|By Allison Brophy Champion, Culpeper
Star-Exponent, Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 21, 2008 - For 75 years, the Lord Culpeper Hotel has stood strong, at three stories tall, in the center of downtown.
A Main Street mainstay, the architecture of the building, fashioned with bricks from a James River brickyard, remains relatively unchanged from when it opened in late 1933.
Though its 33 rooms have been modernized through the years and many first floor business tenants have come and gone, the Lord Culpeper Hotel retains a sense of the past.
It's said to be haunted. It also, then and now, served up some fine fare.
In its heyday, the hotel was known throughout
the region and state for its fine southern dining; dinner was served,
with reservations, from 6 to 9 p.m.
"...Miss Mildred Bispham, who comes from a family said to be famed for 'good living' will have charge of the dining room where real Virginia dishes will be prepared by the best colored cooks in the community," said a front-page article, "New Lord Culpeper Hotel to open next Thursday," in the Dec. 14, 1933 edition of The Virginia Star.
Bispham, according to Culpeper historian Zann Miner, lived with her cousin Mildred Hill in the Hill Mansion just a few blocks away from the hotel on South East Street. The cousins were said to have been collateral descendants of A.P. Hill, famed Civil War general.
The menu back then would have included Southern favorites like fried chicken, ham, fish, corn pudding, stewed potatoes, seasonable vegetables, homemade rolls, cakes and pies, said Miner, who remembered dining at the hotel Sunday afternoons.
Today, the hotel houses Thai Culpeper, known throughout the region for its fine Thai menu and delicious cocktails.
Former Culpeper Mayor Jackson Eggborn, a Culpeper native and lifelong resident, was manager of the Lord Culpeper Hotel from its opening in 1933 until his retirement in 1973.
He left a career in pharmacy and a job at Bruce's Drug Store in Culpeper to run the hotel and live in its penthouse with his wife, whom he married five years earlier, a Miss Elizabeth Young of Fredericksburg, the newspaper article says.
Bo and Libba Chase of Culpeper bought the hotel in 1994, following about two decades of it housing the offices and senior nutrition center of the Rapphannock-Rapidan Community Services Board.
For a time there, Libba said, the late Mr. Jack Eggborn, mayor from 1954-1957, really made his presence known.
"Things would just fly off the shelves. Like we'd in the kitchen and there'd be a whole bunch of glass ashtrays sitting there and they'd just start flying," she said, also mentioning the phantom smell of wet dog, which others who knew Eggborn attributed to the mayor's dog, Happy.
Flying ice scoops and water mysteriously turning itself on solidified Libba's sense of supernatural activity in the old hotel as well as apparitions of ghostly figures rounding corners.
"We haven't seen it very much like we used to, so I don't know why he's not around anymore," she said, noting that Thai Culpeper employees leave food out nightly for Eggborn -- his favorite is boiled eggs -- on the back stoop.
But it wasn't the promise of ghosts that prompted the Chases to invest in Lord Culpeper Hotel.
"The reason we got it was just a beautiful old building," said Libba. "At that point it was really defunct, but you look at the molding and everything and you hate to see it torn down or keep going downhill. It was something that just needed to be taken care of and try to put back together.
"We do all the work ourselves -- all the carpet, painting, everything -- so it will never be finished," said Mrs. Chase, who envisions a boom in the business with the pending remodeling of the State Theatre next door.
Moving forward one day at a time in that regard is the future of Lord Culpeper, she said.
It took C.H. Hitt, "pioneer builder of Culpeper and senior member of the firm known as the Culpeper Planing Mill," according to the Virginia Star, five years to build the Lord Culpeper Hotel. When it opened, a single room with a bath went for $1.50 to $2.50 per night.
Or, one could get a double room with a bath for $3.50 to $6 per night.
"Altogether, the new Lord Culpeper Hotel is one which, in design and finish, and appointments would do credit to a town of much larger size than Culpeper and is one in which Culpeper citizens can feel a just pride," the 1933 article said.
That still applies today.
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Copyright (c) 2008, Culpeper Star-Exponent, Va.
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