Local News

Hillsborough takes action to gain control of historic inn

Posted July 28, 2016 2:16 p.m. EDT

What was once the longest-running hotel in North Carolina might be revived if its owners can decide how to save the Hillsborough landmark.

— Town officials said Thursday that they have filed an eminent domain action in Orange County Superior Court to acquire the former Colonial Inn in downtown Hillsborough.

Officials have cited public safety concerns in pursuing the action against the owners of the decrepit Colonial Inn, at 153 W. King St.

The Colonial Inn, which historians say was built in 1838 – a weathered sign says it dates to 1759 – survived the Civil War and entertained guests as notable as the late actor Paul Newman for generations. But it has been closed for more than a decade, has become a rundown eyesore and was condemned last year.

Under eminent domain, government is allowed to take private property and compensate the owner.

The Hillsborough Board of Commissioners deposited $250,000 with the Orange County Clerk of Court, which they said is the estimated fair market value of the property as determined by town-hired appraisers.

Chapel Hill businessman Francis Henry, who bought the inn at auction in 2002, has 120 days to accept or contest the eminent domain action. If the filing is not contested or if the $250,000 is taken from the court, title for the property would then transfer to the town.

Officials said they are considering converting the inn, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, to offices, a museum or other educational or recreational space.

"The primary goal is simply to see that this historic landmark in our community is preserved for future generations," Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens said in a statement. "We (want to) make decisions regarding the property based on solid information rather than sentiments."

The town is considering transferring ownership to a public-private partnership that would be responsible for undertaking the estimated $3 million in renovations needed, officials said.