by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels
“If these walls could only talk,” I thought as I walked into the lobby of the Linden Row Inn. I was in Richmond, Virginia for a writer’s conference and, sight unseen, had made reservations at this historic hotel at the suggestion of conference organizers. As it was located in the slightly dilapidated – yet reawakening – city center, I expected another run-of-the-mill, seedy hotel. Instead, I found eight Greek Revival row houses that have been lovingly restored and converted to a 70-room hotel.
The moment I set foot in the Linden Row I was transported back to the nineteenth century, when Richmond was the capital of the confederacy. Wooden rockers line the interior balconies, wrought iron tables and chairs dot the red brick paved courtyard, and antique leather sofas and chairs in the Parlor Lounge tempt guests to while away the hours with a book and a glass of wine. Guest rooms, many with original windows nearly reaching to 12-foot ceilings, are filled with antiques and reproductions from the Victorian and Empire periods, yet the facility has bowed to modern times by providing cable TV with premium channels, coffeemakers, clock radios, and complimentary high-speed Internet access.
The antiques are not just for effect either; this hotel oozes history. The land on which Linden Row Inn sits was acquired by Charles Ellis in 1816, who owned the house across the street. He turned the property into a garden that became known for its beautiful roses, jasmine, and lindens. The garden was a favorite spot for the Ellis children, which by that point included a young Edgar Allen Poe, who had been orphaned when his mother, Elizabeth, an actress performing in a traveling company at the Richmond Theater, became ill and died. Local legend claims this is the “enchanted garden” that Poe mentions in his famous poem, To Helen. When the land was again purchased in the mid-1800′s, 10 row houses were built and named Linden Square after the lindens that had grown in the Ellis garden.
Over the years, Linden Row had many famous occupants: Irene Gibson (the Gibson Girl) and Lady Astor, the first female member of British Parliament among them. But time took its toll; the properties deteriorated as people fled the inner city, leaving the downtown to decay. When two of the original row houses were demolished, local historians stepped up to protect the historic structures. With the support of the Historic Richmond Foundation, the remaining carriage and row houses were eventually converted to an inn that is now an officially designated Historic Hotel of America.
All rooms at Linden Row were recently renovated and feature modern, granite bathrooms with hair dryers, iron, and ironing board. Although my garden room was small, it was clean, well furnished with an antique writing desk, an armoire that contained a TV, and one of the most comfortable beds I have ever slept in. Room prices average $119 for a garden room (a smaller room located on the courtyard in one of two original carriage houses), $120-169 for a main house room (a bit larger, located in on of the seven the connected row houses) and $260 for a parlor suite. Each of seven parlor rooms, which are named after predominant people in Richmond, feature antiques original to the Inn, 12′ ceilings, floor to ceiling windows, gasolier lighting, two marble fireplaces, and access to the veranda.
I was so taken with the Linden Inn and so pleasantly surprised by Richmond’s downtown, which is clearly in the throes of resurgence, that I extended my stay for two days following the conference to take in some of the nearby sites. The Inn is located half-way between and within easy walking distance of both Virginia Commonwealth University and the State Capitol, which anchor the opposite ends of downtown. Between the two, Richmond’s historic district offers a wide choice of restaurants, entertainment, shopping, and art galleries. Also within easy walking distance are the cobblestone streets of Shockoe Slip & Shockoe Bottom; the architecturally intriguing Fan District; the charming canal walk along the James River to Brown’s Island, where frequent outdoor concerts are held; and numerous museums, including the Edgar Allen Poe Museum.
Alas, it was finally time to depart. I packed my bag and headed down to the front desk to check out. Gazing longingly at the overstuffed chairs in the Parlor Room, I recalled my initial wish that the walls could talk and suddenly realized that they do. Perhaps not out loud, but certainly they speak through the pages of history and the words of Edgar Allen Poe, who wrote with such passion about his beloved garden:
There fell a silvery-silken veil of light,
With quietude, and sultriness, and slumber,
Upon the upturned faces of a thousand
Roses that grew in an enchanted garden….
I smiled as I stepped down into the street, wondering what Poe would have thought about the hotel that now occupies the site of his beloved garden.
Photos not otherwise credited courtesy of the Linden Row Inn