Local News

Hillsborough panel rejects request to raze historic inn

Posted August 6, 2014 4:05 p.m. EDT
Updated August 6, 2014 9:37 p.m. EDT

— The Historic District Commission on Wednesday rejected an application to tear down a rundown building in the middle of Hillsborough.

The Colonial Inn is a historic landmark that has entertained guests as notable as the late actor Paul Newman for generations. But it has been closed for more than a decade and is now a rundown eyesore, with rotting wood, peeling paint and a weed-choked sidewalk.

Chapel Hill businessman Francis Henry, who bought the inn at auction in 2002, filed an application in June to demolish the inn, allowing volunteers to scavenge most of the wood from the building.

The plan has rallied support for the inn from Hillsborough residents, who see the Colonial Inn as an emblem of the history-saturated town.

"There's such a collective history and sense of community around that inn," said Chip Millard, a Hillsborough native who spearheaded the effort to save the building from destruction.

Historians say the Colonial Inn was built in 1838, although a weathered sign that hangs out front of the West King Street building claims it dates to 1759.

Henry hasn't responded to repeated requests from WRAL News for comment. He initially promised to restore and reopen the inn, but he became embroiled in a legal dispute with the town over the lack of changes to the building, which racked up code violations as it continued to waste away.

State officials have deemed the Colonial Inn a site of statewide historical significance, and Hillsborough planner Stephanie Trueblood said the Historic District Commission will have to consider that designation in weighing Henry's application.

"They have additional authority under state statutes to deny a demolition request," Trueblood said.

The commission is a quasi-judicial panel, and a majority of members would have to favor Henry's application for any demolition to take place.

Many townspeople said they would like nothing more than to see a deep-pocketed investor buy the old inn and renovate it.

"Everybody that has lived in Hillsborough at one time, or lives here now, feels that it's a visual symbol of hospitality in this town," Millard said. "I just can’t envision walking down King Street ... and not seeing that there.”