THE Criterion Hotel, located in Fitzmaurice Street, had a turbulent start to life.
Situated next door to the Commercial Hotel (later known as Romano’s), it was established in 1870 by James Markey, an Englishman who had been a publican in Wagga since the late 1850s.
Markey purchased the one acre site in March 1870 for £1800 and proceeded to convert the existing dwelling of seven bedrooms, large drawing room, pantry, kitchen, servant’s room, laundry, offices and underground cellar, into “the equal of any hotel out of Sydney”.
The Bar and Commercial Rooms opened on June 2, but the opening of the remainder of the hotel was delayed until July 23.
Remarkably, and quite unfortunately for Mr Markey, his new hotel was burned to the ground that very same night.
ONE of Markey’s employees, who was staying in a straw-lined loft above the kitchen, had fallen asleep with his pipe alight.
The fire took hold extremely quickly and when it became obvious the building could not be saved, attention turned to protecting the Commercial Hotel from the same fate.
Since Wagga didn’t have a fire brigade at the time, the dividing wall between the two buildings was wetted by locals employing a bucket chain and using water drawn from a nearby well.
All the blankets from the Commercial were soaked and spread over the roof.
These measures saved the Commercial but water damage was estimated at about £400.
All that remained of the Criterion was charred ruins.
Mr Markey managed to recover from this devastating loss and rebuilt his hotel “upon a more commodious plan”.
Unfortunately, 10 years later, the Criterion was again caught up in an even more destructive fire.
To read more about the Criterion Hotel and its subsequent history, visit www.onrecordblog.com.au
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