Manufacturers: Syracuse China
User: The Homestead, Hot Springs, Va.
Pattern name: Casino Service
Date ranges of plate found in this pattern: 1952, 1954, 1973, 1974
Notes: Now the massive Omni Homestead Resort (2022), the first building on the site – constructed in 1766 – was an 18-room log hotel on 300 acres west of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley that was called Hot Springs for the mineral "healing" springs found on the land. In the 19th century a wooden hotel was added in stages.
It was in 1881 that M.E. Ingalls, a lawyer for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company (who would by 1888 become its president), accidentally happened upon the hotel while surveying the surrounding area for a new rail line. Ingalls in 1891 partnered with financier John P. Morgan and other investors to buy the hotel (without any ownership whatsoever by the C&O) with the company name Virginia Hot Springs Co., and with Ingalls as president.
By 1911, after a major fire in 1901 that spared only a few cottages and the spa building, Ingalls and his family became the sole owners of The Homestead and continued an expansion of the property, with the final major addition added in 1973.
The Homestead was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, became a charter member of Historic Hotels of American in 1989, and was named a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1991.
In 1993, The Ingalls family sold ownership to Club Resorts; it was sold again in 2001; and by 2013 it was sold yet again to current owners, Omni Hotels & Resorts.
It was the early ownership by Ingalls – despite there being no financial connection between the resort and the C&O Railroad – that encouraged the false assumption that The Homestead was owned by the railroad. This was unknowingly perpetuated in "Dining on Rails" and "Teapot Treasury" and has added considerable cachet among collectors to china used at The Homestead for only that reason. In particular, its early china with floral border pattern and shield with words "Virginia Hot Springs" has come to be commonly – but erroneously – known as associated with the C&O.
That said, china from The Homestead should not be considered to be railroad china or railroad-related but still beautiful and collectible in its own right as coming from one of America's grand hotels.
From Harry Aycock's research: In spite of a plate found with a 1952 date code (that was likely so-called new old china), the Casino Service was ordered on Jan. 15, 1954, with order #19062. To put an end date on the pattern, there is a note that "per Jack Packard As of 3-9-83 they will no longer use the crest."
The pattern consists of an airbrushed border of medium blue extending into the well of the plate, which is: underglaze decoration Shadowtone #131, full shading in turquoise blue with a large underglaze black decal crest on the #10 plates only (most likely the service plates). In the center, against the white clay body, this decal crest is the caricature of an African American man with bowtie and a fully loaded tray perched at an angle on his head. The decal backstamp says: "MADE ESPECIALLY FOR THE HOMESTEAD HOT SPRINGS VIRGINIA." In addition, there were 18 other pieces as part of the order that contained no crest.
The plate was part of The Homestead's ad campaign that highlighted "Smooth Southern Service." That the waitstaff carried trays on their heads as a part of room service, it implied, was a trademark of the resort's dedication to service. And in reality, because of the age of the hotel and narrow passageways, sometimes it was much easier to carry trays like that up and down stairs; carts were impractical.
From the May 11, 1952, issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer, left, announcing The Homestead's upcoming Waiters Tray Races: "For almost a century the waiters at the Homestead have taken pride in carrying trays on their heads. This feat is a prerequisite for all room-service waiters. … The [race] contestants carry a huge tray loaded with 15 pounds of silver, glass and china."
And yet it's a challenge not to view this caricature and descriptions of the all-black wait staff eagerly and proudly taking part in this practice – and the races themselves – without seeing it through the lens of years of racial struggle in the United States. In his 2005 book "Voices from the Hollow," Philip Reid Hirsh includes interviews of people who witnessed the practice of the tray races, and one said, "One of the most humiliating rituals I saw as a kid was the Homestead waiters' tray race. …" Hirsh also includes this description from a 1954 unidentified magazine: "… I saw a variation of the race called the 'Tray Dance' which was held indoors in the Crystal Room. Waiters balanced trays loaded with water glasses, china and lighted candles, or potted plants on their heads. … They go through an elaborate clog dance, keeping the tray balanced on their heads. … After the dance guests threw money on the floor and waiters scurried around picking it up."
This pattern was used in the Casino, which was not an actual casino but rather one of the resort's most historic buildings and the place where gentlemen used to play cards. It was built in 1893. Again, from Hirsh's book: "Another aside on the racism issue. The Casino china was deep blue, and in the center of each piece was a picture of a waiter with a tray on his head. One night a crew from the kitchen came down to the Casino and broke every single dish showing the tray picture. Even the black employees were startled."
In support of the resort, Hirsh writes: "But on the positive side it should be noted the Homestead responded strongly when the issue of racism burst into public awareness in the aftermath of Brown vs. Board of Education, well ahead of many other institutions that clung tenaciously to their right to be wrong." Oliver Hill, whose mother and stepfather worked at The Homestead, was a lead attorney in one of the cases that made up the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision and during his career filed multiple lawsuits in Virginia primarily in support of black students.
For related info:
Homestead, The – Virginia, by Buffalo and Syracuse
Homestead 2, The – Virginia, by Mayer and Homer Laughlin
Homestead 3, The – Virginia, Nature Study plates by Syracuse
Homestead 5, The – Virginia, by Syracuse
Homestead Restaurant, The, – Illinois, by Syracuse (unrelated)