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James Wormley (1819-1884), born free in Washington, is best known as the owner and operator of the Wormley Hotel, which opened in 1871. Wormley was one of a number of entrepreneurs in the hotel and other service trades with downtown businesses. The hotel catered primarily to wealthy and politically powerful white men.

The five-story Wormley Hotel contained a bar, a barbershop, and an acclaimed dining room where Wormley served European-style dishes using fresh ingredients he grew on his nearby farm (see the separate entry for Wormley Family Estate). Wormley, who had spent time in Europe honing his culinary skills, was a consummate entrepreneur, attending to minute details to ensure the pleasure of his guests.

The hotel is also famous as the site of the Wormley Conference of 1877, when representatives of Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel J. Tilden brokered a deal over the contested presidential election of 1876. The eventual result was the Compromise of 1877, which led to the removal of troops from the South and the end of Federal Reconstruction.

Wormley's parents were Lynch and Mary Wormley, both also free born. After Wormley's death in 1884, his eldest son, James T. Wormley, managed the hotel until 1893 when he sold it. It was taken over by new owners and renamed the Colonial in 1897. The hotel was later razed, and the Union Trust Company building was constructed on the site in 1906.

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