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What’s Old is New Again

Revitalization of historic inn is an important project for Virginia’s smallest county

January-February 2024

(Photo Courtesy of Sky Pics)

by Laura Emery, Staff Writer

“It was the heartbeat of the community,” Betty Mitchell, executive director of the Blue Grass Resource Center, explains. “And we are excited to have it beating once again.”

Betty Mitchell is executive director of the Blue Grass Resource Center.

She’s referring to the once-bustling Highland Inn, located in Monterey, the county seat of Highland County, Va.

Built in 1904 by Silas W. Crummett, a local businessman, the inn was known as Hotel Monterey for its first 75 years.

The Queen Anne-style building features two levels of Eastlake-style porches with 18 guest rooms and suites. Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and John Philip Sousa, among other notable historical figures, have visited the grand three-story structure in the past.

The Highland Inn is a historical gem currently in the process of being renovated and revitalized. It’s the oldest, largest and most historic lodging establishment in Highland County. It’s both listed on the National Register of Historic Places and as a Virginia Historic Landmark.

The much-beloved inn closed its doors in 2019 when frozen pipes led to water damage that was costly to repair. That’s when Blue Grass Resource Center purchased the property. BGRC is a private nonprofit organization with a mission to enhance the quality of life for Highland County residents through historic preservation and educational programs.

“The Highland Inn is such an iconic building in the county. We thought we could step in, as a nonprofit, and purchase it, renovate it, and then lease it to an operator that is experienced in running a hospitality facility,” Mitchell, a Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative member, explains.

Says BGRC Board Vice Chairman and former Cooperative Living Editor Richard Johnstone, “This is truly an economic development project in the very best sense, because the inn serves as an economic engine for the entire county, which is heavily reliant on tourism.”

Partial funding for the inn’s renovation has been made possible by grants from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and Virginia Economic Development Partnership as well as many generous private donors.

It will be renovated and open again as an 18-room inn with two ADA-accessible rooms on the first floor. It will have a dining room and a tavern, and much larger outdoor seating for diners. Mitchell says that it will be like walking into a “new old building,” steeped in history but with modern conveniences.

With the first phase of the renovation project completed in 2021, Mitchell says the end is in sight. “We’re waiting for enough funding to complete phase two of the project,” she explains. “We have a $5.2 million goal to finish the revitalization project, with current commitments of $2 million. We also have two large grants pending for $2.5 million, plus $812,000 pending through a congressionally directed spending bill.”

With just over 2,200 residents, Highland is Virginia’s least-populous county, and one of the few fully served by electric cooperatives. About half the county is served by BARC Electric Cooperative and half by Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative. Mitchell says it’s been a pleasure working with SVEC, which provides electrical power to the Highland Inn.

“They’ve been really easy to work with. They had a lot of good ideas on how to bring three-phase power to the facility. They’ve been really good community partners.”

For more information, including ways to help, visit highlandinnrenovation.org.