The General Francis Marion Hotel, once said to be the most elegant lodging establishment in Southwestern Virginia, reopened in February, 2006. After almost two years of renovation and restoration, the grand old hotel was reborn with the comfort, convenience and amenities of a modern hotel while retaining the ambience of the 1920s.
The Hotel was originally launched on May 27, 1927 to much fanfare. “Marion’s dream of many years has now been realized and we can now boast of one of the most complete and modern hotels in the entire South,” the local newspaper, the Smyth County News reported. “On Friday…the doors were thrown open to the public and from early morning to until late in the evening a large number of citizens of Smyth County inspected the magnificent building.” The Hotel took its name from General Francis Marion, the Revolutionary War hero in whose honor the town itself had been named.
The Hotel as it appeared c. 1930 and after the original name was changed to Hotel Lincoln.
The weekend of June 8, 1927 saw the formal opening of the Hotel with a reception, dinner and dancing. The News reported that an honored guest of the evening would be…“the famous author, Sherwood Anderson, who now makes his home in Marion.”
The Hotel was built by Charles Clarke Lincoln, Sr., said to be Marion’s wealthiest resident, and Dr. William M. Sclater. Lincoln also owned the Virginia Table Company, Marion’s largest industry at the time. Sclater was the owner of Marion Drug Company, another commercial fixture on Main Street. The businessmen saw the potential for commercial growth in the Marion area with the increased traffic along Highway 11, known in those days as Lee Highway.
A bellman awaits the arrival of Hotel guests in the 1930s.
In announcing the Hotel’s original construction, the News noted on January 27, 1927 that “The automobile and the completion of the Lee Highway places Marion right on the great line of the tourist between the North and the South and this modern up-to-date hotel will give them a stopping place whose praises they will spread wherever they go.”
In 1928, Mr. Lincoln decided to change the name of the General Francis Marion Hotel to Hotel Lincoln after the rebuilding of the old Hotel Marion. The Hotel Marion was located on the opposite side of Main Street at the corner of Main and Church Streets, where Wells Fargo Bank now stands.
Joe and Susie Ellis, residents of Marion bought the property in 2000, began the restoration and remodeling project in late 2003. Actual construction began in the autumn of 2004. Every effort was made to capture the essence and spirit of the hotel as it was in the late ‘20s.
On the upper mezzanine, in the Card Room, visitors are still amazed by the floor tile motif of playing cards and a trademark black rooster with what appears to be a bubbling cocktail. Legend has it that the black rooster was code during Prohibition for “Drinks Served Here”. In the ballroom, the original walnut paneling and oak floor are still intact, as is the terrazzo floor on all three lobby floors, the hotel registration desk, switchboard, and a display cabinet – which is now used as a reception station inside The Black Rooster, the hotel’s restaurant.