CAMDEN — The 113-year-old Whitehall Inn is undergoing a $1.7 million cosmetic lift, and its new owners are looking forward to reopening the doors, as well as a new restaurant there, by May 2015.
“Every room and the lobby space is getting redone,” said Robert Blood, one of the investors that bought the Whitehall Oct. 30 from Russ and Rebecca Miller, who had owned it since 2010.
The Whitehall Inn, with its 40 rooms and placement on the National Registry of Historic Places, is on High Street (Route 1) going north from Camden Village toward Lincolnville Beach. It began operating as an inn in 1901, and its history intertwines with that of Pulitzer prize-wining poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, as well as the Hollywood movie Peyton Place.
Never fussy nor stuffy, the inn and its small gardens and lawns, sprawls comfortably over two acres with glimpses of Penobscot Bay. Its core building was originally constructed in 1834 as a sea captain’s house, and then expanded over the years with rambling additions.
The restaurant and bar have been a gathering place for more than a century for travelers and locals.
“The Whitehall has a great tradition of hospitality,” said Blood. “We want to be good stewards of it.”
The privately-owned Lark Hotels is based in Newburyport, Mass., and owns eight boutique hotels in New England — Narragansett and Newport, R.I.; Kennebunk and Portland; Nantucket; Portsmouth, N.H.; and now Camden. Lark Hotels is a management company for hotels, some of which the Bloods own and some that we they developed for others and now manage for them. Whitehall will be a Lark Hotel but it is owned by the Bloods and individually with one of their investment partners, not by Lark Hotels.
“The Whitehall Inn is an iconic lodging destination,” said Blood. “It has always been on our radar.”
He and his wife, Leigh, stayed at the Whitehall in 2004 for one night while on their honeymoon, before leaving the next day on a cruise aboard the windjammer Mistress.
“That’s when we had our first conversation about owning a B&B,” said Blood. “I remember standing down on the dock in Camden talking about it. My wife thought I was crazy.”
At that point, the two were just beginning their careers as innkeepers. Blood grew up skiing at Sugarloaf and spending summers on Lake Cobissee, outside of Augusta. He is a Bates College graduate.
“I feel very connected to Maine,” he said, over the phone Dec. 10, while in the background his four-year-old daughter recited numbers. He and Leigh also are parents of a four-month-old daughter.
They bought their first inn in 2004 and have been steadily growing their holdings over the past 13 years.
“Leigh and I started our career running a B&B in Nantucket,” said Blood. “It gave us a good foundation. It’s where I first learned about hospital corners.”
Now the couple, along with another partner, Dawn Hagin, are going full tilt in the hospitality business, and said they enjoy every minute of it. In addition to reopening the Whitehall Inn, they are opening their Narragansett inn, The Break, this coming spring.
The Whitehall Inn is on the National Register of Historic Places as an historic inn. It has had seven owners, and Lark Hotels will be the eighth. Plenty has happened in its rooms, but the walls aren’t talking, even though they are now getting stripped of their century-old paint and wallpaper.
There are stories and legends — even about ghosts — and the inn has a room dedicated to Edna St. Vincent Millay. That story has it that her sister, who worked at the inn, invited Millay to a party there in 1912, at which she read her poem Renascence aloud to guests. That connected her with a patron, and eventually Millay became the third woman to receive a Pulitzer for poetry.
Blood said the Millay room will remain a destination, although the lobbies are all getting a decor update, just as all the guest rooms are.
Phi Home Designs and North Atlantic Painting Company have been working on the building for more than month, stripping wallpaper, spackling and painting. Outside, decks have been torn off and landscaping tractors have moved in. The goal is to reopen by May 8, 2015.
Blood said Lark Hotels is investing approximately $1.7 million in Whitehall improvements, which will include new interior designs, furniture and fixtures throughout the building.
On Nov. 24, the town gave Lark Hotels a permit to begin a $40,0000 reroofing job, which will be done by Horch Roofing. Blood said that job will tend to approximately 40 percent of the inn’s entire roof.
Rachel Reider Interiors, of Boston, is in charge of redecorating the rooms, and the schemes, said Blood, will tie in the aesthetics of the creative economy of the Midcoast. The designs will “be respectful of the history of the building,” he said.
But, he added, the redesign will not be: “traditional country decor. We are moving away from floral wallpaper and four-poster beds.”
Bed headboards, he said, will be padded, with a material and colors like “dapper flannel.”
Because the Whitehall is not insulated, Lark Hotels will keep it open from May to October, but not in the winter. Room rates will range in price from $219 to $439 in the summer, and on shoulder seasons, $129 to $239.
Outside, a patio will be created in the front yard where a water garden formerly was. That is about the only structural change that will occur at the inn.
Details about the restaurant and its new executive chef are to be soon released in a news announcement, said Blood. He is looking forward to adding one more element to Camden’s food scene, he said. Conversations are underway with the former restaurant crew to see how they might work with the new restaurant concept, said Blood.
Blood and Lark Hotels are excited about joining the local hotel industry in the Midcoast, he said.
“It’s fun to be involved in small communities where people really care about what’s going on,” he said.
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