Restoring the Whitehaven Hotel
Anne's Weekly No Holds Barred Discussion of the Hotel Restoration - September 1995
Episode 1: The Honeymoon is Over
It is true that some things you can't fully understand unless you experience them for yourself. Over the years, friends have shared with me feelings of exhiliration, pain & triumph as they described their bouts with such things as sky diving, child birth and bikini waxing. Being a fan of exhiliration but not pain, I avoided all such activities throughout my twenties. At 30, exhiliration & pain were to come my way, though, in the form of marriage & historic restoration.
It is impossible to separate the Whitehaven Hotel from my marraige to Ken. The 2 began at the same time. Two weeks after our wedding a relatively tranquil weekend of domesticity was interrupted by the arrival of an innocuous brown envelope from my friend Steve. I didn't think much about it at the time. I bet the Beatles didn't think much about Yoko the first time they met her either.
The envelope contained about an inch of photographs of an old building that looked like a blend of early Bates Motel and late Addams family. Two thirds of the building was covered in grayish, peeling clapboard topped by an old mansard roof. A two story asbestos shingled addition had been tacked on to the side. The front of the building faced a river, which, admittedly was a beautiful vista. The back of the building, well...the back of the building was-- well, it was gone. Long timbers propped up the "new" rear walls. The"lawn" was punctuated by piles of rusted junk & trash & the windows were boarded up.
This was the White Haven Hotel, an old river front inn in the historic and picturesque village of Whitehaven, Md -- over 300 miles south east from Ken's last "project", our brownstone in Hoboken, NJ. Steve's letter contained a brief history of the town -- a former ship building site with a ferry that provided some commerce. The Whitehaven Hotel itself had been built in phases from the early 1800's to 1890 & served the Wicomico river steamship trade. Now it was a sleepy village of 26 houses with a couple of old-time watermen left, some local famiies, transplants and artist types.
Our friends envisioned the Hotel as a communal enterprise. Of course, it was for sale and had been for @ 20 years. Various cottage industries were tossed around. The idea of a bakery was floated (possibly tied into some type of basket making). Sadly, there was no kitchen. There was also no floor on part of the 2nd story. A lot of work would be needed to make the place habitable. Because Ken had restored his brownstone, Steve thought he would be interested in this project. I'm not sure if I ever mentioned that it took Ken almost 2 years to refinish the front doors of the brownstone.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, In the pictures, I saw a dilapidated building beyond our power to restore, Ken saw possibility. Steve had thoughtfully annotated his pictures with yellow Post-its highlighting such features as "cool view of the ferry"; "awful panneling"; "great original federal railing"; "federal mantle"; and "Swedish Babe" (one of their party during the initial visit).
Its hard to say specifically what hooked Ken. Perhaps its was his distant family ties to the shore, wanting to talk about something new now that the brownstone was almost done or perhaps he was affected by the new outlook his recent marriage had given him. Whatever it was, 2 days later Ken was still fixed to the photos of the Hotel. At last he announced "This would be a great project!" With these words, our lives, our marriage and our fortunes took on an unexpected and irreversible turn. Just where that turn would take us, I couldn't say.