Meet the Founder of One of the First 5-Story, Black-Owned Luxury Hotels

George Thomas Downing

George Thomas Downing was an entrepreneur who founded the first and largest Black-owned luxury hotel in the country. Built in 1854 in Newport, Rhode Island, his 5-floor establishment was called the Sea Girt Hotel, and primarily catered to rich white clientele. The hotel complex featured large stores, a fine dining restaurant, and accommodations for gentlemen boarders and families.
Getting started

Downing started out as the owner of his own catering business in 1842 in New York City. This allowed him to meet and connect with many of the city's most elite and prominent people. This allowed him to fully understand the needs and wants of wealthy people, and helped him a lot when he decided to launch his hotel.

But he never forgot his roots. In fact, as an important leader in abolitionism, he was very active in the Underground Railroad, and even secretly used his hotel and restaurant as a rest station for runaway slaves on the move.

Unfortunately, his hotel complex caught fire and was burned down, but he later replaced the building with Downing Block, an establishment that was partially rented to the U.S. government to serve as a hospital for the Naval Academy.

More than just a business man

Downing was also known for his work fighting for equal education for Black children, and his work fighting for public school integration. He was active in many groups including the American League of Colored Laborers, a union that organized former slaves working in New York City.

He was also a member of the Committee of Thirteen, which resisted the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850 and gave refugees from slavery the right to pass through the city.

Downing also supported women's rights, and played a role in reconstruction politics as well.

Sadly, on July 21, 1903, George Thomas Downing died in Newport, Rhode Island at the age of 83.