GRANVILLE, Ohio — A Christmas gift of sorts sits on E. Broadway, wrapped in plastic and surrounded by tinsel-like wire fencing.
And elves of a kind have been at work there for months, transforming a somewhat bedraggled inn into the stately hotel that it was when built it 1924.
The work of these strapping carpenters, plumbers, electricians and masons is a gift in the sense that the Granville Inn and its across-the-street neighbor, the Buxton Inn, are community icons and points of pride in this small college town. And the futures of both were in question during the past few years.
The Granville Inn endured a rough financial run in recent years, went into receivership and was rescued by Denison University, which is a few blocks away. The university bought the inn for $1.15 million last year and is now sinking more than $9 million into a clever expansion and detailed historic restoration.
And the 202-year-old Buxton, the oldest continuously operating inn in Ohio, was sold for $1.9 million on Dec. 4 to a group of Granville preservationists who plan to restore the inn and seven neighboring old houses that collectively make up that hotel.
“There’s a lot of good energy here,” said Charles Lagarce, president of Columbus Hospitality Management, which will operate the Granville Inn, referring to the seemingly bright future for both inns. “It will really help the market to have both inns. It’ll be a true destination again.”
He envisions people in central Ohio saying, “Let’s take a ride out to the inn and have dinner or spend the night.”
Mark Keith, restoration project manager for Robertson Construction of nearby Heath, said that a demolition crew virtually gutted the building, but it carefully covered or removed key architectural details, such as the hardwood paneling in the entryway, main hallways and dining rooms so that they can all be restored.
With the help of local historians, the Denison archives and artifacts found tucked into corners of the attic and basement, they have pieced together a plan to restore historic character while adding modern equipment such as a new elevator, new heating and cooling systems, and fire alarms and sprinklers.
“And insulation!” said Lagarce, laughing with Keith about the lack of it in the old Jacobethan-style building.
Keith said materials and craftsmen are all local, and they’re under the gun to get the project done in about 90 working days.
“It’s an incredible challenge,” Keith said, referring to a March 31 completion deadline. “ Essentially, we’re keeping the aesthetics of the building — all of the historical components — and giving it a new heart and lungs.”
Most of their work will be unseen by most guests — the mechanics that make a place comfortable, but no one notices until they don’t work. But some work, such as careful restoration of exterior stucco and battens or the gentle cleaning of sandstone, will be visible and, Keith hopes, appreciated.
All of it is appreciated by Chuck Young, 76, a Granville resident who grew up across the street in a house that is now part of the Buxton Inn, and whose uncle and aunt managed the Granville Inn from the day it opened in 1924 until his father took over management from 1933 to 1951.
“I’m tickled to death that Denison bought it, because they have deep pockets and they’re doing it right,” Young said. “To me, it was part of my family. … It’s a cornerstone for Granville. I don’t know if they’ll ever recoup everything they have in it, but it means an awful lot to the village.”
Three kitchens will service the tavern, main dining room, a ballroom, meeting rooms and an intimate new event space being created in the attached former carriage house, which dates to the 1800s and opens onto what will become a courtyard.
The former pub space will become the formal dining room, and the larger space that formerly hosted the main dining room will become a larger, livelier tavern space — with restored original wood paneling, original light fixtures and working fireplaces.
The restoration team also added nine guest rooms by raising the roof on the back side of the building, where the change is invisible to the public but makes a big difference in the financial viability of the business, Lagarce said.
“This is a project of love and passion,” said Lagarce, who hails from New England and appreciates the history involved. “To have a partner like Denison to do this right is a godsend.”
Seth H. Patton, vice president for finance and management at the 2,200-student liberal arts college, said the university saw it as an investment with more intangible benefits thannfinancial ones.
“The inn was very important for us to see remain a first-rate facility,” he said. “The future of the college and the village are very intertwined, and if one does well, the other does well.
“And for us, in particular, we have a lot of people coming to make college visits, and it’s a very different experience if you can stay here and walk around town, rather than staying 10 or 30 miles away. And we have so many alumni who have fond memories of this place and who want to stay here when they return.”