Historic Hillsborough inn may soon be history
Posted July 14, 2014
Hillsborough, N.C. — What once was once the longest-running hotel in North Carolina might soon be history if the owner can persuade Hillsborough officials to let him demolish it.
The Colonial Inn, which historians say was built in 1838 – a weathered sign that hangs out front of the West King Street building claims it dates to 1759 – survived the Civil War and entertained guests as notable as the late actor Paul Newman for generations.
Now, sections of the hotel are rotting from years of neglect. The paint is peeling, it's covered in cobwebs and weeds sprout on its front steps.
"It's not in immediate danger of collapsing, but it needs help," Margaret Hauth, the planning director for Hillsborough, said Monday.
The inn closed in 2001 and was auctioned off the following year to Chapel Hill businessman Francis Henry. At the time, Henry said he planned to restore and reopen it.
Hillsborough officials sued Henry in 2004, arguing that hardly any repairs had been made, but the lawsuit was dropped a year later after Henry made additional repairs. Since then, building code violations mounted, and the town finally condemned the building.
Henry last month filed an application to demolish the inn, allowing volunteers to scavenge most of the wood from the building.
The Hillsborough Board of Commissioners and the town's Historic District Commission were expected to discuss the future of the Colonial Inn on Monday night.
Henry didn't return messages Monday for comment.
Leaders of Hillsborough, a town that abounds in old homes, shudder at the thought of the Colonial Inn collapsing. They would like nothing more than for someone to restore it.
"As recently as the '70s, '80s and '90s, people celebrated their life's events there – wedding receptions, retirement receptions," Hauth said. "To see it no longer open to the public is heart-wrenching to many people in town."
Wesley Woods, who has owned hardware store Dual Supply Co. down the street from the inn since the 1970s, said the building could be restored if someone invested enough time and money in it.
"If somebody had the money, it could be saved," Woods said.
Woods' son, Jeff Woods, recalled the Colonial Inn's food as being the stuff of legend. He said he regrets the possibility that the inn might soon be a vacant lot.
"It’s kind of sad to see it the way it is now, just dwindling away," Jeff Woods said. "My kids and my grandkids won't be able to tell what it was like."