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

Historic hotels in the Southeast


Courtesy Casa Monica Hotel

Casa Monica Hotel
St. Augustine, Fla.
The Casa Monica Hotel rises over downtown St. Augustine, Fla., and the Matanzas Bay like a white, sometimes sunset-tinted pink, Spanish sandcastle.

A few months after the hotel opened on Jan. 1, 1888, Franklin Smith, the architect who built it, sold it to Henry Flagler, who renamed it the Hotel Cordova. The Hotel Cordova closed in 1932, and St. John’s County bought the building in 1962 to serve as the county courthouse. It was another 30 years before Richard Kessler, CEO of the Kessler Collection, bought the building.

Kessler spent $10 million and two years restoring the hotel, reopening it in December 1999. But not much of the original interior remained after 30 years as a courthouse, and without blueprints, hotel officials had to rely on photographs, sketches and drawings to guide the restoration.

“We wanted to keep the Old World feel throughout the hotel,” said general manager Anthony Lazzara.

The lush decor has both Spanish and Moroccan flavor. Crews reconstructed interior arches, and a local artist stenciled each with intricate patterns. Hotel managers did what they could to salvage pieces of the past; wood and doors from the original kneeling balconies were turned into tables.

Two years ago, the hotel spent $1 million to redo all 138 guest rooms with new carpet, drapes and bedding, as well as custom furnishings.

A 2011 renovation of the 3,560-square-foot Casa Monica Ballroom included new carpet and refreshed walls, and the 1,860-square-foot Flagler Ballroom is scheduled for a similar update this spring. A second-story pool deck has also been refurbished. The 4,000-square-foot pool terrace and adjoining 1,200-square-foot Sultan’s Pavilion, a draped Moroccan tent with chandeliers, are popular for meetings and events, Lazzara said.

An update of the dining area of Casa Monica’s 95 Cordova is slated for this summer; the menu will also be tweaked, without losing what works for the popular restaurant, Lazzara said.

Guests are a 10-minute drive from St. Augustine Beach, or they can use the private beachfront club and pools for a daily charge at the nearby Serenata Beach Club.


The Blennerhassett
Parkersburg, W.Va.
When wealthy local businessman William Chancellor began building the Blennerhassett in Parkersburg, W.Va., in 1889 he didn’t have a purpose for the Queen Anne-style building. He and his partners eventually decided to turn it into a hotel, named for a wealthy couple who had built a mansion nearby on an island in the Ohio River in the late 1700s.

The 54-room property underwent a massive renovation from 1985 to 1986 that added 50 more guest rooms, bringing the total to 104, but at the cost of some of the original interiors and layout.

From 2001 to 2007, the hotel underwent another multimillion-dollar renovation to return its historical feel while making it function in a modern way, said marketing manager Nicole Slattery. Crews knocked down a few walls and removed a handful of rooms to create larger suites, reducing the number of rooms to 89.

Designers dedicated themselves to restoring the building’s original ambiance, including historically appropriate decor that has a “casual but elegant feel,” Slattery said.

“Everything was replaced in this hotel, but the designers really delved into the history and were picking colors and patterns and pieces that reflected that time period,” she said.

The hotel has 6,159 square feet of meeting space, including the Charleston Ballroom and Promenade, which can seat 250 people or be divided into two or three smaller rooms. The hotel also has three smaller boardrooms that can seat 50 to 65 people or executive suites for groups of 10 or fewer.

The Culinary School at the Blennerhassett has hands-on cooking workshops that include pasta-, sauce- and stock-making classes and a basic bartending course.

Because the hotel is a couple blocks from the Ohio River, guests can take a ferry to Blennerhassett Island to tour the large mansion built by the hotel’s namesakes, Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett.