S.S. Grand View Ship Hotel
The S.S. Grand View Ship Hotel in 1956. Photo by Bob Will.
Photo of a postcard of the hotel before the ship was built. The castle like architecture and foundation are shown well here. Photo courtesy of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor.
Photo of Captain Herbert Paulson in 1973. Photo taken from a newspaper courtesy of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor.
When hit by a customer, the crew of the ship knew they had given good service. Photo courtesy of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor.
The gas station Paulson built after purchasing the property. Photo courtesy of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor.
A list of amenities provided by the ship hotel. Photo courtesy of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor.
The lighthouse that was seen standing next to the ship. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Backstory and Context
The S.S. Grand View Point Hotel’s story began long before it was built. It started in the mid-1920s when Herbert Paulson bought a stand on Grand View Point near Bedford, Pennsylvania. This stand was owned by a guy the locals called Mr. Richelieu when Paulson bought it for $3,200. Paulson expanded the stand calling it Grand View Point Inn. Then he expanded again using a castle theme accompanied by a matching gas station. This was the start of what would later become the famous S.S. Grand View Point Ship Hotel.
The construction process was not a smooth as Mr. Paulson, who would later be known as the “Captain,” would have liked. The state was worried that it would slide off the hill. Paulson was reluctant and said, “It’s my property- either you let me build it or you buy the property.” So, construction went underway. The ship closing, over the piers of the existing building. The project required 63.5 tons of steel and cost $125,000 borrowed at 16% interest. Another hurdle that needed to be overcome was the steepness of the hill. The construction team had to go down thirty-two feet before they hit rock solid enough to support the foundation. After construction was finished, it was ready for its “Grand” opening.
Around noon on May 29th, 1932, the ship hotel was officially opened for the first time. Articles in the May 6th and 27th, 1932 Bedford Gazette announced the grand opening dates to the public. An estimated 500,000 visitors stopped on the dedication day. Upon entering, a gift shop was to the right, the bow, filled with knick-knacks from around the world, including American Indian jewelry and moccasins Paulson especially liked. To the left was the main dining room and marble-topped bar and soda fountain. Linoleum flooring resembled waves on water, life preservers hung on sea-green walls and the room was painted with murals recalling the captain's trips to Holland. A smaller dining room at the far corner was reserved for banquets and parties; it featured a mural of eleven sailors said to be the Grand View Orchestra. Both rooms boasted a fabulous and famous view. The hotel offered concerts, tours, and staff inspections during the grand opening. Herbert’s granddaughter recalls the upstairs rooms were called “first class,” the lower rooms were called “second class” and “third class.” The employees who lived on the bottom floor joked that they lived in the steerage.
The ship kept a log of customers and included famous names like Clara Bow, George Burns, Joan Crawford, Henry Ford, Greta Garbo, Lillian Gish, Tom Mix, J. P. Morgan, Buddy Rogers, Rudy Vallee, George Raft, Mary Pickford. The ship’s ninth log which ran from September 1936 to June 1938, had more than 102,000 names, including tourists from every state and 72 foreign countries.
The S.S. Grand View Point Ship Hotel had a lot to offer to its visitors. One of the main attractions is the fact that a person could view seven counties and 3 states (PA, WV, MD). The ship had a lookout deck on one corner with various telescopes to view the sights. It was only located about eighty miles east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This was not a far drive to spend a night on a ship hotel and enjoy what it had to offer such as dances. Dances were held on the decks during evenings in the 1930s and early 1940s. The only downside to this hotel was the fact that the restrooms were down the hill on a long walk. To make up for this walk, visitors could see ponds filled with fish on the way down.
The Ship Hotel had many years of great success. However, business declined in the 1940s as the Pennsylvania Turnpike took most of the travelers from the Lincoln Highway. The Paulsons retained ownership of the ship until the 1970s, when they sold it off. The new owners tried reviving it, calling it Noah’s Ark. They covered it with wooden planking and built a zoo over by the gas station. The decaying Ship Hotel burnt down in 2001. While it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997, it was delisted in 2002 after its destruction.
The S.S. Grand View Point Ship Hotel was a place where many memories were made. Many of the previous staff remember each other as family. During its’ nearly forty years of service, it has seen many visitors with many different backgrounds. There was an effort to try an restore the ship before it burnt down. An estimate was done, and it would cost about $2.6 million to restore the structure. That is a lot of money to raise, however, there may be hope. Will it be possible to once again see the S.S. Grand View Point Ship Hotel back on its’ glorious perch on Grand View Point? Many people would like to revisit the once-hopping establishment.
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Butko, Brian. Still a Grand View: The Ship Hotel and the Lincoln Highway. LincolnHighway - Journals, 1989
Butko, Brian. The Ship Hotel: A Grand View along the Lincoln Highway. Stackpole Books
Butko, Brian. “Ship Hotel: Afloat with the Lincoln Highway's Most Unusual Landmark.” Pennsylvania Heritage, 2014
Wechtenhiser, Chris. “Historic Ship Hotel Burns.” Bedford Gazette, 2002
Historic American Engineering Record, Creator, photographer by Elliot, Joseph. S.S. Grand View Point Hotel, Bedford, Bedford County, PA. Documentation Compiled After. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/pa3970/>