• Tom McWhorter

The Hotel Divine: 1881-1975

This hotel was a Portland landmark and was very popular. I have heard stories about this hotel my entire life. People would come from the local area, as well as the entire region. Arriving originally on horse and buggies, train, and bus and auto later on. Many conventions were held there throughout the years, with people traveling from as far away as Chicago, Traverse City and Detroit.

The hotel was a place that people would also go to celebrate special occasions. The establishment opened in 1881 and originally was named the “Welch House” and was located at Grand River and Maple Streets in downtown Portland. My great grandfather and great grandmother stayed there for their honeymoon in 1882. They must have traveled by horse and buggy from rural Sunfield.

Monroe Divine purchased the hotel in 1900 and changed the name to the Hotel Divine and ownership eventually passed on to his son Chester (Chet) Divine. Chet Divine was married to Lulu Divine, who was said to be a real character. In my research, I was fortunate enough to find a video of a presentation to the Portland Historical Society that featured the remembrances of Dick McQueen, who worked at the Divine during the 40’s. Much of the following information was gleaned from this video. The hotel consisted of the basement, ground/main floor as well as the first and second floors where the rooms were located. The main floor was decorated totally in marble. This was where the main entrance was located as well the hotel lobby, which was said to be very plush including a number of very large mirrors. There was a side entrance on the Grand River side where the Greyhound bus stop was located.

At the front desk, lodging was arranged, bus tickets purchased and liquor to go was sold. During the 1940’s rooms on the first floor cost $1.50 a night, which included a private bathroom and on the second floor went for only 34 cents per night but did not included a bathroom. There were two large communal bathrooms on the second floor. A coffee shop on the main floor was where many of the bus riders would go when the bus made a stop. The main dining room was on the ground floor and the focal point of this restaurant was a very large chandelier. The Stine Room, (purpose unclear), the main bar, which was next to the Card and Pool room, which included a mini bar that dispensed draft beer, the number of bar waiters whom were employed is unknown. The Card and Poolroom also had its own entrance. There were a number of bookcases situated in either the bar, so hotel patrons could have reading material available for their use. The wooden bar was “really something else” and is rumored to now be located in the Eagle Inn. Apparently, there was some kind of rotating bar at one time but the specifics are unknown. The kitchen was in the back of the main floor. There were four cooks employed. The coffee shop had a waitressing staff of four and the dining room had six but the number of waiters and other employees is unknown. The main floor was the location of the barbershop (haircuts 25 cents, shave 35 cents). The Ladies public restroom was located across from the bus entrance for the convenience of the passengers, while the men’s room was down the stairs nearby.

The basement was where the boilers were located, which produced steam to heat the building and rooms. The public men’s room was also in the basement possibly so that it would be close to several semiprivate card rooms. The basement was the probable location used for gambling purposes.

During WW II, my father was coming home on leave and as far as he could get to Sunfield, (train or bus?), was Portland, so he stayed the night at the Divine, and my grandfather picked him in the morning. A bit of trivia; I used to have a token from the hotel that said "good for 10 cents in trade, Divine Hotel, Portland” it must have come from either the Card and Pool room, or maybe the bar. In addition, as the family story goes, my father and very pregnant mother came to Portland on February 6, 1950 to visit their family doctor. The doctor said my mother was not ready yet, but to stay close and come back for an examination the next morning. So they (we) stayed at the Divine that night, next day mom and dad went to the doc and he said, ready!, let's go!, so my mother and father along with the local doctor following, drove to St. Lawrence Hospital where I was born Feb 7. Therefore, that means that I stayed there, right?

In summary, everyone in the area stayed there at one time or another, as it was a very popular hotel and a real landmark! Unfortunately, The Divine Hotel was demolished in 1975. The most recent picture that I have of the hotel’s former site, (was taken in 1987), and at the time the photo only shows a parking lot.

I would like to credit the Portland Historical Society and the presentation by Mr. McQueen for much of the above information. I would also like to thank the “Rediscovering History”, group for bringing up the hotel as a topic of conversation, and thereby prompting me to do further research.

This piece was originally written for the Portland Area Historical Society. Republished with permission.

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