Revival of a once thriving boutique hotel coming to Main Street

The Scott Griffin Hotel operated on Main Street in Franklin in the early 1900s. An Opportunity Appalachia grant may allow the possibility of reviving the boutique hotel. photo by Vickie Carpenter

Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer

The hotel in its heyday contained 36 bedrooms, 12 baths, steam heat and circulating hot and cold water in every bedroom. A kitchen, dining room and ladies parlor were located on the second floor.

The bygone days of early 20th century life in Franklin may have a resurgence – to some extent. Town of Franklin Planner Justin Setser shared with the Council in early June that an Opportunity Appalachia (OA) grant may open the way for the building that once served as an early-to-mid 20th century hotel to once again be used as not only a hotel but also as a restaurant.

The upper floors of what was once a thriving hotel has sat vacant for decades.

Setser explained that when he learned about six months ago that an OA grant was a possibility, “I knew almost instantly that I wanted to do something with this building. I always envisioned it being apartments with a roof-top restaurant. But when I looked at the last cycle and saw how much support boutique hotels received with OA, I went that route.” 

A rooftop restaurant, with views of surrounding mountains, is envisioned for the boutique hotel project.

Located at 45 E. Main Street, what was originally called the Scott Griffin Hotel in the early 1900s, is indeed listed as one of OA’s “selected properties,” with this description included in a June 7 Mountain Bizworks press release: “Restoration of the four-story 16,500 square foot Scott-Griffin Hotel in downtown Franklin. The addition of a rooftop restaurant will offer a 360-degree view of the Nantahala and Cowee mountain ranges. The building currently has retail operations on the first floor, with the upper three floors vacant for more than 50 years. Estimated costs total $5-7 million with anticipated creation of 30 jobs.” 

Present at the June 6 Town of Franklin Council meeting, where Setser announced the OA grant and the hotel/restaurant project, was Franklin native and Franklin High School (1969) alumni Janet Greene, whose father J.C. Jacobs, a Franklin merchant and businessman for 64 years who died in 2019 at age 101, purchased the building in 1995. Greene stood up and announced to the Council and people in attendance at the public meeting that her father would have been “thrilled” to know that the building might finally be used. 

Scott Griffin Hotel was once a hub of activity, as an advertisement in a 1933 The Franklin Press/The Highlands Maconian attested: 

“Hotel – All Standard Brands of Beer Served In Rear Of Hotel – Drink and Be Merry With Us.”

According to Greene, who has researched extensively the history of the building her father owned and which is now owned by her and her sister, Nancy Paris (who resides in Apex, N.C.), three local businessmen partnered to have the hotel built; they were: Sam L. Franks, Franklin Postmaster; H.W. (Henry) Cabe, Bank of Franklin; and W.C. Cunningham, a local merchant. At the time, the brick building’s first floor was the Sloan Brothers (merchants) storeroom and a barber shop operated by Lester Conley. In late December 1926 or early January 1927, the Sloan Brothers moved their business next door into a new first floor storefront and Smith’s Drug Store took the remaining space (which became Perry’s Drug Store on October 20, 1955). 

The intention of the business partners was for the hotel to occupy the second and third floors with 36 bedrooms, 12 baths, steam heat, a circulating system of hot water, and hot and cold water in every bedroom. A kitchen, dining room, and ladies parlor were located on the second floor. A roof garden offered views of the surrounding mountains. And, servant’s quarters were built in the rear of the building. The cost for building was estimated at $50,000.

To manage the hotel, the three businessmen  men signed a five-year lease with a Mrs. J. L. Farmer (given name is undetermined) from Gainesville, Ga. She had previously operated the Princeton Hotel in Gainesville. 

Greene continues to research to learn where the hotel’s name, Scott Griffin, originated. 

Over the next 26 years, the building continued as a hotel, but several different people owned and managed it – and, consequently, the hotel’s name changed from Scott Griffin to Bryson to Montague to Hearn. The store fronts of Perry’s Drug Store, (Bill) Bryant’s Market, and the barber shop remained in operation, but the hotel was shuttered in 1955. And, while the building changed ownership a few more times, with the intention of opening some sort of business in it, it never again became a hotel.

“I was four years old when the hotel closed,” said Greene. Then on Jan. 9, 1995, the property was sold to JLP Enterprises, Inc., a corporation owned by the J.C. Jacobs family, of which Greene and her sisters are heirs. “Dad had an architect look at the building to see about opening it up again as a hotel, but at the time it cost too much.”

She pointed out that people are beginning to become interested in saving and renovating historic properties. 

“They see the value in how these buildings enhance the downtown … how they are nostalgic and protect the past. And the nice thing about this grant [OA] is that there are people involved who are experienced with working on old buildings, who understand what it takes to revitalize them.”

Greene reiterated that her father would be happy to know the building would again be used, because of his commitment to Franklin. 

“He has such a legacy here. He did what he could for the common good of the community. He was part of what is referred to as the ‘greatest generation’ and he served the town and the county faithfully.”

She added, “I’m my father’s daughter, so I have been involved in different ways to support downtown Franklin. And I think this hotel and restaurant will be a real energizer for Main Street.”

Setser indicated that the renovation of 45 E. Main Street into a hotel and restaurant would be a win-win for the Town of Franklin and its residents. He explained that it is important for existing properties to be redeveloped so that Main Street can experience “… growth to its full potential. We have great street-level businesses, but we are only using half of our available space. Activating these additional floors will help Franklin get to that full potential.” 

He added, “In our proposal to OA, we talked about how we want the project to include features of Appalachian culture in the hotel. The downtown merchants stressed to us they wanted a hotel that would fit into the look and feel of the area … not a corporate, cookie-cutter stamp on the building. People want something unique and different and we believe we can give it to them.”

The project is expected to take upwards of two years to complete before the hotel and restaurant will be open for business.