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Anderson: The Old Brick Hotel in New Castle, Virginia
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Anderson: The Old Brick Hotel in New Castle, Virginia

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My brothers and I became interested in family history several years ago. I don’t remember what the catalyst was, but it was something strong. It’s kept us up to our elbows in Internet research and taking trips back to our Grandmother’s old home, the Old Brick Hotel in New Castle, Virginia.

The Old Brick Hotel, and the Craig County Courthouse across the street, go back a long way – at least into the early to mid-1800s. We’ve found original receipts from the hotel, but no records back to when the Looney family became owners. (Yes, “Looney” is my family name.) The Looneys were fairly well-to-do, if property ownership is a reflection. Besides the old Brick Hotel on Main Street (where Jesse James reputedly slept, and where across the street the Yankees tried to burn the Courthouse during The War. There’s also a hard-backed chair in the hallway that shows evidence of Yankee meanness), there was a farm. My dad mentioned it once or twice. Where the farm was, we don’t know. Grandpa had several brothers and two sisters – we don’t know inheritance details as to who got what.

Our Grandfather, Lee Looney, inherited The Old Brick Hotel when his mother, Annie, passed away. It had to wait until her demise since she didn’t approve of his choice of a life partner, and doggone it he wasn’t going to get his inheritance while he was seeing that blankety-blank. Well, I suspect she used strong language and can only imagine what she might have called a woman she didn’t like – especially one seeing her son!

Things must’ve been different back then, in the early 1900s in the mountains of Virginia. My grandparents were, apparently, clandestinely seeing each other for a long while. (Though how they would have kept it secret would seem unlikely in that small town. Perhaps it wasn’t such an unusual state of affairs at the time.) My father and his siblings kept their momma’s name for many years until their parents finally married. It’s obvious what happened because of the dates on great-grandma’s death notice and on the marriage record for my grandparents. Out goes grandmother and in comes Nanny Welch Looney not a month later. Lee must’ve loved Nanny a lot, but not enough to stand up to his momma and lose his inheritance.

I like to imagine what happened between my grandparents – perhaps Grandma worked in the hotel kitchen or prepared the hotel rooms for guests (she was a competent woman, but it seems she did not have particular skills for employment). She worked hard and honestly. Maybe Grandpa was sent to bring wood for the stove in the kitchen. Or maybe he helped with other chores or ran errands. I can just picture handsome Lee Looney, leaning against a doorjamb, teasing Nanny. My dad had a funny, teasing way so I’m sure his dad did, too. She might have been shy and probably blushed at this joking. I can only imagine…

Besides the mystery of my grandparents’ relationship, the Old Brick Hotel holds many secrets – it must. Built in 1840, it saw a lot of folks come and go. With the courthouse and jail just across the street, there must’ve been a hullaballoo up and down the street now and again. Within the hotel there used to be a barber shop (operated by my uncle for a while), attorneys’ and real estate agents’ offices and the “Looney and Crawford & Co., Merchants” at one time. When Grandma lived there, it did have electricity and one cold water spigot in the kitchen, but no other plumbing. Outhouses were out back. The living must have been hard and sparse, both for residents and hotel guests back in the 1800s.

There’s lots of history in that old building. When the historical society replaced the front porch, they found old glass marbles that had fallen through the board’s cracks. When I saw them, I wondered if they might have been my dad’s. Maybe. Out back I found a piece of pottery and a shard from a bottle. It’s only a building now, but those items remind me that real people – my ancestors – used to live there. It’s puts it in a different perspective. The Old Brick Hotel is part of my family’s history. We’ve still got a lot to learn.

Susan Anderson lives in Opelika with her husband (both Va Tech alumni). She works at Auburn University, the alma mater of their two sons. Some stories were written in the past.

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