Editor’s note — With the Parker Hotel’s demolition taking place this week, this story is being republished from the May 27, 1997 edition of The Times-Gazette. It was written by Lori (Boatman) Tuttle about her late grandfather, Vince Golden’s, time growing up in the hotel during its heyday in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Many people passing through downtown Hillsboro have noticed the construction that is being done on the Parker House Hotel. For Vince Golden, a lifelong resident of Hillsboro, the renovations bring back memories of his unique childhood experience of living and working at the Parker House Hotel.
“This recent construction work reminds me of happier and better times for the old hotel,” Golden said.
Golden began living and working at the Parker House in 1937 at the age of 13. His mother, who was the sole provider for him and his grandmother, was a waitress there at this time and she helped him get the job.
It is rather unimaginable today, but all 40 of the hotel’s rooms were full nearly every day when Golden lived and worked there. When the Parker House was full, customers were sent to the only other hotel in town, the Hill City Hotel.
Why aren’t the hotels of today as busy as the Parker House was in 1937? The simple answer is that chain stores didn’t exist and the merchants of Hillsboro were free to buy their merchandise from whomever they chose. Roads and cars of the time were not always reliable, and it just wasn’t feasible for traveling salesmen, or “drummers,” to make a round trip in one day.
Consequently, these salesmen stayed at the Parker House and it became the hub of the town. The Greyhound bus terminal was located here with four eastbound and four westbound buses leaving every day.
Many kids were quitting school and going to work to help their families, but Golden decided to get his education and did so by living at the Parker House until he left for the Marines in 1942 . Since his salary was room and board, the only money he received was from tips, which were 75 cents to $1.50 per day.
Golden often saved 16 cents of his tips to buy a T-bone steak, the only item on the menu that workers couldn’t eat for free.
Besides a coffee shop, small restaurant and downstairs dining room, the Parker House had a big dining room on the second floor. The high school football and basketball teams were fed here after games and it was the site for the big Sunday dinner.
People came from Cincinnati, Dayton and all around to have this family style meal on Sunday. The all-you-can-eat dinner included fried chicken, mashed potatoes, rolls, slaw and a drink for 60 cents. As part of Golden’s duties, he had to kill the chickens and help his mother set up the dining room as preparation for this busy day.
He had several other regular duties to fulfill at the hotel, when he arrived at 4 p.m. or after football practice. Sweeping and mopping the lobby, bathrooms and the barber shop, located downstairs, was a daily chore for Golden. He also checked the furnace, bell-hopped, walked the owner’s wife back from her weekly movie at Bell’s Opera House, and was later a part-time desk clerk.
The owner of the Parker House was Ted Shannon, who liked to golf at Snow Hill Country Club, hunt, fish, and most of all, play checkers. If none of the traveling salesmen were a good enough challenge for him, he would invite a “local” to the hotel for a game of checkers.
Shannon was very conscientious of his young employees. He checked Golden’s grade cards, permitted him to play football (and even watched his games), saw that he didn’t skip school, allowed him to bring friends to stay overnight, and took him to his first Major League Baseball game.
Besides being somewhat of a father figure, Shannon was rather opinionated. Since there were no televisions or radios in the rooms, the people at the Parker House would congregate in the lobby and talk. Shannon was known for his strong political views and he kept the conversation lively. Golden admits that these conversations were very educational for a 14-year-old boy.
One of the hotel’s regulars, Arthur Buck, used to listen to the slot machine on the second floor from this lobby. He knew how many plays it took to hit the jackpot and he would wait until he thought enough people played it, then would go up and hit the jackpot of $5, which few people did.
Buck was not the only clever resident of the hotel who outsmarted the slot machine. Golden and Doc Grable, another bell hop, found a way to supplement their income by tilting the machine over and shaking it so that one nickel would fall out from the jackpot slot. They would keep playing and shaking it until they hit eight or 10 nickles and would then stop.
Another unique person that Golden got to know while at the Parker House was Mrs. Shannon. This woman suffered from severe allergies and found relief by practically living in the walk-in cooler during the hot season.
Mrs. Shannon believed that people could train themselves to require only a little amount of sleep. She was up every day at 4 a.m., down in the lobby by 5 a.m., and didn’t go to bed until midnight.
Going to weekly movies and smoking were Mrs. Shannon’s habits. In an attempt to cut back on her smoking, Mrs. Shannon simply took the long Pall Mall’s that she smoked and cut them in half with a butcher knife.
The four-storied Parker House was a self-sufficient business, employing 18-20 people. Ice was made here, a laundry room was on the premises, a garage for the customers was in back, and Shannon did nearly all the maintenance work.
One of Golden’s favorite stories involves a maintenance problem that Shannon couldn’t handle, but luckily an ingenious person took over.
The hotel was heated with a hot water system that had a stoker-fired furnace that circulated water through the hotel. One time, in the dead of winter, the thermostat went bad on the stoker and it looked like the hotel was going to have to shut down. It was so cold that Shannon worried there might be damages.
A man staying at the hotel at the time was an engineer for the Carnation Company on John Street and he rounded up a steam engine, put it in the alley beside the hotel, and hooked it up to the water pipes.
The steam heated the hotel for three or four days and the Cincinnati Enquirer published a story on this man’s ingenuity that saved the day.
With Shannon fixing anything that need to be fixed, the Parker House was in tip-top shape. All of the rooms had running water and most were furnished with a double bed.
Rooms on the second floor with private baths rented for $2.50 a night and the ones with just running water were $1.50. The third floor prices dropped a quarter for each type of room and the fourth floor rooms all ran for $1 because there were no private baths.
Most full-time residents stayed on this top floor, including Golden. However, he wasn’t always satisfied with his usual room that he shared with two other young men. His ambition as a teenager was to live in room 29 in the front of the hotel on the third floor because of its beautiful view of downtown Hillsboro.
The Shannon’s had three daughters. The husband of the youngest daughter, Charlotte, managed the hotel sometime after Shannon sold it in 1940. This is when Golden’s mother quit working because a bar went in the hotel and she wouldn’t work in an establishment that sold liquor.
Golden continued to work and live there for two more years until he and three of his friends followed the trend and left for the Marines in 1942.
Dick Ridgeway, Joe Moses, Herb Conover and Golden enlisted in the Marines together and a huge farewell celebration took place as a send-off with about 75 people attending.
When they got to Cincinnati, the recruiter said they couldn’t take them for a week.
The 18-year-old boys didn’t want to return home because of the big send-off so they took a vacation in Cincinnati, touring the different sites and staying at the YMCA.
Golden served in World War II then returned to Hillsboro and married Juanita Shaffer. They became the parents of two daughters and they now have five grandchildren.
As Golden drives through town on his way to volunteer at Hills and Dales or take in some baseball games at the ballpark, his unforgettable experiences at the Parker House Hotel run through his mind.
“The people at the hotel, including the Shannon family, the employees and the residents, taught me good work ethics and morals that have remained with me throughout my life,” Golden said.