By Carol Antman for The Island Connection
If you’re ready to venture away from the predictability of chain hotels, curb your impulse to book a room on Expedia and click instead on the Historic Hotels of America website. It’s a tempting selection of over 300 unique accommodations in 46 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico that have been admitted to this official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
To become a member, the properties have to be faithfully authentic, possess a sense of place, have architectural integrity and be at least 50 years old. Additionally, they are all designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark or recognized as having historic significance by the National Register of Historic Places. Those who appreciate architectural detail and craftsmanship will especially enjoy these locations and the care that has gone into maintaining them.
When my husband and I stayed at The Dunhill Hotel in Charlotte, we had the best seats in the house for an epic bike race that sped through this prime location in the cultural district. We appreciated being able to walk to museums, especially the jewel-box sized Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and the nearby restaurants and nightlife. In 2017, the Dunhill was named “Best Small Inn” by Historic Hotels for its architecture inspired by Italian craftsmen.
Exit the interstate onto a private launch. The Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island can only be reached by boat from St. Marys, Georgia. Guests disembark into an unmanicured, forested island where wild horses share the rough paths leading to the beach, ruins of mansions and primitive campgrounds.
With only 16 rooms, the all-inclusive gourmet dinners are friendly affairs where you can share tales of island adventures like visiting the tiny rustic chapel where John Kennedy Jr. and Caroline Bessette were married.
At the Martha Washington Inn and Spa in Abingdon, Virginia my two sisters and I spread out in our huge, 3rd floor room. General Robert Preston built the hotel in 1832 for his wife and nine children after his successes in the War of 1812. Much of the original architecture has been meticulously preserved including the 9-foot tall Dutch baroque grandfather clock in the lobby, which was brought from England by one of the Preston daughters. The hotel is close to the (almost all downhill) Virginia Creeper Trail, which draws thousands of bicyclists. While luxuriating in the cascading pools we spied a bride escaping her photo shoot to hide in the bushes and smoke a cigarette. She invited us to crash her wedding, which featured the macabre theme of Chicago Gangsters complete with plastic Tommy-gun toting groomsmen.
History surrounds you at these hotels. At the Jekyll Island Club in Georgia you can sit in the room where the groundwork for the Federal Reserve was written, or where the president of AT&T placed the first intercontinental telephone call. You can actually stay in one of the grand summer cottages of the rich industrialists.
Looking out my window I easily imagined myself as one of the country’s elite industrialist wives like Alma Rockefeller who vacationed here in the 1880s. She disembarked from her namesake yacht at the dock right outside followed by a parade of servants toting dozens of steamer trunks containing the ten changes of clothes required daily of Victorian women. It was like being in two centuries at once.
Elsewhere on Georgia’s Golden Isle is the sprawling King and Prince Hotel where beach-side dances were held in 1935 before the hotel housed military in World War II. Today, it’s Mediterranean architecture and a variety of room styles welcomes guests to the homey community of St. Simons Island.
After Edwin Wiley Grove became a millionaire by selling his malaria-fighting Tasteless Chill Tonic (it sold more bottles than Coca Cola in the 1890s) he constructed Asheville’s Grove Park Inn. Massive stone boulders were excavated and fitted together like puzzle pieces by Italian stone masons and local craftsmen. The grand hall lobby includes the much-photographed 14-foot wide fireplaces. Alongside the chimney shafts, surrounded by boulders weighing up to 5 tons, are the original Otis elevators.
Their unique design has been featured in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. When the inn opened in 1913, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan proclaimed that the Grove Park Inn was “built for the ages.” How true. It has remained one of the Southeast’s premier destinations.
Charleston has its own Historic Hotels: The Wentworth Mansion and the Francis Marion. These are iconic places that represent our city’s history and the passion our citizenry has from preservation.
Together, these hotels and their partner The National Trust for Historic Preservation inspire people to save places where history happened, connect Americans to diverse pasts and are a leading voice in preserving our nation’s culture.
Roadtrips Charleston highlights interesting destinations within a few hours drive of Charleston, S.C. as well as more far flung locales. Carol Antman’s wanderlust is driven by a passion for outdoor adventure, artistic experiences, cultural insights and challenging travel. For hot links, photographs and previous columns or to make comments please see PeaksAndPotholes.blogspot.com.