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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Historic hotels in the Southeast

Courtesy George Washington Hotel

The George Washington Hotel
– A Wyndham Grand Hotel –
Winchester, Va.

Legend has it that in the 1930s, when Colonel Harlan Sanders of fried-chicken fame couldn’t fall asleep at the George Washington Hotel in Winchester, Va., he wandered down to the lobby, struck up a conversation with the desk clerk and gave the clerk the secret recipe for his chicken.

True or not, the hotel’s original safe remains locked, so no one knows for sure if it contains Sanders’ list of 11 herbs and spices.

“Obviously, we can’t open the safe, so the story is that it’s in there,” general manager David Cavallaro said with a laugh.

Built in 1924, the hotel hosted celebrity guests such as Jack Dempsey, Bob Hope and Lucille Ball before it became an assisted-living facility from 1978 to 1993.

The grand five-story brick building in downtown Winchester was vacant for 11 years until local couple Glen and Kim Burke bought it in 2004 and spent $30 million to renovate it. The hotel reopened in April 2008.

The 90 guest rooms were updated, a Roman-style indoor pool and hot tub were built, and the Saumaj Health Spa, the Dancing Goat restaurant and the Half Note Lounge were added.

The marble lobby floors, the marble and hardwood ballroom floors, all the moldings and the original front desk were preserved.

“Everything was maintained to how it used to be in 1924,” Cavallaro said.

With five meeting rooms totaling 6,300 square feet, the hotel can host anything from a 10-person business retreat to a 200-person reception in the Grand Ballroom, which can be divided into smaller spaces. A pocket garden is ideal for a lunch or cocktail party for as many as 60 people.

Outside the hotel’s front entrance is a pedestrian mall, and downtown is one block away. Restaurants, boutiques and museums, including the office where George Washington began his political career, are within walking distance.

“This hotel is an experience that no one else in this area can offer,” Cavallaro said.


Cedar Grove Mansion Inn
Vicksburg, Miss.
With its towering white columns and intricate wrought-iron railings, Cedar Grove Mansion Inn in Vicksburg, Miss., appears to have been lifted out of the antebellum era and placed, untouched, into modern times.

But the stately mansion and grounds barely survived both battles and bulldozers in the 161 years since it was completed.

John Alexander Klein began building the Greek Revival-style mansion in 1840, two years before the 30-year-old businessman and planter married his 16-year-old bride, Elizabeth Day.

The two spent a year honeymooning in Europe, where they bought many elements and furnishings for their new home, including Italian marble mantels, French gaslight chandeliers and gold-leaf mirrors that are still in the mansion. Although Cedar Grove survived the Civil War, it didn’t escape unscathed. A cannon ball that hit the house during the 1863 Siege of Vicksburg is still lodged in the parlor wall.

Cedar Grove was saved again a century later after it was condemned in 1959 and slated to become the site of an oil plant. In 1960, the Vicksburg Little Theater Guild bought the mansion three days before it was to be razed.

With the help of Klein’s granddaughter, Elsie, the theater troupe restored 16 of the mansion’s 32 rooms and operated it as a tourist attraction for 20 years. In the early 1980s, a new owner opened it as a bed-and-breakfast.

Colleen Palmer bought the property in 2003. Although keeping the inn fresh is an ongoing process, “you don’t want to change too much of it,” said Palmer’s mother and innkeeper, Phyllis Small.

Over the years, the mansion has been transformed into the carefully restored inn it is today with 33 guest rooms in the mansion, poolside cottages, a carriage house and country cottages across the street from the main house.

The ballroom, with an outside terrace overlooking the Mississippi River, can seat about 50 people for dinner or up to 60 in theater-style seating; two adjoining parlors are ideal for luncheons or receptions. The formal dining room seats about 25 people for a conference.
An old church that is off the main property but still part of Cedar Grove can accommodate 200 people.

Cedar Grove’s five gardenlike acres provide guests their “own little world,” Small said.

“It’s very private,” she said. “It has that peacefulness that a lot of people are looking for.”