The Bennett Hotel, then Binghamton's premier hostelry, served as the headquarters hotel for the Forty-Fifth Annual Convention of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association (NYSWSA). Business meetings and meetings of the board of directors were held here; plenary sessions of the convention were conducted at the Centenary Church (now Landmark Church); and an afternoon reception was held at the elegant Clubhouse of the Monday Afternoon Club, a prominent local women's organization. (As it happens, all three structures were designed by Binghamton's most celebrated architect: Isaac Gale Perry went on to become the first [albeit unofficial] Architect of the State of New York.)
Prominent convention participants included (in order of appearance) NYSWSA president Harriet May Mills; nationally prominent suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt; Maud Ingersoll Probasco, younger daughter of nineteenth-century freethought orator Robert Green Ingersoll; and suffragists, including Gertrude Nelson Andrews; Isabel Howland; Ella H. Crossett; Marie Jenney Howe; Mrs. Seward A. Simons; Leonora O'Reilly; Helen Brewster Owens; Mrs. Charles Tiffany; Gertrude Foster Brown; and the nationally prominent suffrage activist Anna Howard Shaw. Also participating was NYSWA board member Margaret Cameron Topliff.
Convention Activities at the Bennett Hotel. Activities at the hotel began one day before the convention proper, on the afternoon of Monday, October 13, with an informal conference held at the Bennett Hotel. Harriet May Mills presided. Mills then led a brief board meeting at the Bennett on the morning of October 14, after which the convention proper began at Centenary Church. At 11:30 a.m. on Friday, October 17, the convention program concluded with a board of directors meeting held at the Bennett.
The Building and Site. The hotel occupied the heavily ornamented, four-story brick Bennett Block. It was built between 1867 and 1869 by banker and industrialist Abel Bennett, Binghamton's first elected mayor. The building featured modified Gothic style window openings and a massive corbelled cornice.
In 1884, Bennett converted the commercial block into a hotel with up-to-the-moment amenities. The Bennett Hotel became Binghamton's most prestigious hotel, even securing a coveted listing in the Baedeker travel guides, which began listing premier U.S. hotels in 1899. Presidents Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft stayed at the Bennett. The Rev. Henry Ward Beecher once gave a speech from its balcony. Shortly after the Spanish-American War, the Bennett hosted a dinner in honor of naval war hero Admiral Winfield Scott Schley, which is considered one of the grandest such events in Binghamton's history.
By 1910, the Bennett was no longer a leading hotel, eclipsed by newly built and more richly appointed competitors. It went into receivership in July 1918.
The structure stands today on the west side of Washington Street north of Court Street, part of the pedestrian-only Washington Street Mall. The former Phil’s Gift Shop at 157 Washington marks the structure. Though the shop moved to the suburbs in 2007 (and later went out of business), its vintage sign still hangs from the onetime hotel building.
Thanks to Roger Luther for historical research.