ROGERSVILLE — The Hale Springs Inn renovation project has been nothing but words on a piece of paper for so long many people were beginning to wonder if Thursday would ever come.
But with arrival of the workers and the trucks early Thursday morning, the much anticipated renovation has achieved a much more tangible status.
Thursday was day one of what is expected to be a 240-day project to complete phase one of the renovation at the 184-year-old inn located in the center of historic downtown Rogersville.
In 2003, the Rogersville Heritage Association purchased the inn and plans to operate it as a restaurant and hotel when both phases of the renovation are complete.
RHA Executive Director Patricia Humbert said Thursday she and her board of directors are elated that the construction is finally under way.
“I’m walking on air,” Humbert said. “I’m so tickled that it’s finally happening. I went to see the workers this morning, and I couldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘Is it really happening at last? Thank goodness.’”
Humbert admits that she was beginning to wonder whether the project would ever actually happen.
“When it first began it was such a plausible, reasonable dream, and as time crept by and the red tape kept piling up, I think a lot of people felt like the dream was not going to come true,” Humbert said. “But it kind of gave us time to sit back and think about what we were going to do with it and get the whole town behind it.”
The RHA received a Tennessee Department of Transportation grant in 2004 of more than $900,000, which at the time was intended to pay for the entire renovation.
Years passed as the city waited for architectural plans to be completed and then for those plans to be approved by the State Fire Marshal’s Office.
And, as time went by and construction costs increased — particularly after Hurricane Katrina — it soon became obvious that the grant wasn’t going to be enough for the entire project, which was subsequently broken up into two phases. Then another year was lost attempting to find a construction company that could work within the project’s budget.
This past November, the city signed a construction contract with Investment Contractors Corp. of Rogersville to complete phase one, which entails renovation of the first floor including the dining room and kitchen, as well as replacement of the back porch and demolition in the second and third floor suites in preparation for phase two.
Rogersville building inspector Steve Nelson is also a RHA member and has served as a liaison between the city and the RHA throughout the project. He said Thursday that the lion’s share of work on the first floor entails removal of old plumbing and heating and cooling systems and installation of the new systems.
The first floor bathrooms will also be replaced, as will much of the flooring.
There will also be a new basement dug at the rear of the building where new mechanical systems will be located, and there will be an elevator installed outside the rear of the building.
“When it’s done the back porch will look a little bit different, but I bet most people won’t even notice a difference when phase one is done,” Nelson said. “The elevator shaft will be incorporated into the back porch, so it will barely be noticeable, but other than that the historical integrity of the building is being maintained.”
The city is applying for a $1 million grant from TDOT in 2008 to complete phase two. Although city officials don’t expect to receive a new grant until the original grant is closed out, they believe that even if they are rejected in 2008, it will bode well for a second TDOT grant application attempt for phase two in 2009.
Phase one is expected to be completed in time for Rogersville’s Heritage Days festival in October, but Humbert said it may be too ambitious to expect to have the inn available for use by then.
“To be totally practical we’re counting on a big Christmas bash,” Humbert said. “On the other hand, if we get the grant for the second phase there’s a chance that we may just go straight into the second phase and wait on opening the restaurant until that’s done. Obviously we want to get the restaurant open as soon as possible because we need the revenue.
“The bank has been very kind to us, and I think that one of the best things that’s happened is the continued support of the chamber of commerce, the city of Rogersville and the Main Street Association. It’s not just us out on our own little limb. The whole town is excited about the project and working together.”
Reopening of the inn after a decade is expected to spark an economic boom for downtown Rogersville.
The Hale Springs Inn was built in 1824 and has hosted three presidents — Andrew Jackson, James Polk and Andrew Johnson. It served as Union Army headquarters during the Civil War and before closing in 1998 was Tennessee’s oldest continuously operated inn.