The sad recent fate of historic Colonial Inn
No building is more beloved by the people of Hillsborough than the Colonial Inn. It was built in 1838 and originally called the Orange Hotel. Folks recognized the special nature of the hotel right off the bat. Here is part of an ad that was published by the original owner, Isaac Spencer:
“This large and commodious establishment is now open. . . . . . No expense or pains will be spared to give it character abroad. Customers may rest assured that his accommodations will be good.”
In 1860, when owned by the Stroud family, it had 10 boarders, and several laborers.
Although the inn was well received and enjoyed by the public from 1838 until 2001, the owners of the property did not fare so well. The inn survived the Civil War, but the Stroud family lost the property by foreclosure in 1868.
Ownership of the inn has passed through many hands. This article only lists a few of them. Henry Brown and Charles Latimer probably lost the property through bankruptcy. David Parks purchased the Hotel in 1868 and called it the Occoneechee Hotel. He drastically remodeled the inn. In 1900, the inn appeared to be somewhat rundown.
In 1908, Thomas A. Corbin purchased the property and renamed it the "Corbinton Inn," Then, in 1921, W. L Foushee bought the property and named it the Colonial Inn. He expanded the structure.
In 1946, when the inn was in serious disrepair, Paul Henderson purchased it. We owe him our thanks, for he renovated the structure -- perhaps keeping it from being abandoned. He added a "fine-dining" restaurant. Henderson sold it to Charles and Ann Crawford in 1952. During this time the inn had a high reputation. The menu listed Salisbury steak at 90 cents and the desert for about 15 cents.
The Crawfords operated the business until they sold it to James and Maxine Freeman in 1969. James, a well-known builder in Hillsborough, expanded the structure.
What a joy it was to eat in the restaurant! The waitresses were dressed in “old-timey” clothes just as was done in the 1800s. The food was excellent and the waitresses were warm and friendly. The floors creaked as you walked on them, and the feeling of having a meal in an inn built in the 1800’ was a special and unique experience.
The inn continued to deteriorate. It was acquired by Francis Henry in 2001 by foreclosure. In 2004, Hillsborough notified Henry that the inn was undergoing demolition by neglect. In 2008 Hillsborough charged him with demolition by neglect. In 2009, Hillsboro sued Henry (Colonial Inn LLC) and later that year found that Henry had failed to comply with the court order. In short, he had not made the required repairs.
Hillsborough again sued Henry and the court ordered repairs to be done by May 2011. The repairs were not done, and Henry was ejected from the building in 2012.
Now, when I walk past the Colonial Inn, I wince. The historic inn, which survived for 176 years, is in utter disrepair.
The actions of Hillsborough have been slow because they have to comply with difficult laws and also wanted to be fair to Henry. The town has a judgment against the Colonial Inn for $5000. It has not been paid.
Back in 2001, when Henry bought the inn, people assumed he would make repairs to it.
Now we know: Henry does not significantly improve property. He buys deteriorating properties and then lets them decay. That is what he did with the Rathskeller restaurant, which closed and was liquidated. He bought the Dey house on Easy Rosemary Street. Then it was demolished.
Henry applied for a permit to destroy the Colonial Inn. The Hillsborough Historic District Commission denied the request.
If someone is able to buy the property, Hillsborough could give incentive money to the buyer, to be used in the new construction. Also, the buyer could sell stock in the venture. Chances are that many Orange County residents would buy the stock, even if it is risky. It would give them the opportunity to do their part in the reconstruction of the Colonial Inn!!
Stanley Peele is a retired judge and a regular Chapel Hill Herald columnist.