Western Hotel/Thomas Building
The Western Hotel/Thomas Building ca. 2011
Backstory and Context
This building, the oldest in the Pearisburg Historic District, was constructed in 1827 by Guy Dingess French (1798-1865), the son of Mary Dingess French and David French, who was elected as a local Justice of the Peace in May of 1806 and who helped establish the town of Pearisburg. Guy French married Armentia Dormer Chapman, who was the daughter of Mary Alexander Chapman and Henley Chapman, the brother of Isaac Chapman, who like David French was a trustee of Pearisburg and a Justice of the Peace. With his connection to those in power, Guy French was given permission to erect this brick house, which functioned as a tavern. French's tavern would remain open until Guy French's death in 1865.
In 1869, Guy's wife, Armentia French, reopened the establishment, and it became officially known as the Western Hotel. The hotel featured sixteen large rooms, including a barroom and a ballroom. The hotel was obtained by Thomas Jefferson Pearson (1849-1917) in 1880, and Pearson continued operation of the hotel. Additionally, Pearson owned all of the lots that faced south of the Public Square until this land was divided following his death, operated a grocery store, worked as a druggist, edited The Pearisburg Virginian, the town's local paper until 1897, and sold furniture and lumber. However, beginning in 1927, the building became the retail headquarters for the Thomas family, and the first floor housed the Thomas Hardware Company, Thomas Grocery, and Thomas Haberdashery, while the second floor was repurposed for apartment space. As the Thomas businesses closed, the first floor of the building housed additional operations throughout the years, including the Giles County Chamber of Commerce until it moved to its new location at 203 N. Main St. Today, the building houses the New River Office Supply store. The second floor is still used for apartment space.
The Western Hotel/Thomas Building was added to the Virginia Landmark Register on December 11th, 1991, and the National Register of Historic Places on January 30th, 1992, as one of nineteen buildings comprising the Pearisburg Historic District. The building is one of two surviving examples of antebellum architecture within the district and also reflects, through its various incarnations, the economic growth and development of Pearisburg from its humble beginnings to the thriving town it would become in the late-nineteenth to early-twentieth century. The building is a 2 1/2 story Flemish-bond brick structure that is six-bays wide and features corbeled cornice, a coursed limestone foundation, and a gambrel roof with dormer windows, which replaced the original gabled roof around 1900. Some Federal-period woodwork survives in the interior, and an original staircase that led to the ballroom still survives. However, when the first floor was repurposed for retail space in the early-twentieth century, this resulted in the loss of the historic fabric. Additionally, a rear wing that faced the courthouse and accommodated overnight guests was destroyed in 1936 and replaced with the two-story Thomas Building addition, which is also marked for preservation in the Pearisburg Historic District and accommodated retail activity on the first floor and housed additional apartment space on the second floor. In 2007, the facade of the building was renovated, and the brick was stained back to red, the original color of the building.
Fisher, Terri L. Giles County (Then & Now). Arcadia Publishing, 2011.
"Guy Dingess French," Find a Grave. Accessed November 1st 2019. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/7603561/guy-dingess-french.
Kern, John. Pearisburg Historic District, National Register of Historic Places. January 30th 1992. Accessed October 23rd 2019. https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/VLR_to_transfer/PDFNoms/279-0012_Pearisburg_Historic_District_1992_Final_Nomination.pdf.