New book traces history of once-popular property
PORT ROYAL —“It was beautiful with its high ceilings and fancy walnut woodwork. Especially the huge bar with its magnificent mirror behind it.” That’s how Edwina “Eddie” Johnson Bryner remembers the Hotel Royal.
Kay Crimmel Leach remembers watching movies there when she was about 5 years old.
Wayne Taylor can name a long list of childhood friends who played Cowboys and Indians there in the 1950s.
Today, there’s an empty lot at the corner of Milford and Second streets in Port Royal, where the three-story brick Hotel Royal stood until it was demolished in February.
There was heartbreak among those who grew up around the old hotel when the bricks and dust settled, but their memories will be kept alive forever in a new book by Wayne Taylor. “Hotel Royal 1902-2017” is now available for purchase.
“I grew up in Port Royal,” Taylor said, earlier this month, just after picking up the book from the printer.
“The Hotel Royal was always a mainstay in our town. Like everyone else, I was sorry to see it go,” he said. “Lots of people had questions about it, so I started to dig in and get some answers.”
Taylor was the right person for the job. He taught history in Juniata County schools for more than 30 years, and authored a three-book series of historical fiction — “Hope on the Tuscarora,” Hope Rekindled” and “Across Five Valleys,” tracing local history from the time of the French and Indian War to the Civil War.
He is also the author of “The Baseball Era of Fred Frankhouse,” a biography of Port Royal’s famed major leaguer, and he assisted with the production of a history book of the town, published during its bicentennial.
The demolition of the building in February prompted Taylor to move on a project he had been researching and contemplating for a number of years.
“I talked to people who gave me stories about what they remembered,” Taylor said. “The bad thing was so many people that I needed to talk to are no longer with us.”
Relying on those memories, as well as stories from Juniata County and Harrisburg newspapers, Taylor pieced together the history of the Hotel Royal. He said the majority of the vintage photos in the book are from the collection of D. Leon Kepner, and color photos of the razing of the hotel are courtesy of Donna L. Brothers, Sherry Losch and Paul Williams.
In the book, Taylor offers factual information, such as the names of the various owners and the dates events occurred, and puts it all into historical perspective. The book begins with Taylor stating his intent to “explain why this structure fell into disuse as a hotel and disrepair after playing a major role in Port Royal’s history for nearly as century.”
He identifies 11 factors that he believes contributed to the failure and demise of the Hotel Royal, including absentee owners, inconsistent proprietors and small clientele due to the sparse population in the area. Other factors were more political in nature, such as the loss of the hotel’s liquor license at various times and Prohibition itself.
The book looks at the local railroads and how their decline affected the hotel, and even inspects the effect of the influenza epidemic of 1918-19 had on the business.
Additional factors Taylor cites as hindering the success of the hotel were more global: the United States entry into World War I in 1917, the Great Depression in 1929, and the U.S. involvement in World War II.