Old Hill Top House Hotel in Harpers Ferry, WV, can be revived: CEG
Harpers Ferry, WV, Mayor Greg Vaughn looks forward to the day when he can finally witness the resurrection of a historic hotel in his small town that has been talked about for a decade.
“I’m looking forward to the first debris truck leaving this site,” he recently told West Virginia MetroNews, a statewide radio news service. “I think many, many other people also want this to happen. I think it will be a positive step and I hope things move forward in a productive way, and it will become a reality in a year and a half or two years. when someone can cut the ribbon.”
The $150 million Hill Top House Hotel, a centerpiece of talks for years, has a clearer path with the announcement in late November that developers have chosen a firm to oversee construction and redevelopment.
JLL Hotels & Hospitality Project and Development Services has been selected to lead the project atop a dramatic bluff overlooking the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.
As it stands, the new hotel is expected to open in mid-2024.
Harpers Ferry is nestled in a beautiful mountain setting, just a short drive away for travelers from Washington, DC who want to enjoy the accompanying National Historical Park or a hike along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The area is also steeped in history as the site of abolitionist John Brown’s raid on the United States Arsenal before the Civil War.
A unique site, the cliff where the old hotel was built offers a special spectacle. From there, facing east, visitors can stand in West Virginia and, looking to their left across the Potomac River, see the rugged hills of Maryland. With a glance straight ahead, they can gaze down the Potomac toward Washington, or they can see over their right shoulder the Virginia Highlands across the Shenandoah River.
But one attraction the area has been missing, Vaughn noted, is a hotel worthy of those attributes.
“We’re one of the smallest municipalities in the state of West Virginia,” he explained, noting that Harpers Ferry’s population is only about 285. “But obviously we’re probably the most visited tourist destination in the state, where our population expands into the tens of thousands during the week.Having this hotel there and the hotel tax base will be a tremendous opportunity for this city very historic to undertake some projects that we have postponed for decades due to lack of funding.
He added that a modernized and improved Hill Top House on this site is important to the community as it will attract many visitors to Harpers Ferry to stay overnight.
“[Needless to say], I can’t wait for this to kick off,” Vaughn said.
WV helps developers revive the hotel
MetroNews reported that Hill Top House Hotel will be developed as one of West Virginia’s tourism development districts. This initiative, adopted in 2020, allows the State Development Bureau to help small towns with large tourism projects. A $150 million destination in West Virginia’s historic gateway, the 19th-century Harpers Ferry Hotel is the first of five licensed districts.
“Thank you to the state of West Virginia for being so forward-thinking,” said Karen Schaufeld, who is leading the redevelopment of the hotel property with her husband, Fred, and their company SWaN Investors.
The hotel will be operated by Evolution Hospitality and José Andrés’ Think Food Group will lead the catering program.
The mayor credited the Schaufelds for their vision and sustained interest.
“I feel very comfortable knowing how concerned Harpers Ferry is about history and … about the community,” Vaughn noted.
Hill Top House a witness to the past
The original Hill Top House was built in 1888 and opened by Thomas S. Lovett, an African-American entrepreneur born in slave-owning Virginia five years before the Civil War began.
The hotel burned down twice, reopening each time, before continuing to operate until 2007 when SWaN Investors purchased it, then closed the hotel due to poor structural integrity.
In 2009, the Schaufelds and their partners announced plans to rebuild and reopen Hill Top House.
Since then, however, the project has progressed only on paper, MetroNews reported.
“It dragged on,” Vaughn said. “I just think it’s time to move beyond the divisions in this community and move this project forward.”
A major obstacle has been the streets around the Hill Top House. The developers propose to use not only the land where the hotel now stands, but also the surrounding properties that they own. This would make the development a cohesive reception destination, the group said.
But because Hill Top House is in a residential area, the streets around it are public property.
“The biggest step is that we have come to an agreement with the city to buy the streets from our property,” Karen Schaufeld told the State News Network.
Another issue was the gazebo, which has been a popular public space even for people who may not be staying at the hotel. The developers have, however, agreed to maintain public access to the panoramic view.
“It’s almost like you’re holding something in trust for the public. It’s always been part of our plan,” Schaufeld said last fall on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
The plan includes the use of old materials
Because the Hill Top House hotel has fallen into disrepair, the Schaufelds intend to use some of the materials that remain while reflecting its history as it is renovated.
Vaughn referred to rocks that were salvaged from a wall surrounding the hotel.
“They are going to reuse these stones and put them back in a similar place,” he said.
Other salvaged materials, Schaufeld said, include mirrors used by brides, an old piano and old furniture. Additionally, photos of the exterior from circa 1914 will help recreate the original look of the hotel.
“It’s such a fascinating project and we’re so passionate about it,” she explained. “Anything worth doing is often difficult. For us, that was compelling. And we thought it would be compelling for a lot of people.
“Harpers Ferry is where the story happened.”