Winchester's Taylor Hotel: Historic preservation at work

By: Conrad Neuf , Contributing Writer
In: Old House History

While every state can boast of a rich heritage, Virginia is one of the leaders in preserving its historic past. This is especially true when it comes to any old house, building or piece of land that had significance during the Civil War.

The state's roads are dotted with historic markers describing events related to the war. And in more cases than not, they direct you to the birthplace of a famous general or the site of a battle or skirmish that happened nearby. Even after living in Virginia for most of my adult life, I still find myself slowing down to read the familiar silver signs.

Developers vs. preservationists

Over the years numerous developers have taken on local preservationists and found them to be just as passionate about their cause as their ancestors who fought in the war. Housing and commercial projects deemed to be too close to the Manassas and Chancellorsville battlefields were delayed for years and in some cases never approved.

However, along the way a few developers wised up and began taking the old adage to heart: "If you can't fight them, join them." A while back I wrote about how some new home builders are restoring historic old houses and making them centerpieces of their communities. The Taylor Hotel in Winchester is another good example of how historic preservation can be incorporated into new developments.

Using historic preservation to move into the future

If the Taylor Hotel's walls' could talk, they would surely have a tale to tell. According to the City of Winchester's website, the structure was built in 1848 and served as a headquarters for General Stonewall Jackson during the early stages of the Civil War. In 1862 and 1864, the hotel's rooms housed the wounded from both sides of the conflict after nearby battles. Supposedly, John Marshall, Henry Clay, and Daniel Webster also enjoyed the inn's hospitality.

However, the structure fell on hard times during recent decades. Void of tenants since 2004, a partial roof collapse in 2007 led the city to condemn the building in 2010. The hotel's fate was discussed by city officials and for some, complete demolition seemed the best option.

The area's historic preservationists thought otherwise. Working with the city's Economic Development Authority a plan was formulated to save the old structure. Using historic tax credits, federal and state grants, and private investment, the Taylor Hotel is undergoing a complete restoration.

What will it be when the project is complete? The building will have retail outlets and restaurants on the first several floors and luxury apartments on the upper levels. A pub is planned for a portion of the basement. Developers, city officials, and preservationists are working together to save the Taylor Hotel -- a building significant in Virginia's history -- for future generations.