescriptions.
Sarah Sexton left the business after she married in 1879, and Susan Sexton then sold the property in 1882, and later married and lived in Los Angeles.
1882 – Joseph Ott and John Hart Brewer
In 1882, Susan Sexton sold the Hopewell Inn property to Joseph Ott and John Hart Brewer of the Ott & Brewer Pottery Company in Trenton, as part of a swap for another property in Trenton. John Hart Brewer was president of Ott & Brewer, a member of congress, and a descendant of John Hart, signer of the Declaration of Independence.
The building, still a residence with a storefront, then passed through series of short-term owners until it was acquired by Andrew Cray in 1893. One known occupant during this time was Mrs. Carter’s Fancy Goods store, which opened in 1883.
1883 – Millenary and Fancy Goods, Mrs. M. A. Carter
The second known occupant of the Hopewell Inn building was Mrs. M. A. Carter, who opened a Millenary and Fancy Goods store there in 1883.
The 1887 Fowler map was the first to show the Hopewell Inn building, with its distinctive square mansard roof, a hint of the front porch, and the bay window on the west side of the building.
The building is identified on the map as “Mrs. Carter – Library & Fancy Goods.” (The “Library” reference may refer to franchised subscription libraries operating from kiosks in local stores. See the History Project brief on the Hopewell Public Library.)
1893 – Cray’s Hotel / Central Hotel, Andrew Cray
In 1893, Andrew Cray purchased the Hopewell Inn property from the Goldens (the last in a line of short-term owners). Cray previously ran the Hopewell House at Broad and Mercer Streets, and had an Oyster Saloon on Princeton Avenue.
Cray converted the building into a hotel, added a bar on the left (Seminary) side, and added the adjacent barns / livery complex.
1899 – Central Hotel, John Corcoran
In 1899, John Corcoran acquired the Central Hotel from Andrew Cray. Corcoran had immigrated from Ireland as a child with his family to a farm in Hunterdon County, where he then served as sheriff before entering the hotel business.
Corcoran made major changes to the building, starting with a two-story addition on the rear (south) side, the Seminary side entrance, and remodeling the interior with modern utilities and old European styling. When completed, the left (Seminary) front of the building had the office and reading room, with the bar and sitting room moved behind.
Corcoran also renovated the front porch by 1913, wrapping it around the right (west) side, adding stone bases under the porch pillars, and changing the railings above to a diagonal design. This is the best-known design of the building, familiar from the Gebhart / Lindbergh era photographs from 1932.
Corcoran sold the property to Frederick Jackson in 1915 after purchasing the Old School Baptist Church farm property west of Hopewell.
1915 – Central Hotel, Frederick A. Jackson
In 1915, at the beginning of World War I, Frederick Jackson acquired the Central Hotel from John Corcoran.
In 1920, Jackson converted the building into apartments, with the front left (Seminary) corner as a store, one apartment each on the first floor and the third floor, and two on the second floor.
1926 – Gebhart’s Luncheonette, Paul T. & Bertha Gebhart
In 1926, Paul T. and Bertha Gebhart acquired the Hopewell Inn property from Frederick Jackson. Gebhart moved his Lunch Room restaurant to the left (Seminary) side of the building, and converted it back to a rooming house.
In March 1932, Gebhart’s Hotel became famous as the press descended on Hopewell after the Lindbergh kidnapping and made Gebhart’s the press headquarters.
After Gebhart’s death in 1933, it was discovered that he had another wife and family in his hometown under his original birth name, Theodore Bankert. The exact resolution of this situation is unknown, but Bertha Gebhart continued to run the business until she sold it in 1949.
1949 – Hopewell Valley Inn, Anton & Rose Mar
In 1949, Anton and Rose Mar acquired the property from Bertha Gebhart and ran it as the Hopewell Valley Inn with associated tavern.
In 1970, the widowed Rose Mar passed on the business to their daughter, Rose Mar Rathousky, who ran it with her husband Albert until 1977.
1970 – Hopewell Valley Inn, Albert & Rose Mar Rathousky
Anton Mar died in 1953, and his wife, Rose Mar, and their daughter, Rose Marie (“Rosie”) Mar, continued to run the Hopewell Valley Inn. Rosie and husband Albert Rathousky then owned the business from 1970 to 1977.
The bar was on the right side of the building, with their residence on the left.
1977 – New Hopewell Inn – Erno & Rose Nemeth
In 1977, Erno (Ernie) and Rose Nemeth acquired the Hopewell Inn from Albert and Rose Mar Rathousky. As immigrants from Hungary, they brought a Central European cuisine to Central Jersey.
Ernie Nemeth made the major changes to the interior and exterior of the building that remain today, including the Tudor look and the octagonal banquet room addition.
The bar was moved to the front left (Seminary) side, with kitchen behind. The restaurant was placed on the right side, with the later banquet room addition to the right.
2000 – Hopewell Valley Bistro and Inn, Susie & Paul Molnar
In 2000, the current owners, Susan (“Susie”) and Paul Molnar acquired the Hopewell Inn from Erno & Rose Nemeth. Susie Molnar was the daughter of the Nemeths, so the business was “family owned since 1977.”
The business was renamed from the Hopewell Inn to the Hopewell Valley Bistro and Inn.
Finally, here are a couple photos of the interior of the current Hopewell Valley Bistro and Inn, as shown in snapshots of several regular music events held there.