The Divine Hotel: 1881-1975

This hotel was a Portland landmark and was very popular. I have heard stories about this hotel all my life. People would come from the neighborhood, as well as from the whole region. Originally arriving by horse and buggy, later by train, bus and car. Many conventions have been held there over the years, with people coming from as far away as Chicago, Traverse City and Detroit.

The hotel was a place where people also went to celebrate special occasions. The facility opened in 1881 and was originally called “Welch House” and was located at Grand River and Maple streets in downtown Portland. My great grandfather and great grandmother stayed here on their honeymoon in 1882. They must have traveled by horse and buggy from the Sunfield countryside.

Monroe Divine purchased the hotel in 1900 and changed the name to Hotel Divine and ownership eventually passed to her son Chester (Chet) Divine. Chet Divine was married to Lulu Divine, who was considered a real character. In my research, I was fortunate enough to find a video of a presentation at the Portland Historical Society that featured memories of Dick McQueen, who worked at Divine in the 1940s. Much of the following information was taken from of this video. The hotel consisted of the basement, the ground floor as well as the first and second floors where the bedrooms were located. The ground floor was entirely decorated in marble. This was where the main entrance was as well as the hotel lobby, which was supposed to be very lavish, including a number of very large mirrors. There was a side entrance from the Grand River side where the Greyhound bus stop was.

At reception, accommodation was arranged, bus tickets purchased and take-out alcohol was sold. During the 1940s, rooms on the first floor were $1.50 a night which included a private bathroom and on the second floor they were only 34 cents a night but did not include a bathroom. There were two large shared bathrooms on the second floor. A cafe on the ground floor was where many bus riders went when the bus stopped. 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 which dispensed draft beer, the number of bartenders who were employed is unknown. The Card and Poolroom also had its own entrance. There were a number of bookcases located in either bar so that hotel guests could have reading material available to them. The wooden bar was “really something else” and is said to be now in the Eagle Inn. Apparently there was some kind of rotating bar at some point, but details are unknown. The kitchen was at the back of the ground floor. There were four cooks employed. The café had four waitresses and the dining room six, but the number of waiters and other employees is unknown. The ground floor was the location of the barbershop (haircut 25 cents, shave 35 cents). The ladies’ public toilets were located opposite the bus entrance for passenger convenience, while the men’s toilets were down 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, perhaps so that it was close to several semi-private game rooms. The basement was the likely location used for gambling purposes.

During WWII, my dad was coming home on furlough and as far as he could get to Sunfield (train or bus?), was Portland, so he spent the night at the Divine, and my grandfather is picked him up in the morning. A few anecdotes; I used to have a token from the hotel that said “good for 10 cents in the trade, Divine Hotel, Portland” it had to be from either the card and pool room or maybe the bar . Also, as the family story goes, my very pregnant father and mother came to Portland on February 6, 1950 to visit their family doctor. The doctor said my mom wasn’t ready yet, but she had to stay close and come back for a checkup the next morning. So they (we) stayed at Divine that night, the next day mum and dad went to the doctor and he said, ready!, let’s go!, so my mum and dad, along with the local doctor who followed them, went to St. Lawrence Hospital where I was born on February 7th So that means I stayed there, right?

In summary, everyone in the area has stayed here at one time or another as it was a busy hotel and a real landmark! Unfortunately The Divine Hotel was demolished in 1975. The most recent photo I have of the old hotel site (was taken in 1987), and at the time the photo only shows a parking lot .

I would like to thank the Portland Historical Society and Mr. McQueen’s presentation for much of the above information. I would also like to thank the group “Rediscovering History” for having mentioned the hotel as a subject of conversation, and thus having encouraged me to continue my research.

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

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Sandy A. Greer