Skip to site content
The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Historic hotels in the Southeast

Courtesy Haywood Park Hotel

Unlike ubiquitous chain hotels, historic properties are a chance to embrace the past and experience the elegance of bygone eras in the midst of plotting a path for the future.

Each of these six landmark hotels in the Southeast tells a different story, often of survival and resurgence, making them inspiring settings for any group.

One was built as a department store. Another lived many lives before being restored to its original use. Some have survived Civil War battles and impending bulldozers. But each has undergone extensive renovations to give it new life as a landmark hotel.

St. James Hotel

Selma, Ala.
Built in 1837 on the bluffs of the Alabama River, the St. James Hotel in Selma, Ala., has endured its share of hard times.

The hotel survived the Civil War and the Battle of Selma in 1865, when the Union army burned much of the city. After closing in 1892, the building spent the next century as a general store, horse stables, a bicycle shop and, finally, a tire repair center before restoration began in the 1990s.

Community investors partnered with the city and, with the help of private donations and state funds, completed a $6 million renovation in 1997.

“It was a complete gut,” said general manager Angela Hurst. “Once it was turned into a tire shop, all of the elegance and all those things that were remnants of the hotel were no longer in existence. It was oil and grime. The only thing that was still in place was the structure.”

Historic documents guided efforts to return the hotel to its former glory. Today, most of the St. James’ 42 guest rooms offer views of the river or the courtyard and are decorated with solid oak furniture and lighting and fabrics that evoke the antebellum era.

The St. James’ 4,000 square feet of meeting space includes the Brantley Ballroom, which opens onto the Alabama River Terrace and the Old Bridge Room, which seats up to 35 people.

Not far from the hotel entrance is the city’s new Riverwalk, a paved trail along the riverbanks that leads toward an old warehouse that is being converted into an amphitheater as part of the city’s Riverfront Park. Many people continue on to the nearby Edmund Pettus Bridge, which was part of the historic Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march and the site of “Bloody Sunday” in March 1965, when police attacked demonstrators.


Haywood Park Hotel

Asheville, N.C.
“Second floor. Ladieswear,” a recorded voice announces as guests step off the elevator at the Haywood Park Hotel in Asheville, N.C., which housed two department stores for 50 years before being converted into a boutique hotel in the 1980s.

The angular stone-block building on a prominent corner downtown was constructed in 1923 and housed department stores Bon Marché and, later, Ivey’s. Ivey’s operated in the four-story building for nearly 40 years until the store closed in 1975.

The building sat vacant until Robert Armstrong bought it in the early 1980s and began turning it into a hotel. The 33-room Haywood Park Hotel opened in 1985.

The department store’s original neoclassical columns, which flanked display counters, remain, and architects also kept some original coffered ceilings.

Guest rooms were pushed to the outside walls so they would have windows, resulting in large, central lobby areas on each floor.

“It’s great for groups because they can reserve a whole floor and use that center area … to gather for breakfast or cocktails before dinner, or they can use it as an informal meeting area,” said Jenny Herman, sales director for the FIRC Group, which bought the hotel in 2007.

The company last year updated guest rooms with new carpet, furniture, mattresses and linens, as well as iHome docking stations and flat-screen televisions, Herman said.

Plans call for similar upgrades to common areas and meeting spaces this year.

New carpet and window treatments have already been installed in the 1,600-square-foot Starnes Room and 900-square-foot Board Room, and new furniture and updated audiovisual components will be added this year.

The Haywood Park Café also will open this year in the 2,000-square-foot Atrium, a four-story, glass-ceilinged courtyard adjacent to the hotel that can accommodate about 150 people for receptions or galas.