Prominently located in the heart of McArthur, on the corner of U.S. Route 50 and State Route 93, rests the village’s oldest surviving structure: Hotel McArthur.
“This is a really fascinating place. You walk in, and it wraps its arms around you. It’s hard to explain,” current tenant Beth Gilliland says.
Gilliland has worked in the establishment on and off since 1996. She has a strong affinity for the L-shaped building. It was constructed in 1839, predating when Vinton County was formed in 1850.
She has access to previous owner Kathryn Matteson’s handwritten notes on the hotel from a conversation with Paul “Hoagie” Hogan, the owner from the 1900s. Hogan made significant additions to the hotel, such as a hand-dug basement in the 1960s.
On Dec. 17, 2021, the building was purchased by the Vinton County Convention and Visitors Bureau. This was after over a year of negotiation initiated by Marketing Director Caleb Appleman.
The city plans to turn the building back into a functioning hotel with a restaurant and gift shop. The visitors bureau headquarters will be relocated to the lobby.
Hotel McArthur’s renovations are projected to cost up to $2.5 million. The city officially closed on the property March 31. The visitors bureau is looking to secure funding so construction can begin as early as this summer.
Appleman says the vision is to blend elements from the 1800s with modern-day amenities, like an ADA-compliant ramp for entering the building. The goal is to preserve as much of the original interior as possible.
As a lifetime Vinton County resident, Appleman researched how to most accurately renovate the building. He aims to make it resemble what it looked like back in the late 1800s.
“There’s not a whole lot of photography from the 1800s of historic hotels, but I did what I could to fill in the gaps. The earliest photograph we have of Hotel McArthur went back to about 1914 and, at that point, it had already gone under many renovations,” Appleman says.
The building used to have a mansard roof, but it burned in the late 1800s. The roof will be rebuilt along with historical lamp posts, horse-hitching posts and a traditional wooden sign. Even the font on the hotel’s sign will be period.
Inside is the original grand staircase composed of four different woods. The banister is walnut and cherry. The steps are hard oak. The side extending the length of the staircase is poplar.
The floors are original hardwood, with the exception of some patches of linoleum or carpet.
“The base structure [we think] was originally like a log cabin. Now, it has about four layers of bricks added around it and, at some point, a layer of stucco was added as well,” Appleman says.
Hotel McArthur has lived many lives. It has housed several businesses over the years like barber shops, saloons and newspapers. But it currently houses Gilliland and others, who will be evicted for the renovation.
“I’ve cried over this. Cried, cried, cried. I was angry, then I was crying. I just went through it. It’s hard,” Gilliland says.
Gilliland’s relationship with Hotel McArthur is deeper than appreciation for its architecture or history. In fact, she believes the space is shared with previous inhabitants who have not quite finished checking out.
“There are spirits here. I can tell you firsthand about that. I talk to them myself,” Gilliland says.
She believes all current tenants, especially long-time tenants like her, would testify that spirits dwell in the halls.
Back in 2013, a psychic came to the hotel to conduct a reading. He reported none of the presences is evil or bad, Gilliland says. The adoration for this building allegedly extends beyond life.
“According to the psychic, the only thing they want to do is look after the hotel. They want to make sure it’s safe, I guess,” Gilliland says.
She has heard ambient noises, such as:
- Spurred boots rattling across the dining room
- Echoing footsteps down the empty staircase
- Indistinct hums of chattering voices
- Repetitive shutters of a vintage camera
- Shifting furniture on hardwood
“I was with this really religious woman — her and her husband would come in here every day — and she goes, ‘Beth, did you hear that? Nobody came down those steps,’” Gilliland says.
She even reports that people, including herself, have seen figures fleeting through the hotel corridors.
“My son just saw a woman at the top of the stairs last night. There is a woman spirit here, and I believe that it is Mr. Hogan’s wife. The guy who lives by the stairs says, ‘Oh, that’s nothin’! I see that spirit all the time,’” Gilliland says.
Gilliland is not scared of the spirits. On the contrary, Hotel McArthur is one of the only places she feels completely safe.
“Once you come in here, you have a connection with it that makes you not want to leave,” Gilliland sighs.
She will relish the time she has before leaving her home of over two decades. Eviction day marks the start of a transitional period. It is momentous not only for the building’s future but for the future of Gilliland and the tenants, who are now seeking a new place to call home.