North star: Old Lafayette Hotel beckons

ADDRESS: 146 Main Street

ASKING: $748,000

BUILDING: 5,200 fin. sq. ft., 2,040 unfin.

(1,000 fin. sq. ft. in separate cottage)

LAND: 0.61 acres


NEIGHBORHOOD: Stanardsville

CURB APPEAL: 8 of 10

LISTED BY: Bill Gentry, Jefferson Land & Realty 540-948-5050

Construction desolation and traffic hassles around Hollymead Town Center have made properties up 29 North less enticing for On the Block. Only the most succulent bait could tempt us, and even when an alluring morsel appeared in the form of the Lafayette Hotel, we chose to motor to the site via Routes 20 and 33 to ensure that we arrived in a good mood.

The roundabout junket was worth the effort. The Lafayette Hotel is more than a piece of real estate; it's a living history lesson and a treasure-trove of stunning old wood and other unusual construction artifacts.

The 2004 incarnation of the place is a six-bedroom hotel, small as hotels go, but too grand to be called just a bed and breakfast. (In fact, breakfast is not served in the hotel's two dining rooms.)

The name "Lafayette Hotel"– but nothing more– conveys in the sale. Potential buyers interested in continuing the gourmet restaurant will have to negotiate purchase of the furnishings and kitchen equipment separately.

But the real estate itself is something to see. Among the most appealing elements are fireplaces (now gas-fired) in every room, including an unusual pair in the larger of the two dining rooms. A large entrance hall leads to a grand staircase at least four feet wide, and rooms on each of the three floors have 11-foot ceilings. The fourth level is a half-charming, half-spooky space the owners call a "belvedere room" with windows on all four sides providing a view of distant mountains as well as the entire town of Stanardsville.

A long brick "annex" houses two of the six bedrooms, one of them a second-story suite accessed up a narrow staircase that epitomizes the quirky nature of the place. In the main building, guests must enter two second-floor bedrooms (each with a private bath) from the second-floor wrap-around porch, while back inside, the last two bedrooms share a wing (as well as a bath), comprising a private suite.

One of the best things is the old slave quarters, "Dicey's Cottage," situated on the eastern corner of the property and today the most modern and appealing accommodation, with a kitchenette, a Jacuzzi, and a ground floor living/sitting room in addition a large bedroom. It's easy to understand why solitude-seeking artists and writers often rent the cottage by the week (or two).

The history of the hotel is a capsule of the march of settlement across central Virginia. The structure was built in 1840 by William Lafayette Pritchett as a "tradesman's hotel" to accommodate travelers on highway 33, a major east-west artery carrying freight and travelers from the coast to the wilds of West Virginia. Today's smaller dining room served then as a company store.

During the Civil War, the building was commandeered as a hospital. After the war it resumed its role as a hotel, then became a boarding house (with a saloon replacing the store).

From 1910 until 1960 or so, the huge place was a private home, so house-hunters considering construction of a ho-hum new mansion might look at the swank potential of a residence that, with updates, nothing in even Glenmore or The Rocks could rival.

That's not only because of its size and character, but mainly thanks to the quality of the materials– especially the wood. The huge quantity of almost-200-year-old heart pine, foot-thick hand-hewn oak beams, elaborate mantels, and 100+-year-old glass is probably by itself worth the asking price.

The operative words, however, are "with updates." There's no doubt the structure– from the standing-seam metal roof to the heating system (a combination of gas and heat pump)– needs serious attention.

Things that might tempt a would-be hotelier: the ever-spiking population of Greene County (a 650-unit "senior living" development has just been approved nearby), and federal and state tax credits available for historic renovations.

Even if you're not in the market for a hotel, just a look at such a grand old property might make it worth braving the mess on 29.