Jul 11, 2023

General Francis Marion Hotel becomes symbol of downtown’s revitalization

by: John Jenco

Posted: Aug 30, 2023 / 12:22 PM EDT

Updated: Aug 30, 2023 / 12:22 PM EDT

MARION, Va. (WJHL) – The General Francis Marion Hotel has been a staple of downtown Marion, Virginia since it re-opened in 2006.

The old-school architecture and hospitality have made the place an award-winning favorite for travelers in Southwest Virginia.

The interior of the hotel is similar to a time capsule transporting guests back to Marion’s golden age. Much of the hotel’s original features like its terrazzo granite floors, rod iron staircases and its hardwood front desk are still in place.

It’s part of why guests have flocked to the old hotel, which completed construction in 1927.

“They say the hotel has a unique kind of relaxing boutique feel to it,” said hotel owner Joe Ellis. “Even though the amenities are very modern.”

Joe and Susie Ellis bought the hotel back in 2000.

Long before then, two of Marion’s 1920s magnates built the hotel, furniture manufacturer Charles C. Lincoln and drug company owner Dr. William M. Schlater.

Ellis said soon after opening, the hotel became a symbol of luxury in Southwest Virginia.

“It is a French revival architecture,” Ellis said. “Charles Lincoln traveled quite extensively. He was a very wealthy man. He wanted to bring something extraordinary to our little town of Marion.”

The hotel opened as the General Francis Marion, but it would soon change its name.

The Hotel Marion opened across the street in 1928, causing confusion between the two similarly named hotels.

The General Francis became “Hotel Lincoln” and stayed that way until Ellis acquired the property.

From its opening until the mid-60s, the hotel was well-known as a place of gathering for social and political functions.

But the General Francis Marion Hotel also gained notoriety for more than its ornate architecture.

The hotel’s card room features floor tiles displaying a black rooster with a bubbling cocktail – a sign during prohibition that meant drinks were served there.

“We had the attorney general from here,” Ellis said. “I talked to some of his descendants, in which our governor of that time and [he was] drinking moonshine on the terrace.”

Moonshine sourced from the mountains was the drink of choice.

Ellis said the hotel became a social club as people had their drinks and came to listen to the radio shows out of Nashville and New York.

“People would gather here and play cards and checkers and listen to the entertainment,” Ellis said.

In 1947, the Lincolns sold the hotel. The new owners kept it in operation for over thirty years.

But in the 70s and 80s, the hotel started being primarily used for permanent and weekly guests. That led to the eventual closure of the property in 1999.

Ellis bought it and started renovations in 2003. He said that was an easier process than expected because the hotel was originally built to be fireproof.

“Because it was built fireproof with all the concrete and gypsum, the main structure was not even dented,” Ellis said.

The hotel re-opened in 2006, garnering national acclaim. It has since been named one of the top 150 hotels in America by National Geographic, among other awards.

Ellis said when the hotel re-opened, it brought some life back to downtown Marion.

Along with the Lincoln Theatre, which was also built by Charles Lincoln, the hotel has played a key role in the regrowth of the town’s downtown area.

“As people saw them restored, I think they saw the potential that we have a lot of gems and jewels versus just bulldozing down and building something like everyone else has,” Ellis said.

You can check out the General Francis Marion Hotel website for more information.

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.