The Henry Clay Inn re-opened Dec. 9 after a failed bid to sell the iconic Ashland building to Randolph-Macon College.
“We couldn’t just let the inn just sit here and do nothing,” said Ann-Carol Houston, general manager and daughter of owners Carol and Ray Martin.
The inn, which had been open since 1992, closed earlier in the fall and the owners hoped to sell it to the college for use as an honor students’ dorm. But Ashland Town Council denied their request to change a town ordinance, which would have allowed the inn to operate as a dorm with a conditional use permit.
If it had been approved, dormitories would have been able to operate in any B-1 zoned districts with a permit.
At the time, town officials said approving the request would violate the town’s Comprehensive Plan and the college’s master plan. Houston said they were disappointed the sale to Randolph-Macon did not go through, because her parents would like to retire as they get older.
Although the inn won’t be officially back on the market, Houston said they are still welcoming interested buyers. The plan, Houston said, is to keep the inn open for at least the next two years and then hopefully sell it.
After the re-opening, the inn will be similar but with a few new amenities. New additions include a fitness room and a business center with a computer and scanner.
In addition, breakfast will be served at 7 a.m. now “to attract the business crowd,” Houston said.
The inn already hosts weddings, but Houston said they plan to limit nuptials to 75 people.
“We want to keep it a little more low key,” she said.
There is also one less room. Henry Clay now has 13 rooms, because the Black Heritage Society is renting out a first floor suite for their office and a museum separate from inn operations.
As word about the re-opening reached folks around town, Houston said people are already making reservations and excitement and anticipation is spreading.
A wedding is booked. Family members and friends have scheduled stays at the inn for the upcoming Randolph-Macon graduation and the Scottish dancers have booked rooms for their visits in June when they perform at Scotchtown.
When word got out that the inn was closing last fall, Houston said a number of people called and expressed how sad they were to lose one of the town’s main attractions. She said a number of people told her that they’ve been going to the inn for 20 years with their family. Corporate business people told Houston “it was like home.”
Now people are consistently calling the inn to tell Houston how happy they are that the inn will be back in business.
Houston said she didn’t realize how much it meant to people and the town.
“We’re happy we’re still here,” Houston said.