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Uncle Rob and the hotel business

Burnet House and Chamber of Commerce in Cincinnati in circa 1900, courtesy of the Library of Congress. Also see “The Burnet House, Cincinnati, Ohio” image a few years later. Rob worked at the Burnet House.

In September 1970, Tom Packard of Plainfield, MA told Bob Mills about Robert “Uncle Rob” Byron Mills I, the foster father of RBM II (Bert), noting that Rob was “in Heath with Charles Packard before he died, even coming to Plainfield to stay with Tom and his family.” But more can be said about Rob, as we can call him in this article, especially when it comes to hotels. Highlighting in this post is through the programs I used for this article and is not reflected in the original records, to be clear.

One of the first descriptions of him and his role in the industry was on page 351 of the August 1899 issue (no. 8) of the Masonic Voice and Review:

Mr. R.B. Mills, the new proprietor, is young in years, but ripe in experience. He has had superior advantages and thoroughly understands the hotel business. He is pleasant and agreeable, and has a watchful eye to the comforts and wants of the patrons of the house. If you contemplate a visit to the city [of Cincinnati], on business or for pleasure, stop at the New Sterling [later renamed Hotel Sterling]. If you are looking for a resident hotel for yourself and family, with the surroundings and atmosphere of home, go to the New Sterling. There is no better nor more comfortable house in the Queen City.

This would make sense because the 1900 census shows him, his wife Hattie, and Bert, living in Cincinnati! By 1901, he was listed as the manager, with George D. Potts, of The Burnet House in Cincinnati:

Ad for the Burnet House in International Railway Journal, Vol 9, p 51. This ad is repeated on pages 43 and 47.

That was the same year that Rob and Hattie would have their only natural child, Stanley Sterling Mills, and they were living at “Cincinnati’s Hotel Sterling, which sat at Cincinnati’s West End at 6th and Central Streets” as I’ve written in the past. I don’t wish to cover the same ground I did in that post, but I may add in mentions to it here and there.

Even so, in 1904 and 1906 he was listed as working at “the Sterling.” [1] One book, Lost Ohio: More Travels Into Haunted Landscapes, Ghost Towns, and Forgotten Lives, even claimed that the “Upper Hotel” was built for Rob in 1904. This cannot be currently verified. By 1906, he was the owner and proprietor of the Munro, likely in Ohio, and his past experience in the hotel industry was mentioned:

The Hotel/motor Hotel Monthly [Clissold Publishing Company: 1906], Vol. 14, p 30.
The following year, 1907, he was said to be working at the Hunts Hotel in Cincinnati. [2] Three years later, Rob and the rest of his family “would all be living at the Hotel Sterling.” The following year, he was described as “formerly of Hotel Bennett, Binghamton, N. Y., and Grand Hotel, New York City.” It was around that time that Reverend Charles Frederic Goss wrote a biography of Rob for his book in Cincinnati. By 1917, he was appointed manager of the back part of the Hotel Gibson in Cincinnati, working with W.E. Hawk, the assistant manager. [3]

Two years later, in 1919, there was an article in The Hotel World about Rob, working at the Grand Hotel in Cincinnati who had been recently elected to the hotel directorate after being a manager of the hotel for “several years,” even a new vice-president of the Ohio State Hotel Association. [4] He outlined some of the “most essential” elements of hotels, in order to make them “efficient,” in a letter to employees where he explained a bonus system, writing in a manner that somewhat reflects bosses in the corporate world today, the “corporate pursuit of happiness” as one article a few years ago called it:

The most essential items in the conduct of a hotel are courtesy, the elimination of waste, and faithful attention to one’s work by putting forth our best efforts. Think what it would mean if our force of 125 people [at the Grand Hotel] all set out to be courteous to the guests and to one another, cut out all waste–which means turning out lights when not needed, turning off water, saving soap, stationary of all kinds, heat, coal, steam linen, butter, cream, sugar, matches, time and many other things.  The directors have put us in charge of this hotel and we can make it just what we wish. We can fill the hotel to capacity every day by being courteous, alert, and giving quick, careful attention to service. Then, if each one of us is a committee of one to boost and smile, we will get the new rooms, and if we get them, we will fill them. Be thoughtful of noise in the falls at all times and especially in the morning. People often retire late and want a little beauty sleep until about 8 or 9 in the morning. The dining room is a touchy institution and requires the closest study, and courtesy always wins there. One thing which we should be careful about is to watch the patrons when they come in the dining room door and be sure to seat them. If the head waiter is busy elsewhere or if his attention is taken up, the other waiters should take it upon themselves to see that the guest receives the proper attention….Let us all get the habit to make the Grand Hotel one bright spot, and one year from now take account of stock and see if it pays.

These views were no surprise, as the previous year, the Grand Hotel, called “one of Cincinnati’s older hostelries,” was being remodeled with addition of thirty guest rooms and a number of baths, with Rob “placed in charge of the hotel” after being joint manager of the Hotel Gibson. [5] Elsewhere he was described as one of the “prominent people” in the hotel industry, as the previous “co-manager of the Hotel Gibson” with W.E. Hawk in Cincinnati. With this, it was noted as taking “management of the Hotel Grand in that city,” [6]

By the 1920s, he was providing a space for a group called the Cincinnati Carriage Makers’ Club to meet, even addressing them at their meeting in May 1920 [7]. The hotel orchestra even played for this group. As it turns out, this group was made up of those whom tried to sell their horseless carriages, dreaming up passenger vehicles in the early 20th century. Most of the articles on them, including from webpages on the Carriage Museum of America’s website focus on their role in the 1880s or 1890s. By 1917, they, part of the Carriage Builders National Association, seemed to be in the business of selling vehicles of some kind [8], while also talking about automobiles, that looked like:

The Spokesman and Harness World, Vol. 33, p 84
The Spokesman and Harness World, Vol. 33, 194
The Spokesman and Harness World, Vol. 33, 195

It did seem they were still focused on horse-drawn carriages as well, as in the name “carriage.” By 1920, The Spokesman and Harness World declared that not only was the Carriage, Harness, and Accessory Travelings Salesman’s Association of the United States (C.H.A.T.) based in Cincinnati, but it included companies like Firestone Tire & Rubber, and undoubtedly involved the automobile business, with prospects for “greater business…for the wagon and buggy business in Cincinnati” in 1920. [9]

At the same time, Rob was defending the interests of the hotel industry before the state legislature as the continued Manager, Vice-President, and Director of the Grand Hotel [10] This is no surprise as he was a chairman for the second congressional district of Ohio for the American Hotel Association and attended the association’s meeting.

Ad for the Grand Hotel on page 566 of The Official Hotel Red Book and Directory, which was published in 1920. Also see page 568.

In 1922, he was described as the hotel proprietor and manager:

Page 615 of the Cincinnati 1922 City Directory (Cincinnati: Williams Directory Company, 1922).

And the hotel rates were described:

Page 1926 of the Cincinnati 1922 City Directory (Cincinnati: Williams Directory Company, 1922).

Rob was also, at that time, Treasurer of the Cincinnati Hotel Association:

Chilton Hotel Supply Index [Chilton Company: May 1922], p 469.
He was pictured six years later in a Cincinnati Inquirer article noting how he was elected as the general manager and president of the Grand Hotel:

The same article described him as “well known in hotel circles throughout the United States, having managed hotels in the Middle West” and as “past President of the Ohio Hotels Association” along with ten years as General Manager of the Grand Hotel (since Mar 1, 1918).

By 1929, the following year he was still the hotel’s proprietor. [11] And the year after that, this did not change, as indicated in specific records within the city directory:

Page 715 of the Cincinnati 1930-1931 Directory, courtesy of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

One of those records even listed his adopted son, Bert, who was then an insurance agent in Cheviot:

Page 1223 of the Cincinnati 1930-1931 Directory, yellow arrows that I added to this image for descriptive purposes, point to Rob (R B) and Bert (“Robt”)

Additionally, he was part of the automobile association in the state of Ohio. In 1932, it was announced that the Grand Hotel would be closing their doors, with one publication saying that “this is sad news for B & O employees who have enjoyed the hospitality of R.B. Mills for many years,” saying that he was “always anxious to please the railroad men and on many occasions went out of his way to make us feel comfortable.” [12] By June 1934, he was described by the same magazine as “manager of the Hotel Sinton-St. Nicholas.” That is where this image fits in, proving this as correct:

Courtesy of mgk_man on ebay (also see here).

Other articles in various publications, through the 1930s, further confirmed he was a manager of the Hotel Sinton. [13] By 1944, he was still one of the officers of the Cincinnati Realty Company which was incorporated in 1905 to operate and construct the Hotel Sinton. [14] Finally, in 1953, he was still listed as the president of the Grand Hotel. I’ll end with what text from my previous post:

On June 18, 1950, RBM I died of coronary heart disease in Heath, Massachusetts. The Cincinnati Enquirer would say he managed the “Sterling Hotel, Grand Hotel…Hotels Gibson and Sinton,” calling him a “prominent figure in Cincinnati hotel circles for 40 years,” with Hattie dying one year before. He was a member of Syrian Temple Shrine, Christ Episcopal Church, founding member of the Cincinnati Auto Club, and active in Chamber of Commerce of Cincinnati. He was buried, like Hattie, in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati.


[1] The Hotel/motor Hotel Monthly (Clissold Publishing Company, 1904), Vol. 12, p 18; The Hotel/motor Hotel Monthly (Clissold Publishing Company, 1906), Vol. 16, p 23.

[2] Executive Documents: Annual Reports … Made to the … General Assembly of the State of Ohio …, Part 2 [Ohio, 1907], p 922; Ohio Dept. of Inspection of Workshops, Factories and Public Buildings, Annual Report of the Department of Inspection of Workshops, Factories and Public Buildings, to the General Assembly of the State of Ohio, for the Year 1907 [Office Chief State Inspector of Workshops and Factories, 1907], Vol. 23, p 72].

[3] Hotel Monthly [J. Willy, 1917], Vol. 25, p 4.

[4] The Hotel World: The Hotel and Travelers Journal (1919), Vol. 88, p 62, 68, 73, 97; the article was titled “Essential Items in Conduct of Hotels: Courtesy and Elimination of Waste Emphasized by R.B. Mills.”

[5] “Cincinnati and Vicinity,”  Domestic Engineering and the Journal of Mechanical Contracting [1918], Vol. 83, p 32.

[6]The Hotel World: The Hotel and Travelers Journal [1918], Vol. 86, p 70.

[7] Motor Body, Paint and Trim [May 1920], Vol. 56, p 54.

[8] The Spokesman and Harness World [Spokesman Publishing Company, 1917], Volume 33, p 64, 163-9.

[9] The Spokesman and Harness World [Cincinnati: Spokesman Publishing Company, 1920], Vol. 36, p 26-7, 30, 39, 59, 76, 83, 93, 95, 103, 117, 125, 159.

[10] The Hotel World: The Hotel and Travelers Journal [1920], Vol. 90, p 21, 31, 56-7, 74, 85.

[11] Williams’ Cincinnati Directory [1929], p 735.

[12] B and O Magazine [Baltimore and Ohio Railroad., 1932], Vol. 20, p 27, 41.

[13] The Pullman News [Pullman Company, 1932], Vol. 11-15, p 117; The Railroad Trainman [Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen., 1937], Vol. 54, 633; Highway Topics [1936], Vol. 14-15, p 18.

[14] Moody’s Manual of Investments, American and Foreign; Banks, Insurance Companies, Investment Trusts, Real Estate, Finance and Credit Companies [Moody’s Investor Service, 1944], p 261.

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