The Martha Washington Inn began life as an illustrious home indeed! It was built in 1832 as a private residence for General Francis Preston and Sarah Buchanan Preston and their nine children.
Much of the architectural integrity of this historic landmark has been meticulously preserved for over a century and a half. The original brick residence still comprises the central structure of The Martha Washington Inn and the original living room of the Preston family is now the main lobby of the inn. In fact, the grand stairway and parlors are today much as they were in the 19th century. The rare and elaborate Dutch-baroque grandfather clock, measuring over nine feet tall, was shipped from England by one of the Preston daughters, Mrs. Floyd, and now resides in the East Parlor.
Amazingly, over 150 years ago the residence was built for just under $15,000 dollars. Although paltry by today’s standards, this was undoubtedly a precious sum at the time! In 1858 the Preston family home was purchased for the incredible sum of $21,000 dollars in order for the mansion to become an upscale college for young women. In honor of the first lady of our nation, the school was named Martha Washington College and affectionately coined “The Martha” by locals. The college operated for over 70 years through the years of the Civil War and the Great Depression. In fact, it was during the Civil War that many of the Martha’s most intriguing ghost stories and legends evolved.
The “War Between the States” was soon to have a dramatic effect on the college. Schoolgirls became nurses and the beautiful grounds became training barracks for the Washington Mounted Rifles. Union and Confederate troops were involved in frequent skirmishes in and around the town with the college serving as a makeshift hospital for the wounded, both Confederate and Yankee. Despite the devastating effects of the Civil War, the Martha Washington College survived. However, the Great Depression, typhoid fever and a declining enrollment eventually took its toll. The Martha was closed in 1932, standing idle for several years.
For the next 50 years The Martha was to experience a number of changes in ownership. For a period of time the facility was used to house actors and actresses appearing at the Barter Theatre across the street. Patricia Neal, Ernest Borgnine, and Ned Beatty are but a few of the prominent actors who began their career here… all of whom have later returned to visit The Martha. The Barter Theatre is today known as the longest-running professional resident theatre in America.
In 1935, The Martha Washington Inn opened as a hotel and throughout the years has hosted many illustrious guests. Eleanor Roosevelt, President Harry Truman, Lady Bird Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Elizabeth Taylor are counted among the many famous guests who have frequented the hotel. Fortunately, much of the inn’s historic charm, antiques and architectural detail were preserved, even though its future was at times uncertain.
In 1984, The United Company, representing a group of dedicated businessmen, purchased The Martha Washington Inn and began an eight million dollar renovation. Aware of this historic landmark’s importance to the town of Abingdon, the restoration was carefully designed to preserve and enhance much of its original splendor and architectural detail.
In 1995, The Martha Washington Inn joined The Camberley Collection of fine historic properties. Sensitive to their role as stewards of a long and enduring legacy, Camberley maintains the inn’s strong ties with the Barter Theatre and the community of Abingdon. Today The Martha Washington Inn stands as gateway to the past, providing those modern amenities expected by today’s traveler amid the genteel elegance of period antiques and furnishings.