Local News

Historic Hillsborough inn may soon be history

Posted July 14, 2014

— 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."


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  • "Screen Name-8/20" Jul 14, 2014

    "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."

    If it comes to that, the auction winner, the current owner, should get no benefits from it at all because they let it get to current state, and that may have been their plan all along, to profit (probably greatly) on the vacant land once the place fell down, and for that bit of chicanery - they should lose all attached and included with that bit of property.

  • "Screen Name-8/20" Jul 14, 2014

    View quoted thread


    I agree, but sounds to me like the auction had no restoration guidelines attached to it, and if that's so, that was a HUGE mistake on the part of Hillsborough leaders when it happened, along with the town's Historical Society.


  • "Screen Name-8/20" Jul 14, 2014

    Sounds to me like the auction should have included stipulations that the place had to be restored and maintained according to the Historic Guidelines of the cities, and a time limit of 1-5 years should have been given. If it wasn't completed within that time, then it should have reverted back to the city with the auction winner losing all of the money they put into it, including the auction price.

    You can't trust people to do what they say. The town leaders should well have known that and should have put all in writing regarding what they wanted done with the place.

    Now it may be too late to do so. One can only restore something that has a great number of its good bones left to rebuild/restore upon, and it's questionable that this businessman hasn't let it get beyond that point - perhaps intentionally, knowing the land was worth more than the building was, except for historical purposes.

  • Super Hans Jul 14, 2014

    The city should have used eminent domain to seize this building before it was gutted. But it's not too late. Tax money can be used to restore it. Local, state, federal - whatever it takes. Set up more speed traps. Set up bogus construction zones in annoying places and double the fines. Ticket and fine motorists and the citizenry for any and every obscure infraction you can think of. One way or another, the money needs to be raised.

  • Huey Jul 14, 2014

    I don't understand. Hillsborough has a "historic district" and a committee has to approve every change of paint and every change an owner wants to make to a home or business in it; yet they sit by and let one of the most historic buildings in town crumble to the ground like it has. I just don't understand at all.

  • thewayitis Jul 14, 2014

    I think it's disgusting that Henry was allowed to take this historic building and let it fall into ruins. I thought there were protections for historically designated buildings. I spent the night there in 1996, and dined there beyond that, and it makes me sad every time I drive by it to think that this wonderful old building is in such a state of disrepair.