Shirley Donnelly: Hotels of Note

This Saturday with Shirley, he takes us through the years to a time when Hotel Hill was in Oak Hill (Fayette County), West Virginia and The Ruffner was on the banks of the Kanawha in Charleston. And, who could forget the massive Lilly Reunion of days past?

I transcribed the column and a scan of the clipping follows. Also included are some bits and pieces of information regarding the subject of the column.

I hope you enjoy the read.

Yesterday and Today

Hotels of Note

By: Shirley Donnelly

When Joe McQuade bought the Hotel Hill building at Oak Hill and started to transform it into luxury apartments he changed its name to that of the Jerry Leigh Building. He gave it the name of The Jerry Leigh in honor of one of his little granddaughters.

Hotel Hill was built for the accomodation of the traveling public by the late William H Hill and his brother Claude R Hill Sr. It was completed and opened in November 1928. The lot on which the hotel was built faces directly on the Giles, Fayette and Kanawha Turnpike, now Oak Hill’s Main Street.

It was on this site that there stood for a generation the two-story log dwelling of John Kelley (Oct 10, 1822 – Jul 23 1899).

By the side of the log house there stood a large symmetrical sugar maple tree. Both the log dwelling and the maple tree were removed to make way for the construction of the new hotel.

When I settled in Oak HIll the first week of January 1923, the old log dwelling of the Kelley couple was occupied by the late C P (Jack) Cobb (1894-March 28 1944) and his wife Mrs Electra Foster Cobb (1882-July 6, 1957). I used to visit the Cobbs in the old log home that dated back to the Civil War days. In the early 1970s the hotel closed its doors having become a losing business proposition.

Upon my reading about the reorganization of the Lilly Reunion recently it got me to thinking about another historic hotel that has become a memory. Reference here is to the 84 year old Ruffner Hotel on Kanawha Boulevard at Charleston. After the turn of the present century the Ruffner Hotel was owned by A A (Cousin Abe) Lille of Lilly Reunion distinction, and his family.

“Cousin Abe” was the life of the Lilly Reunion which met annually at Flat Top. Tens of thousands attended the big reunion which died out when Cousin Abe died. Now the Lilly Reunion is being started up again.

It was given to me to address several hundreds of the Lillys and their kin at Grandview State Park last summer. The meeting was staged where the outdoor drama – The Hatfields and the McCoys – is put on every summer. But back to the old Ruffner Hotel.

The Ruffner Hotel was built in 1885 by Andrew and Meredith Ruffner on the Kanawha River front on the site where the Hale House stood. Dr JP Hale MD who almost singlehanded got the state house built at Charleston, which capitol building was burned to the ground on Jan 3, 1921, erected the Hale House.

When the Ruffner Hotel was built, travel into Charleston was by rail and steamboat. In front of the hotel were the river docks from which the ferry carried hotel patrons from the depot to the Ruffnew and back to the docks. That ferry operated until the south side bridge was built to span the river.

A TOP the Ruffnew the Lilly family built a penthouse which was occupied by Mrs AA Lilly from 1941 to 1963. They also had a penthouse on top of the Old Mayflower that was used chiefly for growing flowers for the family. In the Ruffner Hotel , in the hotel dining room were finger bowls. In the early days of the hotel it was the habit of the waiters to wear white gloves.

In its heyday, the Ruffnew was the class of hotels. It was quite elite.

In 1968 the Ruffner as The Ruffnew, passed to the (?) Hotels Inc, a Detroit concern. The property was next acquired by (?) Clothing Store owners and the hotel raised in 1970 to make a parking lot for customers on the (?) area.

With the demolition of the Ruffnew Hotel in 1970 there passed from Charleston area its best known landmark.

Beckley Post-Herald
Beckley, West Virginia
23 Dec 1977, Fri  •  Page 4

Hotel Hill, Oak Hill (Fayette County) West Virginia:

Source: History of Oak Hill, W. VA. by Shirley Donnelly
Image may contain: 19 people
Frances and Happy Bannister wedding reception at Hotel Hill
Title: Main Street, Oak Hill, W. Va.
Date: 1913
Description: Men and women sit outside store entrances on benches and in parked automobiles. Subjects unidentified.
Several feet of snow cover the sidewalks and street.
Title: Snow-Covered Main Street, Oak Hill, W. Va.

The Ruffner, Charleston (Kanawha Co) West Virginia:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 7017e660afdfa665b50c3de62d2dc880.png

Per e-WV:

The venerable Ruffner Hotel succeeded the Hale House on the northwest corner of Hale and Kanawha streets in Charleston. The Ruffner was built in 1885 and owned and operated until about 1900 by A. L. and Meredith Ruffner and the Charleston Hotel Company.

The Ruffner was grand in every way, and it came on the scene in Charleston with the splendid new Victorian state capitol, also built in 1885. With 180 bedrooms, the Ruffner as originally built featured a spire on one corner and an elegant portico facing Kanawha Street. Except for the capitol, the red brick Ruffner was the biggest building in Charleston and its elegant profile was familiar to generations. The South Side Bridge, the first bridge across the Kanawha River, was built almost at the Ruffner’s doorstep in 1891, allowing easy access to the C&O Railroad depot directly across the river.

As Charleston grew, other fine hotels were built, such as the Kanawha, the Holley, and finally in 1929, the Daniel Boone. But up until its demolition for a parking lot in 1970, the Ruffner never fell into ill repute. Its restaurant was noted for fine cuisine into the 1950s.

In January 1946, a historic fire destroyed nearby buildings and almost reached the eight-story Ruffner. After 1900, the Lilly family owned the hotel, and after 1941 Attorney General Abraham A. ‘‘Cousin Abe’’ Lilly resided in the elegant penthouse. A Lilly daughter recalled that Lilly raised flowers and even corn in the penthouse garden hothouse.

This Article was written by Richard A. Andre

Last Revised on October 01, 2013

Vintage West Virginia: The Ruffner Hotel
Charleston’s grand Ruffner Hotel, built in 1885, featured 180 rooms, many with a view of the Kanawha River. The hotel, pictured here around 1907, was demolished in 1970. The location became home to a parking lot, which remains today at the corner of Hale Street and Kanawha Boulevard.
Source: is a name you can TRUST!
Certificate from the Ruffner Hotel Inc issued in 1921.
See original for correspondence. Published by The Hugh C. Leighton Company. (From postcard collection legacy system.)
Title: Hotel Ruffner and Hale Street; Charleston, W. Va.
Date: ca. 1910
Title: Hotel Ruffner; Charleston, W. Va.

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