If you are not a follower of our Twitter feed or a fan of the University’s Facebook page (and you really should be both), you may have missed news last week of a devastating fire at the historic Southern Inn in downtown Lexington.
The fire broke out in the wee hours of last Friday morning. The initial call was received around 1:45 a.m. More than 100 firefighters from throughout Rockbridge County responded, and the fire was under control within a half hour. But damage to the building was extensive. The roof and second floor collapsed onto the main floor. Additionally, there was some smoke and water damage to adjoining businesses, McCorkle’s Hallmark Shop and ReMax Real Estate, on Main Street. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.
Amy Balfour, ’89, 93L, who lives on West Washington Street, used her iPhone to snap a photo of the fire before it was controlled, and the picture she uploaded to her Twitter page captured the devastation.
Connections between the Southern Inn, a downtown landmark for more than 75 years, and W&L go way back to the days when rooms above the restaurant were rented to guests of W&L students, and students often rent apartments above the restaurant during the academic year. Fortunately, those spaces were unoccupied this summer. Current W&L Executive Committee President Scott Centorino spoke for many of his fellow students when he told the Roanoke Times: “So many of my college memories revolve around the Southern Inn, from dates to Parents Weekend. It has become very special to a lot of students.”
The Macheras family owns the building and ran the Southern Inn for more than 50 years before selling it in 1989. George Huger is now the owner and operator of the restaurant. In addition to the restaurant, the Southern Inn has a catering business and had been scheduled to cater a wedding on the Saturday after the fire. And cater it they did, thanks to an assist by W&L’s Dining Services, which offered use of the Marketplace kitchens.
For the moment, the familiar Southern Inn sign is no longer hanging in front of the building. It had to be removed for repairs. But plans are to rebuild. You can tell the kind of impact the restaurant has had on the city (and the University) by reading all the good wishes people have been leaving on the Southern Inn’s Facebook page.