Inn BoonsBoro may be western Maryland’s newest boutique hotel, but the history of the grand property at the corner of North Main and St. Paul in Boonsboro, Maryland begins just after the American Revolution.
According to information from the Western Maryland Regional Library, a stone building, one of two in town at the time, was built on that site in the 1790s by Peter Conn. He named the hotel The Eagle. After Conn’s death in the 1820s, the property changed hands numerous times. Owners included James Chambers, who named the hotel after himself. In 1877, local maps listed the property as The Eagle Hotel. The landlord at the time advertised that his hotel offered “good accommodation for man and beast at reasonable rates.”
At the end of the 19th century the hotel became The Commercial until the late 1930s when the name changed to The Boone Hotel. Gradually, the demand for a hotel at that site diminished, and The Boone Hotel housed businesses that ranged from eateries to a skateboard shop. Finally, it just stood on The Square, empty and waiting.
Nora Roberts, New York Times bestselling author and a longtime resident of nearby Keedysville, watched the slow demise of The Boone Hotel and mourned the decline of the dignified old building. She had ample opportunity to see the hotel from every angle as her husband, Bruce Wilder, owns Turn the Page Bookstore and Café directly across Main Street from the hotel. The store hosts booksignings throughout the year to give readers a chance to meet Nora.
Roberts and Wilder wondered why someone didn’t do something about The Boone. They realized that “someone” could be them. It took about two years to finalize the sale, but once they took ownership, they went into action. When interviewed about their plans, Ms. Roberts said, “I feel strongly that old buildings should be allowed to retain their dignity. We will take time and give every attention to the renovations.”
Roberts and Wilder came up with a plan for a Bed & Breakfast they would call Inn BoonsBoro. “When we started out, our goal for Inn BoonsBoro was to maintain the historic integrity of the building, preserve its character while creating an Inn that would offer guests boutique hotel touches like high-end amenities and personal service.” In this case, maintaining meant evicting the pigeons who’d taken up residence on the top floor courtesy of holes in the roof, and rebuilding a portion of the back exterior wall that had gone missing.
Demolition on the interior and renovation on the exterior masonry began full swing in mid-April 2007. The initial plan was for six guest rooms, a community room, kitchen, dining room and a library. There would be an apartment for the innkeeper on the third floor as well as office space. The double porches on the front of the building and the charming second story porches on the back would be rebuilt and serve as terraces.
Each room would bear the names of literary lovers – who found their happy endings. The list included Elizabeth and Darcy from Pride and Prejudice; Jane and Rochester from Jane Eyre; Marguerite and Percy from The Scarlet Pimpernel; Titania and Oberon from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Nick and Nora Charles from The Thin Man; and Roberts’ own Eve and Roarke from her JD Robb In Death series. Each guest room would reflect the style of the story’s era.
Work proceeded apace with everyone involved in the project expecting a June 2008 opening. Then disaster struck: early in the morning of February 22, 2008 a 100-gallon liquid propane tank attached to a portable heater was knocked over and damaged. The propane ignited and Inn BoonsBoro erupted in flames. A shared attic propelled the fire down the street into attached buildings, while the strength of the explosion shattered windows and the heat of the fire melted aluminum siding on buildings across the street. First responders arrived on the scene within three minutes and worked valiantly to contain the fire. Fire companies from three states raced to Boonsboro to assist, and together fought the fire throughout the day. By nightfall, all that was left of Inn Boonsboro was the original masonry from the 18th century Eagle. County commissioners came in that night, assessed the stone and said it could be saved.
On February 23, Nora Roberts declared to a local television reporter that they would rebuild. Go back to square one and start anew. Three days later the crew was cleared to start clean up. By mid-March, the masons began restoring the brick and stone that withstood time and fire.
Plans for the Inn were amended to add guest rooms on the third floor: a Penthouse suite and the Westley and Buttercup Suite, named after the characters from The Princess Bride. Out of the disaster, a few treasures emerged, including an intricate stone wall that had been covered by plaster and now will be a focal point to the dining room.
With an even greater enthusiasm and sense of teamwork propelling the crew, Inn BoonsBoro took shape again. At Roberts’ and Wilder’s insistence, the focus remained on using as many local tradesmen, artisans and products as possible. Boonsboro’s civic pride became even more entwined with the project, and its residents were fully invested in the progress of the rebuild.
On February 17, 2009 – a scant few days before the anniversary of the fire – Inn BoonsBoro opened its doors to guests, providing them with excellent service, artful details and a warm hospitality that has been handed down at North Main and St. Paul for more than two centuries.