JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) — In the 225-year-old Eureka Inn, some of the doors that lead nowhere are part of its character and historic importance.
Dr. William Kennedy is parting with his ownership of the 12-room, 6,000-square-foot inn that he and partners spent several years restoring before it reopened for business in 2000. He told News Channel 11 Wednesday he hopes whoever buys the iconic piece of Tennessee’s oldest town will appreciate and maintain the inn’s “dummy doors” and other elements he called “tangible links to the past.”
Sitting in the Mitchell Room in the inn’s oldest section built in 1797, Kennedy talked about two doors that tell just a sliver of the many stories the inn holds within its walls.
One faces the front entrance on Main Street and allowed entry into the inn’s so-called “sample room.”
“It tells the story of how salesmen could come through town, rent a room down on the ground floor of the inn and invite their customers and display their merchandise, which was the custom back particularly between 1900 and 1910,” Kennedy said.
Around the back of the building — another dummy door — once the ingress point for Black citizens during segregation. Stepping through it, they could “go through a buffet line and get lunch and eat when they had to be separated from white people. We’ve left that door there to tell that story – that most unfortunate period of story.”
Those are among the stories that rest inside the walls of the inn, which was in very poor repair when Kennedy bought it in 1997. Now it offers modern amenities, including bathrooms in each of its 12 rooms, air conditioning, modern plumbing and the like without sacrificing its historic authenticity.
“It has been inviting and people really enjoy the distinctiveness of its historic character while also having the comforts that we normally expect in modern lodging,” he said.
Kennedy is 82, other minority partners are in their 80s, or have moved away or died, and he said the time was right to sell. The building is listed for $1,250,000 with Evans and Evans Real Estate.
“As we’ve aged and as we’ve worked with the property for 25 years we just think it’s time to move it on as an opportunity and as a source of joy to some younger owners.”
Kennedy said the current owners really hope to see the building’s historic character maintained and expand on its convenience and comfort. They also hope there will be an emphasis on food.
“Jonesborough is in need of a fine restaurant, particularly for evening meals.”
He believes an owner could focus on food and secondarily on lodging, the other way around, or live there and rent parts of it out as an Airbnb.
“Whatever happens with it we hope that owner will want to maintain its historic character and will also fit into the community, because we did this as a project initially to help Jonesborough stabilize its economy and continue to grow in its historic central business district.”
With distinctive woodwork dating back to the late 1700s around him in the Mitchell Room, Kennedy described the building’s history. He said Peter and Angeline Miller bought the existing house, which had gone through several owners, in 1900. They added a couple of wings and opened it as the Eureka Hotel. The Russell family bought the hotel in 1910 and expanded it further to its current 6,000 square feet.
Cameo Waters is Jonesborough’s Tourism and Main Street Director and said she thinks the building — whose operators, Blake and Katelyn Yarbrough, closed it after the pandemic derailed their hopes of buying the property — will be an easy sell.
“It’s going to be a big blessing and joy for somebody and a great opportunity that you don’t see every day,” she said.
It’s also a major part of the community, opening its doors for historic home tours and when the Heritage Alliance takes people through the old downtown.
Even people that live here and don’t necessarily need lodging love to come and see all the beauty inside and learn a little bit more about the history.”
Business ownership in downtown Jonesborough isn’t an anonymous affair, Waters said.
“It’s not just being an entrepreneur it’s being part of a community. So someone that really aligns with our beliefs about historic preservation and being neighbors to everyone and being very welcoming.”