When Moses Bagg, of Westfield, Massachusetts sailed up the Mohawk river with his wife and two sons in the autumn of 1793, he was not very much impressed by the area and stayed instead at Middle Settlement during the winter. He changed his mind and came back on March 12, 1794. He opened a blacksmith shop on Main street, a little east of the Square. His house was a log structure described by his grandson, M. M. Bagg as “a shanty made of hemlock boards nailed to the stubs of trees, and stood directly on the corner; and this he opened for the accommodation of travellers.”
Finding it was more profitable to fit rooms to visitors than shoes to horses, in 1795 he put up a two story wooden building on the same site and kept it as a tavern until his death in September 1805. For the next two years the tavern was kept by George Tisdale and the first elephant ever seen in Utica was exhibited in Tisdale’s yard in 1806-07. Then Moses Bagg Jr. took over the tavern and continued his father’s tradition as a congenial host. It was rather a small building and when the first Board of Canal Commissioners came to Utica in July 1810 to make a preliminary survey for the Erie Canal, only two of the commissioners, Stephen Van Rensselaer and Gouverneur Morris with their servants could be accommodated and the rest of the commissioners were required to seek quarters elsewhere.
In 1812, Moses Bagg Jr. decided to build a large hotel on the same site. In 1792 Joseph Ballou had come from Rhode Island and purchased a lot on the southeast corner of Main and John streets. He built a red brick building and store there, occupied by his son, Jerathmel Ballou, a merchant. When his father died in 1810, Jerathmel took over the property and when Moses Bagg decided to build his new hotel, Jerathmel purchased and moved across to his property the old wooden Bagg’s tavern. He made additions to it in 1817 and it was opened as a public house by Amos Gray. It was afterwards kept by Cyrus Grannis who was successively a packet boat captain, merchant and tavern owner and he called the place “Union Hall”. In March 1870 it was known as the “Northern Hotel”, leased by Jeremiah Shaw from the then owner, Theodore P. Ballou. On March 12th of that year, it was destroyed by fire. When first discovered, the blaze was confined to the eastern wall and garret over the sitting room fronting on Main street but the fire gained headway and destroyed the old hostelry. The “Utica Morning Herald” the next day wrote: “ The old hotel has gone; peace to its ashes. More sightly structures may occupy the ground where it once stood; but some years must pass before they become as venerable as was the Northern Hotel.”
Of all the early pioneer taverns, Bagg’s was to have the most lasting effect upon Utica and it continued for well over a hundred years until 1932 when it finally closed and was torn down. To the original brick hotel built in 1812-15 in the center of the lot, Moses Bagg added additions on either side until including the old Bleecker House to the north, Bagg’s Hotel occupied the entire east side of the Square. From 1825 to 1828, it was conducted by Abraham Shepard, a native of New London, Connecticut as “Shepard’s Hotel”. In 1828, Moses Bagg returned to the hotel and took as his partner, Alfred Churchill, who became the sole proprietor in 1836. In the last years of the 19th century, Thomas R. Proctor was the proprietor and he developed the old hotel into the finest in this part of the country.