The Elkhorn Inn & Theater, Landgraff, West Virginia
We recently met new friends from West Virginia, Dan and Elisse Clark, who run the Elkhorn Inn and Theatre in Landgraff, West Virginia. We were lucky enough to sit down and talk with Elisse about their Inn - here's what she had to say...
The Elkhorn Inn & Theatre, featured on HGTV, is an historic "Coal Heritage Trail" Inn in Landgraff, southern West Virginia with 14 air-conditioned guest rooms, and can host up to 30 guests. Featured in the Great Country Inns of America Cookbook, the Elkhorn Inn offers fine dining by reservation, as well as a venue for small meetings, incentives, weddings, and special events. The Inn has a Gift Shop featuring hand-crafted West Virginia gifts, as well as a small Museum Room featuring scrip, books, and memorabilia of the area's coal and railroading industries. The Inn's outdoor Theatre is also available for summer events, concerts, fund-raisers, etc.
Built in 1922 as the Empire Coal & Coke Company's "Miner's Clubhouse", the Elkhorn Inn is, we believe, the ONLY West Virginia "Coal Heritage Trail" property offering lodging and dining.
Area attractions include historic sites, such as Coalwood of "October Sky" & "Rocket Boys" fame, & the first and only remaining WWI memorial for African-American soldiers in Kimball; railfanning, trout fishing, excellent ATVing (the Inn assists guests with ATV rentals and guided ATV rides), bird-watching, golf, hiking, summer theatre performances, fall festivals, and splendid leaf-peeping.
Last fall, the Elkhorn Inn created "Coal Heritage Trail Weekends" with the historian/author Alex Schust, which take guests to many of the small towns and historic places in our area, including Coalwood, Ashland, Pocahontas, & Bramwell; see our website's "Specials" page or BluegrassJournal for details.
Dan & Elisse Clark, Inn Owners, work intermittently for FEMA as disaster response workers - they met while working for FEMA in NYC following the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. In 2002, Dan was working for FEMA Logistics in West Virginia following the second flood inside 8 months to devastated southern WV. Elisse joined him in WV, and after he completed his assignment, they found the flooded shell of a fabulous old building- abandoned and ransacked, with no doors, and a water line 4 feet high inside!- but Dan said blithely, "we'll just gut the first floor!", and Elisse thought that sounded pretty easy (she's an illustrator who'd had an art gallery in NYC- what did she know?!), and so said Okay! Dan believed he could save the last historic building in this area from demolition and restore it, and that they could open their way-too-big home as an Inn, and thus help kick-start McDowell County's nascent tourism economy... and so they stayed, and he did, and seven years later, here they are!
McDowell County, WV, famous for coal mining, the Pocahontas Railroad, Hatfields, and the WV Mine Wars, was truly the center of "the nation's coal bin" during that industry's hey-day. Louis Armstrong played in Keystone's notorious "Cinder Bottom", Cab Calloway at the WWI Memorial Building for African-American Soldiers- the first and only remaining such structure- in Kimball. 100,000 people left the county when US Steel pulled out and coal industry jobs dried up in the 1970s, and some of the many tourism draws to the area now are its excellent trout fishing, ATVing on some of the best trails in the eastern USA (Including the famed "Hatfield-McCoy Trail System), railfanning and photography, bird-watching, historic sites and "cultural heritage tourism", hiking & "leaf-peeping", summer theatre performances, and fall festivals, including the October Sky/Rocketboys Festival and Oktoberfest. Since the opening of the Elkhorn Inn, a number of new, exciting things have come to the area, including the Chuck Mathena Arts Center, Gary Bowling's House of Art, and excellent Japanese sushi and Indian restaurants! (There's even an Aveda day spa in Bluefield!)
The building that is now the Elkhorn Inn was built by the Empire Coal & Coke Co. as their Miner's Clubhouse in 1922, at a time when the coal companies were 'competing' to have the most opulent clubhouse. The Inn's balcony and patio archway speaks of an Italian architect; many coal miners & stone masons were European immigrants, and the area is still dotted with golden-domed orthodox churches & the phone books remain filled with Italian, Greek, and other European names. Miner's Clubhouses held not only the company's offices and paymaster, but also the doctor and other officials, provided lodging for out-of-town visitors, and were the venues for miner's weddings and funerals. By WWII the building was a privately-owned rooming house for miner's families, and later the offices of Hawley Coal, a police barracks, and a document storage company. A number of people who lived or worked in the building- as far back as WWII- have returned as guests of the Inn, and provided Dan & Elisse with pieces of the historic jigsaw puzzle that they continue to put together. The Inn has a small Museum Room adjoining its Gift Shop where the Clarks have a growing collection of scrip photographs, books, art, and memorabilia on the building and the area's history, which guests are welcome to peruse.
As the Italianate brick Inn building replaced a wooden structure which burned down in 1922, Empire rebuilt Extremely solidly, using concrete and brick, going down to bedrock with a full basement; the attic floor of the Inn is concrete, and there is no wood in the building save the trim! For this reason, although over 4 feet of water went thru it twice, the building survived the two back-to-back floods that literally and tragically wiped small towns in southern WV off the map: over 25 houses next to the Inn- what is now the Inn's vegetable garden and parking lot - were literally swept away in those floods, and 8 people died.
Although Dan had restored historic buildings before, his restoration of this structure was truly monumental and amazingly fast; Dan & Elisse opened the doors of the Elkhorn Inn 6 months after taking possession of the building, in May 2003. Dan's restoration included the entire gutting of the first floor, installing 240 sheets of drywall, a new roof, rewiring and replumbing the building, laying a marble floor, plastering ceilings, trim, building a kitchen, installing WiFi, etc.! They preserved all the interesting original details they uncovered, such as the pay-window, hemlock stair banister, and transom-windowed guest room doors, with the result that HGTV made two television programs on the Inn: Building Character & ReZoned, and Dan was recently awarded the Historic Preservation Award from the Coal Heritage Trail/America's Byways.
The Elkhorn Inn is, as far as we know, the only "Coal Heritage Trail" building in West Virginia offering lodging and dining.
The Inn's Theatre, across Elkhorn Creek from the Inn, is a copy of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre built in the 1990s by a previous owner. Dan
restored both it and the adjacent restroom facility, making it available for weddings, music concerts, and other special summer events. As there was truly nowhere in the area to send guests to dine (and to please his "foodie" wife!), Dan, US Army Retired, then reinvented himself as the Inn's Chef, with the result that the Elkhorn Inn is now featured in Great Country Inns of America as well as a number of other publications. Chef Dan created several of the Inn's signature dishes, including Herb-Stuffed Cornish Game Hen & Thai Pumpkin-Mango Soup, on the Good Morning West Virginia television program. The Inn is an inspected member of MABB, the MountainStates Assn. of Bed-and-Breakfasts, and has been featured in the NY Daily News, Preservation, WV Game & Fish, Wonderful West Virginia, etc. Reviews can be seen on www.tripadvisor.com and www.bedandbreakfast.com.
Elisse, an illustrator and writer, and Official Artist for the US Coast Guard, is the Inn's Marketing & PR Guru, Webmistress, and responsible for the Inn's design and decor. (She's also the laundress & the dishwasher!) Displaying an an extensive for-sale collection of art and antiques amassed by the Clarks during their travels, the Elkhorn Inn & Theatre provides a unique lodging, dining and special event venue in the beautiful mountains of southern West Virginia.
The Elkhorn Inn has 14 a/c guest rooms & can host up to 30 people; dining
by reservation is available for up to 25 in the Inn's dining room, more for
Buffet. The Inn is 30 minutes from Bluefield WV/Va, 6 hours from Washington, D.C., and 9 1/2 hours from NYC. Amtrak & airport pick-up is available on request. Pets are welcome, but please call first; kids are always welcome!
1-800-708-2040 or 304-862-2031 or elisse[at]elkhorninnwv.com
WE: Thanks so much, Elisse! I can't wait to come and visit your Inn!
For photos and more information, please see the Inn's website:
and Gift Shop:
http://store.elkhorninnnwv.com, which features hand-crafted West Virginia
gifts, including coal statues & ornaments, jams & pickles, lavender sachets, quilts, stained glass, vintage memorabilia and books by WV authors.
The Elkhorn Inn has a "fan" page on www.Facebook.com
Elisse writes the "We Live In The Country!" blog:
http://www.southernwestvirginia.blogspot.com, & "tweets" on