By Nicholas Bogosian
It didn’t take too long after my move to St. Clairsville, Ohio to realize that the community’s architectural pride rests on two structures: the Belmont County Courthouse and The Clarendon Hotel. Both are a short walking distance from my home. The Belmont County Courthouse, as it stands today, is a mammoth Second Empire sandstone structure replete with Corinthian capitals, tall arched windows, and Justice statues. Built in the late 1880s and designed by Joseph W. Yost, it is still used today as the county seat’s courthouse and boasts some of the area’s high-profile cases.
Across the street from the Courthouse stands the Clarendon Hotel, which was constructed in 1890 by Thomas Clark, superintendent of the Courthouse construction. It’s a 15,000 square foot Romanesque Revival brick structure which became a transient property over the past forty years. The city purchased the building and began to stabilize it in the 1990s under the direction of Dennis Bigler, Director of Public Services. Mr. Bigler has been the major proponent of the city’s downtown revitalization. Just having moved here, I can enjoy the fruits of their long labor. Coming upon St. Clairsville’s downtown through the winding and hilly Ohio Valley is a refreshing sight. Though passage of the Main Street Program never materialized here, the city has done well to implement a majority of the program’s phases.
The purchase of the Clarendon was the beginning of an effort to reuse the property and bring it back to its original function. The entire façade has been restored and the city hopes a developer will turn the building into a boutique hotel with a restaurant on the first floor. Though 12,000 vehicles pass the hotel daily on 40 (the Historic National Road), St. Clairsville’s downtown is not what one would call a tourist destination. This appears to be the biggest obstacle in finding developers. The city’s traffic is in large part due to its location on the Historic National Road – a main thoroughfare for the valley. Though lodging could be useful for out-of-town business people and scenic drivers, the city is really setting their hopes on the development of National Road scenic tours.
I recently got an inside peek into the Clarendon Hotel and got to see fragments of its past and current rehabilitation efforts. Most of the interior walls have had their plaster removed because of the extensive foundation work. Some ornament remains. Old wiring splays out from between joists. Walls reveal sandwiched layers of wallpaper and paint. The original framing remains, but very little else. Everything is bare and cold.
This was my first experience witnessing a massive rehabilitation effort which is utilizing Historic Tax Credits. Granted, the progress is slow moving, but the pride that the community has for the Clarendon is vivid and immediate. Lucy, who operates Sipper’s Café down the way, talks about her teenage daughter‘s ambition to write a history of the hotel. I recently served the mayor and his wife at a local restaurant. The Clarendon came up in our conversation and he told me he’d be happy to let me in anytime to look around. An original timber from the hotel with an impressive span of growth rings resides in my classroom at Belmont Tech. The Clarendon is hope for the city’s future vitality. Its completion will bookend a long list of rehabilitation efforts in the city and revive a nostalgic landmark to its original glory.
Special thanks to Tom Murphy, Dennis Bigler, & Brian Kralovic of the City Council as well as Mayor Robert Vincenzo for their assistance in my curiosities.