'Eagle' rises like phoenix from fire

Two-century-old tavern rebuilt into splendid hotel

Two-century-old tavern rebuilt into splendid hotel

March 08, 2009|By PAT SCHOOLEY, Special to The Herald-Mail

This is the 174th in a series of articles about the historical and architectural treasures of Washington County.

The fire exploded a little after 8 in the morning of Feb. 22, 2008, in the old hotel on the town square of Boonsboro. Before it was extinguished, the hotel was gutted.

After decades of neglect, it had seemed the historic hotel's luck had changed. Purchased by author Nora Roberts and her husband Bruce Wilder, renovation was nearing completion when, by cruel fate, a workman knocked over a fuel tank, and fire engulfed the building in seconds. Only its stone walls stood.

Devastated, the couple chose to begin again.

In the beginning

In 1791, William Boone purchased 140 acres from Valentine Nicodemus for 500 pounds. Part of a land tract called "Fellowship," this parcel had a wagon trail running through it which would later become the National Road. William Boone joined with his brother George, who lived in Pennsylvania, to plat Boones Berry Town.


The following year, Peter Conn paid 5 pounds for lot No. 33, a parcel 82.5 feet wide and 264 feet deep on the northwest corner of the town square. The deed also called for "paying therefore yearly and every year to George Boone the sum of seven shillings and six pence current money of Maryland" as land rent.

It is believed that Conn built the front portion of his tavern about four years later, a two-story stone structure similar to many of the stone farmhouses built during that period. He named his business "The Eagle." It was one of the first five buildings in town and the first constructed of stone. In that period, taverns provided food, lodging and drink for travelers and care for their horses as well.

Early newspapers list Conn as one of a group of men receiving subscriptions for shares in the Baltimore and Frederick-Town turnpike in 1807, where he was listed as Captain Peter Conn. Shareholders included Gen. Otho H. Williams and other important figures in early 19th-century Washington County.

Conn died in 1820. His simple 1806 will left his estate to be equally divided among Susanna, Peter, Michael and Teresa Funk and specified "my friend Peter Funk" as executor.

A public sale was advertised for "That Noted Tavern Stand, ... at the square where the turnpike roads from Baltimore and Sheperdstown meet. The house is a two story, spacious and convenient building with a warehouse adjoining and a good kitchen, convenient stabling and a pump with excellent water back of it. This stand has been occupied as a tavern for upwards of twenty years."

David Brookhart from Kentucky, recorded the deed purchasing the tavern from the estate of Peter Conn for $7,000.

In 1839, David and Tracy Brookhart sold Lot No. 33 plus two other parcels of land in the town of Boonsborough for $5,000. James L. Nicodemus purchased the property from Chambers' estate in 1878. It was probably Nicodemus who added a third story and mansard roof to the tavern. He renamed it The Commercial Hotel.

Nicodemus's will, probated in 1915, showed him to be a wealthy man who owned a great deal of property. He had provided each of his daughters a house in which to live, but these remained part of his estate. He gave The Commercial Hotel to the Trinity Reformed Church of Boonsborough, which, probably feeling running a hotel/tavern was not part of their mission, sold its interest to Harry Gallaher. Later deeds refer to the property as the Mountain Glen Hotel and later the Boone Hotel.

The time for wayfarers' taverns passed, and later owners converted the space to businesses and the upper floors to residences. Maintenance was often delayed, and the old structure deteriorated for decades.

Restored after the fire

The building is restored now, transformed into Inn BoonsBoro. The fire allowed the stone faade along Main Street to be extended to the building next door, filling in the 12-foot-wide entrance at the back of the property. This space, the depth of the building, became a game room with a large flat screen television and gas log fireplace on the first floor and a library with another fireplace on the second.

The double porch facing Main Street is wider now, floored with varnished mahogany and enclosed with a railing of scroll-cut, white splats, copies of a splat found inside a third-story wall. From the porch, a new doorway accesses the game room.

The original entrance opens into the main hallway. To the left is a handicapped-accessible room with a barrier-free bathroom. To the right is the small dining room. The stairway dominates this hall, furnished with a handsome hand-wrought handrail and balusters made by a local blacksmith. The hallway opens onto the brick-paved courtyard at the back.

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