The hotels of Yarra Glen

For some 20 years, from 1888 until 1919, Yarra Glen supported three hotels.

The discovery of gold at Steels Creek and Woods Point in the early 1860s brought a lot of traffic along the Yarra Track.

Thomas Muncaster Bell recognised the commercial opportunity and opened a general store and the Yarra Flats Hotel in 1864.

These, together with a post office which was set up in 1861, formed a nucleus for a village which developed near the junction of what is now Melba Highway, Symons Street and Irvine Crescent.

While Bell retained ownership of the hotel buildings, the liquor license was transferred to Antonio Quadri in 1866 and to Anne and Thomas Batt in 1871.

The Yarra Flats Hotel became the meeting place of the newly-formed Yarra Flats Hunting Club.

A spacious ballroom was added to the hotel and it was the scene of many Hunt Club Balls and other district entertainments.

William Farrell held the license from 1881 until December 1888, at which time he moved to the newly-erected Grand Hotel.

In June 1894, John Irvine inserted an advertisement in the Lilydale Express stating that he had leased the hotel and ‘nothing but the very best brands of wine and spirits and ales and porter will be kept in stock’.

Jack Irvine’s son Tom held the license briefly in 1908.

Robert (Bert) Lithgow was the adopted son of Thomas Muncaster Bell and Lithgow inherited the hotel after the death of Thomas Bell in 1902.

He took over the license in 1909.

In 1935 Lithgow purchased the Grand Hotel and the Yarra Flats Hotel was de-licensed.

The building then became a private residence until it was demolished in the late 1990s to make way for Melba Lodge.

The second hotel was the Junction Hotel, built in the early 1870s at the junction of the Yarra Track and the road to Steels Creek.

Edward Cullis was granted a license on 11 September 1872.

Thomas Trott was licensee in 1880 and Alfred Lowman from 1882 to at least 1885.

At this time the hotel contained eight rooms.

Sam Smith held the license from December 1888 until his death in 1905.

The license remained with the Smith family until 1919 when the Licensing Court determined that two hotels were now ‘ample’ for Yarra Glen.

William Newman, one of the early stagecoach drivers, reminisced in later years: “One must not forget Mr Sam Smith, the jolly old proprietor of the Junction Hotel…‘Burying Sam Smith’ was the popular excuse made by some of the old-timers to their wives if they dwelt too long at this old inn.” (The Age, 5 January 1935)

The 1880s saw another significant economic development when the railway was built across the Yarra Flats.

William and Henry Farrell saw the potential tourist trade and the value of being near the new railway station.

In 1887 Henry erected a modest building on the site of the current Yarra Valley Grand Hotel ‘containing six rooms, exclusive of those required for the use of my family and servants’.

He successfully applied for the license of the recently-closed Christmas Hills Hotel to be transferred to his establishment, which he called the Burgoyne Hotel.

In December 1888 William Briggs took over William Farrell’s license for the Yarra Flats Hotel, and William Farrell bought into his brother’s business at the Burgoyne.

In a newspaper interview Farrell is reported as saying that in “1888, the present year, I bought the hotel property known as Burgoyne, and have added a large number of other rooms to keep pace with the requirements of the ever-increasing business”.

The completed two-storey building was officially opened in September 1889.

It had a large kitchen, 24 bedrooms, eight sitting rooms, a dining room and a billiard room.

There was a public bar and a private bar.

The 90-foot tower provided views of the surrounding countryside.

The total cost, including the land which comprised 20 acres, was £10,000.

The renewal of the license for the Burgoyne Hotel was granted to Henry Farrell in December 1888.

He held it until 1890 when it was transferred to William Farrell.

The new railway station was named Yarra Glen and this was also soon adopted as the name of the adjacent township which grew at the southern end of Bell Street.

In December 1905 Rachel Dawson took over the Burgoyne Hotel and when she applied for the victualler’s license, she also received permission to change the name to the Grand Hotel.

Bert Lithgow bought the Grand Hotel in 1935 for £3050 and from that day until the present it remains the only hotel in the parish of Burgoyne.

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