Before WWI, there were four different hotels in Clinton. The largest one was the old Murphy House, later called the Montague Hotel. It stood on the south side of Main St. on the southeast corner with Lisbon St. In fact, it was the only building on the 200 block of East Main on the south side for a long time. It was a two-story building with porches on the front and east sides and it stood back about 100 feet from Main St. It also had a large dining room as well with many rooms for guests and was patronized by a large number of people. Many unmarried business and professional men roomed and boarded there. Also, many of the more prominent families had their Sunday dinner there, as well.
There was a fellow who worked there by the name of Spike. It was a sight to watch Spike who had many duties such as being the bellboy, waiter, busboy, handyman, and many other odd jobs. When it was time for meals to be served, you could see Spike out on the front porch ringing a big bell to let folks know that it was time to come in and eat. Spike had a very deep bass voice and sometimes when supper was over, some of the men would give Spike too much to drink, place him on a table, and have him make speeches.
The hotel had another building that was at the rear facing Elizabeth St. and is where salesmen would come and stay. After the Montague was torn down, that building was used as a bakery by George and Paul Craig of this town. After that building was torn down the Rufus King Hotel was built in its place. It burned in the 1970s and that, too, was torn down. It is now a public parking lot.
On the east side of the Montague was the Murphy House Station that stood in the exact spot where the Clinton Theatre stood and the Clinton Appliance building which is still there. The Murphy House Station was a very large, wooden building. The ground floor was used as a livery stable with horses and mules for sale or trade, as well as buggies, wagons, harnesses, and so forth. The upstairs was large and used for many things. Mr. Dave Clifton had a skating rink; also there were a number of offices. The town of Clinton had their offices up there, too, including the mayor’s court. I remember well when I was a small boy I would stop there on my way home from school, since my father, J.T. Reynolds, had his business located up there.
Sometime around 1924, the Montague Hotel was picked up and moved about 50 yards east so that Byron Butler could build his Butler’s Drug Store on Main Street. The Montague was then renamed the Carlton Hotel. It was torn down in the late 1920s.
I recall that once I happened along there after a criminal was sentenced in court for some offense for which he had been convicted. They brought him downstairs and handcuffed his arms around a tree in front of the stable. An officer acquired a buggy whip from my father who operated those stables and the prisoner was then whipped in front of all present.
Incidentally, these buildings, including the Montague Hotel, were all built by Dr. Tate Murphy, M.D., who lived, died, and whose body is interred in the local cemetery.
Another one was the Clinton Hotel which stood at what is now called East Main Street downtown in the vicinity of what is now a large parking lot. The building faced west and was operated by a Mrs. Crumpler, mother of the late Judge Perry E. Crumpler, who was at one time employed by my father at a brick mill. There were two large buildings on that entire block and there was no Main St. from Sampson St. to Connestee St. This hotel is where they would put jurors when they were involved in an important case and would not let them go home. I remember my wife’s father telling me had stayed there many nights on such an occasion. The hotel and another small building next to it where “Rat” Matthis sold ice and feed were the only buildings in that area. After Mrs. Crumpler died, the hotel was moved over to the north side of Vance St. and was operated as a rooming house. Incidentally, Mr. Buck Crumpler, a noted attorney of this town, died in that building. Also, about the same time, a noted evangelist, Cyclone McLendon, had a revival service and used a large tent. I remember that when I was small.
The third hotel that I remember was named the Cedar Inn and it was on the south side of Elizabeth St. facing what is now the rear of the Post Office. It was originally the home of Thomas Lee, father of Dr. Algernon Moseley Lee. I do not recall who the people were who operated the hotel, but in the 1930’s it became a rooming house.
The other hotel was called the Southern Star and was located on the southwest corner of Main and Wall Streets. It was later operated by Mrs. Aman and was called Mrs. Aman’s boarding house, as she rented rooms there and also served meals.
A number of offices occupied the second-floor offices on Main St. The Home Guard, as it was called then, now called the National Guard, was quartered on the second floor of the A.M. Lee building on Main St. The downstairs part of that building was later occupied by Leder Brothers Store. The gun racks were along the wall and the soldiers were drilled upstairs in that building. The stairs leading from the second floor to where the Home Guard was situated was really wide and was in the middle of what was then two stores.
Each year on the tenth of May, which was Confederate Memorial Day, there was always a big celebration in Clinton. Soldiers, marchers, folks on horseback, and bands all came to be in the parade. The soldiers would march out to the local cemetery to the graves of Confederate veterans and fire their rifles in a salute. They’d have political speakers, too, and often times there was dancing in the streets at night.
A little further down on Main St. was the Rob Herring building, later owned by Pope Stores, and in the upstairs, there was an opera house where plays were held. There were also two stores downstairs with a wide set of stairs in the center of the building. Traveling entertainers would come here and perform. I remember it had a number of oil lamps hanging from the ceiling. The woodwork on the ceiling was very ornamental and it and the stage are probably still there. In later years the Sampson County Board of Education used the second floor as offices. Also, Dr. Hollingsworth, the Sampson County Health Officer, and the Mr. Louis Whitfield, with the Sampson County Roads Department, all had offices up there.