By VIC BRADSHAW
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER, Va. —
Hotel stationery from the 1890s. A theater ticket. A little girl’s shoe and dress. An old medicine compound bottle.
Slowly, the former Taylor Hotel building on the Loudoun Street Mall is giving up signs of its historic past.
As the $3.6 million project to redevelop part of the dilapidated building that was the focal point of Winchester society for decades proceeds, evidence of what it once was is being uncovered. The hotel was built in 1846.
Images of the hotel stationery and ticket to a performance that were found during the building’s deconstruction have been posted on winchesterva.gov.
Keith Laird of KEE Construction, the city company hired for the second phase of the project, also showed some of his finds last week.
Laird, a Stephenson resident, has found a little girl’s tattered dress, a child’s shoe with dirt stuck to it that he thinks might have come from the streets of Winchester decades ago, and a handkerchief “folded like a do-rag.”
“When we’re tearing up the floors,” he said, “is when we’re finding stuff like this.”
He also found a bottle labeled “PULV.GLYCYRRHIZA” that was made or distributed by John Leahy & Co. Online sources indicate that the substance also is known as compound licorice powder.
Harold “Doc” Madagan, owner of and pharmacist at Gaunt’s Drug Store, said the powder was made from licorice root and was used to mask the taste of bitter substances in medicines.
The intensive-level documentation of the hotel’s past performed as part of the project indicates that the only pharmacological or medical use of the building was as a hospital following the Third Battle of Winchester in 1864.
The Winchester Economic Development Authority (EDA) and private partner Taylor Plaza LLC are teaming to redevelop the site.
The lower level of the front part of the building will become restaurant space, with five apartments being built on the upper floors. The rear flytower will have commercial space on the ground level; how its upper floors will be used hasn’t been determined.
The middle of the building was torn out due to its poor structural condition. In its place, a grassy pavilion for performances and a farmers market will be built.
The front section of the Taylor Hotel — which is being renovated — was constructed in 1846.
Exactly when or where the stationery and theater ticket were uncovered could not be determined last week. Jim Deskins, the EDA’s executive director, was out of the office.
The stationery has an image of the hotel at the top left with the name “Taylor House” in large letters beside it. Jos. Wright & Son are listed as the proprietors.
“Winchester, Va.” is in script underneath the name and owners. A space is left for the month and day, followed by “189—.”
Parts of the stationery have been torn away, and the paper is stained by water.
The ticket reads:
Rose Lisle Company
C.G. Allen, Manager
The hotel documentation doesn’t mention a Rose Lisle Company, so it’s not clear whether that was the name of a company that ran the theater that once operated at the hotel site or the name of a performance group that appeared there.
Brian Wishneff of Roanoke, a partner in Taylor Plaza LLC, said he has been involved in historic rehabilitations in the public and private sectors for 25 years or more and expects such finds when working on old buildings.
“It’s always exciting to find that kind of stuff,” he said. “I’ve always found that people like it when you can incorporate that sort of thing into a project. People just love things like that.”
Framing the stationery and ticket and putting them on walls somewhere in the building would be one way to allow the public to get a glimpse of the hotel’s past, he said. But what will be done with the artifacts hasn’t been determined.
Mark McConnel, president of Summit Studios in Roanoke, said finds are more prevalent in older buildings.
“The older the building,” the architect said, “the more likely it is to have relics because things took a long time to build.
“I don’t think I’ve ever found anything in a building that was built from World War II on. Usually it’s the older ones, the older the better.”
McConnel, the architect for the Taylor Hotel redevelopment, said carpenters years ago stuffed newspapers, letters and other items — some with their names on them — into walls years ago in an early attempt at insulating them. They also frequently wrote or carved their names on wood inside the walls.
“They often scratched their names in the wood or concrete foundations,” he said, “because they felt really vested. Construction back then wasn’t a quick thing.”
Among his finds over the years are pairs of glasses, steel knitting needles, and even a vial of polish for razor blades.
His “most remarkable” find was at the bottom of an elevator shaft during the renovation of a Colonial-era inn in Gloucester, he said. The shaft was found to have been a dumbwaiter shaft originally.
“We found a treasure trove of pewterware, tankards, anything that would have fallen off a dumbwaiter,” McConnel said.
Wishneff’s finds have been less dramatic. He quickly recalled recovering soft drink bottles that represented different eras.
He said he’s glad the items from the hotel have been saved because, just like the building itself, they’re part of the city’s history.
“I think that’s why people like older buildings,” he said, “because there’s a story it tells about the community. Obviously (the Taylor Hotel) was a pretty special building with a lot of its own unique history.
“That makes the point about why it’s important to keep using historical buildings if we possibly can. There’s no way to replicate what they are and what they represent.”