Abandoned hotel in Kentucky

Brown-Proctoria Hotel, Winchester Kentucky
Date added: October 25, 2022 Categories: Kentucky Hotel

The Brown-Proctoria Hotel, situated at the corner of the crossing of Lexington Avenue and Main Street in downtown Winchester, the county seat of Clark County, was begun in 1904 during a period of expansion and growth in the town's history. The county's location at the foot of the Appalachian chain that runs through the eastern part of the state gave rise to great expectations that Winchester would participate in the development of east Kentucky and become the region's "gateway to the Kentucky mountains." Although these hopes went largely unrealized, there was sufficient traffic through the city to maintain the elegant hotel, which, for many years was the finest in the area. A massive block of Indiana limestone and granite brick trimmed with Colonial Revival detail, the structure strives toward a Beaux Art contemporary ideal of power and easily dominates the Lexington-Main intersection. The interior also contains many fine details, such as marble wainscotting, mosaic tiles, and Victorian woodwork.

Winchester, located on the old Lexington Mt. Sterling turnpike, was established in 1793, following Clark County's formation in 1792, the year Kentucky became a state. The lot on which the. Brown Proctoria is built was number 67 on the original plat. In 1804, Peter Flanagan constructed a log house on this lot, using it as a tavern. It was sold in 1805 to Chilton Allan who replaced the log building with a much larger brick inn. The hotel became quite well-known and had many famous guests, among whom were General Andrew Jackson, then President of the United States, who stayed at the tavern while on the way back to Washington from his home in Nashville.

Major W. E. Rees was a later owner and for many years the brick building was known as the Rees House, or the National Hotel. In 1902 Rees sold it to Joseph L. Brown and his brother-in-law George M. Proctor, Sr. (1856-1913), natives of Clark County, who previously had been primarily engaged in farming. They continued to run the hotel until 1904 when the two men decided to erect a new structure. Reported the Winchester Democrat on the demolition of the historic tavern:

Old Landmark Going, Contractor Joe Jones begins today the work of tearing down the Rees House, one of the oldest hotel buildings in central Kentucky if not in the State. Eighty years ago the father of Judge James Flanagan demolished a log cabin that stood on the site and part of the present brick building was erected then. A magnificent four-story hotel and office building will be built by the present proprietors, Messrs. J. L. Brown and George M. Proctor.
(Winchester Democrat, April 5, 1904.)

Brown and Proctor were no doubt influenced in their decision to construct the larger hotel by the development that had been taking place in east Kentucky since the late 1800s_ related to the region's timber and mineral resources. Winchester was conveniently situated at the junction of three railroad lines; the C & O, running east-west; the L & N, running north-south; and later the L & E, which started in Lexington and extended 100 miles east into the mountain regions of the State. All three railroads penetrated the mountains and all converged at Winchester, which was the first important town on the L & E, and the largest on the C & O and the L & N in the mountain area. The population of Winchester around the time the hotel was built was approximately 5,964, but was expected to rise substantially.

The cornerstone of the Brown-Proctoria was laid on June 17, 1904. The design of the hotel incorporates a conflict of materials and appearances which adds to the character of the building. The solid appearance of the stone ground floor, contrasts with the thin skin-like appearance of the upper brick walls. The solidity of the first floor is, on second inspection, much less real than apparent as the raised bands appear merely to be laid over a smooth surface, which is pierced by openings that do not recognize the solid quality of a stone wall. All the openings, with the exception of the north doorway, are punched through the walls, having no projecting frames. The bayed windows are likewise merely tacked on, and do not grow organically from the walls. The walls themselves exhibit a certain plasticity in the rounded corner and the slight projection of the central bays of the Main Street facade, which is somewhat enhanced by the bayed windows and the sensuous keystones, but which is not overpowering.

The architect of the building was H. W. Aldenburg of Lexington. He had earlier, in conjunction with J. R. Scott, designed the Citizens National Bank in Winchester. Both these buildings are more sophisticated than the typical downtown Winchester commercial structure. John W. Crone, of Slack and Crone, an architect and builder, was apparently the major contractor for the Brown-Proctoria.

The hotel can be compared with other buildings in Winchester, including two buildings by John W. Crone, who was influenced by Aldenburg's Brown-Proctoria design. The Parrish and Bradley building (now the Winchester Sun building), is similar in the basic blocky massing and the classical cornice, while Crone's Elks building has a two-story semi-octagonal bay set above the first-floor shopfront, similar to the bayed windows of the Brown-Proctoria. Some of the decorative elements, again influenced by the Colonial Revival, are similar. The hotel also reflected a certain predilection for towers and rounded corners in Winchester which can be seen on the Citizens National Bank of 1888-89 (by Aldenburg and Scott of Lexington), the S. P. Kerr business block, also of 1888-89, and the St. George Hotel of 1903. It was quite possibly an upstaging of the St. George that Aldenburg had in mind when he designed the Brown-Proctoria, shortly after the new St. George was opened.

In the September 9, 1904 issue of the Winchester Democrat it was stated that "the contract for furnishing material and building the woodwork, etc., of the new hotel was given to Tudor and Co., of Lexington, whose bid was $21,850." Among those more outstanding interior features which perhaps might be attributed to Tudor and Company include ionic columns supporting the lobby ceiling, beautiful mosaic tiles on the first floor with varying designs in each of the rooms, marble wainscotting on the first floor and in the formal dining room on the second floor, and attractive Victorian mantels in the parlors on the second and third floors. The hotel had many conveniences for its guests, including a barber shop (with original fixtures and marble basins remaining), a dining room on the second floor, a smaller dining area on the first floor, a parlor facing the balcony on the second floor for hotel guests and their visitors; a ladies' waiting room apart from the main lobby; and sample rooms for drummers to display their wares.

The building was so constructed as to include space in the northeast corner for the People's Bank, of which George Proctor was one of the stockholders, a drug store, retail stores on the southeast end and offices on the second floor of the hotel.

Around 1918-1919, the area experienced an oil boom and the drug store was converted into a stock exchange office. Therefore the history of the town in the 20th century was very much reflected in the history of the Brown-Proctoria. The hotel remained open until September 1976, when expensive repairs forced its closing.

Building Description

The Brown-Proctoria Hotel is situated at the southwest corner of the intersection of Main Street and Lexington Avenue (formerly Fairfax Street) in downtown Winchester, Kentucky. Main Street is the major business axis and is lined with a fine collection of Victorian and late Victorian commercial buildings, as well as the Greek Revival courthouse. Lexington Avenue is the main route into town from the west.

The major facades of the Brown-Proctoria (east and north) front these two streets and give the impression that the hotel is a rectangular block when in fact, the rear is irregular in outline. Four stories in height, the first floor of the building is surfaced with Indiana limestone and the upper floors with granite brick.

The fenestration of the first floor is in no way symmetrical, instead reflecting very clearly the functional roles of the building. At the south end of the east (Main Street) facade are two original storefronts, separated by a decorative cast iron pilaster. The north shop has a transom of many small panes of glass, similar to the Luxfer type of prismatic glass. The area below this shop's windows is covered in pleasing green tiles. North of these two storefronts is a large plate glass window opening into the defunct restaurant. This area originally contained three smaller windows., This facade projects slightly in the center, where the main hotel entrance is located. A metal canopy, supported on iron columns with an iron balustrade above and with a pressed tin ceiling, covers the first floor (and entrance) of the projection. The recessed double entry doors are flanked by tripartite iron-framed windows.

Proceeding north there is another shop and on the corner is the entrance to the bank, which continues down the north (Lexington Avenue) facade nearly to the end of the building, where there is situated an impressive doorway. This doorway, which originally gave access to offices formerly on the second floor, is overlaid with the raised parallel bands which surround the entire first floor, creating a Mannerist effect. This effect is reinforced by the exigencies of the site as the ground slopes off to the west and in order to keep the top of the doorway level with the rest of the windows the doorway had to be raised off the ground, necessitating the introduction of an extra base under the normal ones. This composition destroys the otherwise fairly correct proportions of the doorway, which is of too small a scale for the door anyway. The bold arch of the fanlight, although of a larger scale than the doorway, is still powerful and effective. The keystone of the arch is identical to those on the upper floors, having an unusual rolled profile that reflects the rounded northeast corner and the semicircular bayed windows.

The fenestration of the upper floors in some places bears a distinct relationship to the first floor, while in other places the relationship is quite tenuous. Two projecting bayed windows at the south end of the east facade reflect the two storefronts below, while the next four bays north originally lined up directly with the openings below. The entrance is emphasized by a larger, three-story bayed window (the other four are of two stories), flanked by two single windows indistinctly connected to the larger windows flanking the entrance below.

Next north is a series of four windows which are grouped over the storefront below, and then a series of two windows appear off-center over one of the bank windows. At the corner is a series of four windows, three of which are symmetrically placed about the corner, but the fourth of the series is tacked on the north facade, just over the large bank window. Next is a single window, below which is nothing. Finally, the rest of the north facade is logically composed with windows appearing directly over openings, on the first floor. The bayed windows are decorated with Colonial Revival motifs, particularly with a series of wreaths (between the third and fourth floors) and a series of swags (below the third floor). The large bayed window over the entrance is different in that it lacks the swags, has wreaths between the second and third floors, and has written in the area between the third and fourth floors: "Brown-Proctor". The "i" and "a" have been removed.

The walls are capped by a classical dentilled modillion block cornice with an implied frieze below (which has a series of attic windows positioned over the windows below). The cornice breaks at the northeast corner, where a plaque thrusts upwards, reading: "Brown-Proctor", and originally having a date (1904) above. This plaque originally pointed to a domed pavilion that was situated on this corner. The dome was fitted with a classical cornice very similar to that remaining on the walls below, and capped by a "cloud-reaching" flagstaff.

The hotel is entered through a vestibule into a large reception/entry hall paved with square mosaic tile. The marble reception desk is directly across from the doorway and is reached by passing between two Ionic columns which reflect identical columns behind the desk. The gilded Ionic capitals are enriched by the application of gilded swags. To the left of the reception desk is the main stair to the second floor. It has heavy massive newel posts which contrast markedly with the slender turned balusters. On the second floor the stairs open into a large hall which originally had an area open to the reception hall below. Directly over the entrance is a suite of three parlors, a large one in the middle entered through double doors from the hall, and small ones on either side. These smaller rooms retain fine Colonial Revival-inspired classical mantels having pilasters and brackets supporting a mantel shelf, above which is a miniature arcade, screening a mirror. The whole has a strong Italian Renaissance flavor. Directly above, on the third floor, is a similar suite, the smaller parlors having less elaborate mantels, still in the classical vein. The main dining room, on the second floor, occupies the central rear wing, and has a kitchen and storage area behind it.

The interior of the Brown-Proctoria is remarkably intact, retaining its original floors, woodwork, decorative detail, plumbing and light fixtures, and stairs.