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A glorious manifestation of the national trend of the restoration of grand old hotels has taken place along the mountain corridor in western Virginia. Come on along on a road trip from Staunton through Wytheville and on down to Marion.
As the lights went on in the sleek new rooms of the Bolling Wilson Hotel in late 2014, so did the hopes of downtown Wytheville, Virginia. After almost 40 years of housing banks, the four-story building that began life as the George Wythe Hotel in 1927 is again accommodating travelers.
The boutique hotel takes its new name and decorative theme from the life of former U.S. First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson, whose birthplace museum stands across the street. With an emphasis on history, gourmet food and luxury furnishings, the Bolling Wilson gives travelers reason to exit the interstate – and this grand hotel named for Wytheville’s famous daughter just could revitalize downtown.
The hotel’s rebirth coincides with a nationwide trend. Historic downtown hotels, symbols of glamour and focal points of community life that faded with the rise of chain motels, are enjoying a renaissance. Several stately downtown hotels have sprung back to life recently in Virginia towns along Interstate 81, catering to folks eager to experience the graciousness and amenities of a historic full-service hotel.
The game plan is to take in three of these restored lovelies in one long weekend. Here’s a plan for your grand downtown-hotel hopping jaunt.
Thursday: Staunton’s Stonewall Jackson
Fixing up an aging hotel is an expensive gamble. Private owners of the Bolling Wilson and Marion’s Francis Marion Hotel spent upwards of $4 million each; putting the glory back into the seven-story Stonewall Jackson Hotel required even deeper pockets. The city of Staunton paid half its $21.1-million renovation tab with private developers providing the rest. Visitors to the hotel’s 124 high-ceilinged rooms love the results.
The Stonewall Jackson perches on a hill within walking distance of anything in downtown Staunton you’re likely to visit. The tall windows, walk-in closets, and oddly shaped corner rooms of the original 1924 hotel add charm; entering its palatial blond lobby makes you feel like a Crawley of “Downton Abbey.”
The original Wurlitzer theater organ on the mezzanine, the only working one of its kind worldwide, is restored to playing condition, but you’ll only hear it in piano mode as the staff says its full sound is too “exuberant.” Guests wishing to burn off their own exuberance can swim laps in the basement pool or exercise in the fitness center. Or walk downhill to shops and eateries.
Really, every visitor should make haste to the blue-lit Beverly Street café under the “Zynodoa” sign and order dinner from its nouvelle Southern farm-to-table menu. If you’ve wondered about the merits of free-range chicken, try it here. This succulent, slightly nutty bird is a different critter entirely from your usual corporate-farm fowl.
American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse, beside the Stonewall Jackson, is another not-to-be-missed attraction. The only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor playhouse in the world, Blackfriars stages performances in this intimate theater Wednesday through Sunday. For an extra jolt of drama, ask to be seated on the stage.
The Jackson’s neon rooftop sign orients you from anywhere in town. Beverly Street’s eclectic shopping district begins a block north; Sunspots Glassblowing Studio and Redbeard Brewery are four blocks west; President Woodrow Wilson’s birthplace museum is two blocks east – see it before visiting his wife’s birthplace Friday. The Museum of Frontier Culture, a living history spanning three continents located along I-81, is also worth a visit.
Stonewall Jackson Hotel & Conference Center
24 South Market Street, Staunton, VA
Friday: Wytheville’s Bolling Wilson