Room rotated

Stepping into hotel, back in time

A dining room that is known for its murals.

By Geoffrey Cobb

Last month, my wife and I were visiting western New York when she announced to me that there was a great antique store in the small town of Lima (pronounced “lie ma”) where she intended to shop. I survive her frequent antique hunting forays by finding a local pub where I wait until her antique ardor cools. Finding a pub in a small rural town in the afternoon is hard and during Covid-19 it is even harder, but the town folk directed me to the American Hotel where I, not my wife, discovered an antique gem.

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The hotel was already old when John K. Reynolds bought it with a partner in 1920. There had been an American Hotel on this site since about 1790. The current building dates from 1840. After two fires in the 1850s, it was rebuilt in 1861and has stood there ever since.

Pat Reynolds and Rose Reynolds run the American Hotel, which their Leitrim-born grandfather bought 100 years ago with a partner.

Entering the bar with its tin ceilings, antique woodwork and old mirrors was like stepping back in time. I soon struck up a conversation with the owners, Rose and her brother Patrick Reynolds, who explained that their family was celebrating its hundredth year running the place and regaled me with many amusing stories about it. Rose and Pat, who were born only 16 months apart and are now in their 70s, complement each other. They grew up in the hotel, two of seven children raised in this small-town institution. While Pat is laidback, Rose is high energy, but they are united by a bond to keep running the hotel their Leitrim-born grandfather John K. Reynolds started in 1920.

A good place for information about Lima, N.Y.

Rose showed me the hotel’s dining rooms, whose most prominent feature is a series of gorgeous murals depicting local lakes and rivers. Of course, there was a story behind the murals, which were painted in 1937 by a broke hotel guest named Higgins, who painted them because he could not pay his bill. Years later, Higgins’s grandson showed up and told them Higgins had become a prominent because he painted the last portrait ever done of the celebrated painter Grandma Moses.

Rose and Pat are gifted storytellers and they explained how their grandfather kept the business open during Prohibition and the Great Depression. They later learned on a visit to Ireland that his generosity literally kept his relations there from starving during the hungry 1930s. His passing in 1954 brought family from New York City and Chicago. On their way home, the family members had to pass the bar where the locals invited them in for one last drink in honor of John K. Those drinks in honor of the hotel’s founder lasted for three days!

A bedroom in the hotel that was rebuilt in 1861 after a couple of fires in the 1850s.

John F. Reynolds (“Junior”) married Aretha Costello of Livonia Center in 1940 and took over management of the business from his father in 1946. The opening of the New York State Thruway in 1954 hurt business, but the hotel survived. In 1955, more change came to the American Hotel as well – the sign over the bar that read “NO LADIES served at the bar” came down for good and the bar stools were placed up against the men’s tall “standing” bar. Many locals still remark how “short” they feel sitting at the bar.

The bar had to adapt to changing times.

Rose ventured far from Lima, living in San Francisco, Washington and New Hampshire before returning to help Pat run the place. The hotel is famous throughout western New York for her delicious soups and for years Rose’s guests begged her to create a cookbook with her recipes. Finally, Rose did and published “Never Enough Thyme,” which has sold more than 20,000 copies. Each recipe is prefaced by a humorous vignette gathered from a century of family hotel lore.

My wife returned from her antique hunt and Rose showed us the charming rooms, which again had changed little since John Reynolds opened his hotel a century ago. As I walked out through the bar and said goodbye to Rose and Pat, a sign hanging in the bar captured the spirit of the Reynolds family and their hotel. It read, “All of our customers bring happiness,” but it was also true of Rose and Pat who have spent a lifetime bringing happiness to their customers.