One of Worcester’s most iconic and significant historic properties is hidden in plain sight in the heart of Kelley Square. Most of us drive right by it and don’t even realize how legendary the Hotel Vernon is. This four story masonry building is located at the corner of Vernon and Millbury Street and has its back towards the highway. The building has a bar room on the ground floor with hotel rooms on the second through fourth floors with communal bathrooms. At its original time of construction in 1901 the area was known as Vernon Square and was most likely a gathering place for the neighboring community. The construction of Interstate 290 changed everything when it cut off the Vernon Hill neighborhood from the square making it harder for people to access the downtown from all of the residential areas. But what makes this place so legendary? So far this describes most hotels built in the early 20th century.
During the years of prohibition this building became a gathering place for locals to drink and hang out. Local baseball legend Babe Ruth frequented the Hotel Vernon during his time on the Boston Red Sox and it’s said he used to eat raw hamburgers here. However, it wasn’t on the ground floor bar that people drank at – that’d be too risky. A secret speakeasy bar located in the basement is where all the action happened. You had to know how to get down there and what the secret password was to get in. It’s said that no one ever got caught drinking there. Today the speakeasy still stands, feeling almost stuck in time with dust on the bar and dim lighting as you walk through the cave-like basement. A truly magical piece of Worcester’s history still very much intact.
But what’s up with the nautical theme and the big boat steering wheel? They call it the Kelley Square Yacht club and it has its very own ship room that resembles the inside of a yacht. This was during the great depression when money was tight so it gave everyone in the neighborhood their own yacht to hang out in. Nautical treasures and memorabilia can be found through the ship room and bar room.
Today, over 100 years later, the Hotel Vernon is still very much alive and well, serving cheap beer, putting on live performances and renting out rooms. Its charm is still very much there and its secrets of the past are still hidden in plain sight. If you’re looking for a cold drink and know where to go, tell them that Madame Rhubarb sent you…
Image 1-7: Image taken by Peter Fauci