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Lobster and oysters on 1898 Bluffton Christmas dinner

Available at Stephan Hotel in downtown Bluffton

Blue point oysters, bisque of lobster, baked shad with piquant sauce, cheese straws, Philadelphia capon, Roman punch, cream tartlets with foam sauce...and we've not yet mentioned the roasts on the menu.

Sounding like exceptional cuisine of a multi-star restaurant, it is actually from a Main Street Bluffton restaurant of 125 winters ago.

Here's your invitation to enjoy an 1898 Christmas dinner in the Stephan Hotel at the corner of Main and Church streets, downtown Bluffton. Read the history of the hotel at the bottom of this story.

As found in a December, 1898, Bluffton News, the following is the Christmas dinner 1898 bill of fare.


Blue point, lemon quarters


Bisque of lobster, cheese straws


Celery, queen olives, mixed pickles

Durkee's salad dressing

Olive oil


Baked shad

Sauce piquant


Philadelpia capon

Sauce a la Stephan


Prime western beef Mushroom sauce

Young turkey, cranberry sauce

Brown ribbed beef

Brown Jersey potatoes


Roman punch with fruit


Little pigs in blankets

Sauce imperial

Cream tartlets with foam sauce


Mash potatoes

Brown Jersey sweet potatoes

Evergreen corn

French peas






Metropolitan ice cream

Assorted cake




Malaga grapes




How sigificant was this Christmas dinner? It is the earliest of such menus ever discovered in the Bluffton News.

We believe two important developments helped bring this dinner selection to the village. First, the village municipal power plant, providing residents and businesses with electricity, opened that year. Second, the refrigerated railroad car began making an impact in the Midwest in the 1890s.

Without this combination how ccould lobster, oysters and the assortment of other items be on a Bluffton restaurant menu at this time?

Among unanswered questions, there are several.

• Who was the chef? • How many Bluffton residents took advantage of the dinner?

• What was the price of a meal? • What time did serving begin and how long did it continue?

• How many persons did it take to pull off this event?

No answers at this time.

Very little is known about the Stephan family. The only newspaper clippings we've found mentioning their Bluffton presence are below.

We know that the Stephan Hotel was operated by Charley Stephan. The hotel building was constructed in 1873 at the corner of Main and Church, where Citizens National Bank stands today.

We don't know if the Stephan Hotel was the orginal business in that building.

Shortly after 1900 the Stephan Hotel was sold to the Russell family and became the Russell Hotel. In 1919 the building experienced a devastating fire, destroying it. Soon afterward, Citizens National Bank was constructed on the site.

Bluffton in 1898

• Central Mennonite College had not yet opened

• The telephone arrived in Bluffton in 1898

• A municipal water plant opened in 1896

• A municipal power plant opened in 1898

• Bluffton's population was 1,783

• Village was served by the Lake Erie and Western Railroad

Below are photographs showing examples of the Christmas menu.

News item from a December, 1898, Bluffton News


2 comentarios

Loved this story. Wish we knew the answers to those questions.😊

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Amazing, Fred! But I think you must have taken a few liberties with the sharp color photos of the menu items!

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