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A Heritage of Hospitality

Each year, Historic Hotels of America, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, recognizes a handful of its roughly 300 members. Carefully preserved, these hotels and resorts are a colorful lot: Some are large; some are small. Some inhabit urban street corners; others sit in forests or by the sea. What they have in common are lively personalities, pleasing accommodations and, almost always, interesting and inspiring meeting spaces. Here are a few of 2021’s HHA award winners and the awards they received.


Close to the Capital

Work weeks spent in the nation’s pressure cooker of a capital make two meetings properties in small-town Virginia extra enticing. Airlie (Sustainability Champion), in tiny Warrenton, 50 miles from Washington, was a rich man’s farm before it became a conference center in 1961. It maintains its rural feel but meets all the modern needs. Designed to feel like a village, Airlie’s 149 guest rooms and 17 meeting spaces are scattered and accompanied by lawns, trees, gardens, a lake and a stream. Personable meeting spaces have fireplaces, big windows, skylights, terraces, decks and balconies.

The white-columned, red-brick 1828 colonial that houses Blackburn Inn and Conference Center (Best Historic Hotel Under 75 Guest Rooms) spent most of its history as a hospital and prison. Five years ago, it became a 49-room hotel, drawing meetings to Staunton, three hours from the Beltway. A recently added conference center has 10,000 square feet of meeting space; 80 surrounding acres and a 3,000-square-foot tent bring events outdoors.

Wide-Open Spaces

The wake-up call at Alisal Guest Ranch (New Member of the Year), near Solvang, California, is a chorus of whinnies from 100 quarter horses and crows from resident roosters. This luxury dude ranch is an old hand at welcoming guests; it made the shift from cattle ranch to guest resort in 1946. The 10,500-acre spread has plenty of space for pastures, as well as two 18-hole golf courses. Guests can choose from 73 accommodations in cottages, suites and guest rooms. Five indoor meeting spaces seem pulled from a Western movie set, with timber and stone fireplaces, large windows, Western artwork, Navajo rugs and heavy wood furnishings. Outside, a wealth of spaces welcome events: a large lakeside deck, a terrace with views of the Santa Ynez mountains, even a rodeo arena for roping and riding contests.

Urban and Urbane

Historic hotels have long stood tall and handsome in downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Greenville, South Carolina. Both the Skirvin (Best Historic Hotel, 201-400 Guest Rooms) in Oklahoma City and the Westin Poinsett (Best City Center Historic Hotel) in Greenville were built by wealthy men, the Skirvin in 1911 and the Poinsett in 1924; both attracted the rich and famous before falling on hard times. A new century and millions in investment brought restoration: The Poinsett reopened in 2000, and the Skirvin, in 2007. The two hotels are now popular meeting properties. At the 225-room Skirvin, nearly 17,000 square feet of meeting space and other spaces retain English Gothic and Art Deco touches. Guests are entertained by stories of resident ghosts and long-ago gun fights. The Poinsett, a AAA Four-Diamond award winner, has 200 modern guest rooms and 9,669 square feet of meeting space. Both hotels are operated by major chains.

Hats Off to Super Staff

Historic hotels are often blessed with devoted staff. That is the case at the Hotel Bethlehem in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and the American Club in Kohler, Wisconsin, both recognized by the HHA for dedicated employees.

The Hotel Bethlehem has been a downtown hub since it opened in 1921. The 125-room hotel’s towering arched windows connect guests with the city and the city to the hotel. Crystal chandeliers, balconies and murals painted in 1936 add sparkle to ballrooms; in addition to meeting spaces inside the hotel, a 5,000-square-foot conference center is a block away. 

The Hotel Bethlehem wins many “best of” awards, as does the American Club in Kohler, which has earned top honors from AAA and Forbes. Built in 1924 to house immigrant workers, the historic property became a resort hotel in 1981. Its 240 guest rooms vary in size and style; 20,000 square feet of meeting space is scattered about the property and includes the Grand Hall of the Lakes, which seats up to 750. At the hotel, which is owned by the Kohler Company, maker of bath and kitchen products, guests can experience the latest in showers, tubs and toilets.

Beachfront’s a Bonus

Staking an early claim next to the seaside has paid off for the King and Prince Beach Resort (Best Historic Hotel, 76-200 Guest Rooms). The Spanish colonial-style property opened on Georgia’s St. Simons Island in 1935, and although most of what guests see today came after that, the oceanfront Delegal Room, considered the resort’s historic heart, is lovingly preserved. It’s a pleasant choice for meetings, with 11 stained-glass windows that tell the island’s history and views of the sea beyond them. The resort’s meeting spaces almost always include ocean views, from the massive bay windows of the Retreat Room to an oceanfront lawn and a new paved plaza. Pools gleam next to the sea, and many of the 146 guest rooms, suites and villas look out at the waves, too.