Reports of Smoke Spur Concerns Over Fate of Hillsborough’s Colonial Inn

Hillsborough town leaders hope to speed up the process of restoring the Colonial Inn following a pair of frustrating encounters with the current owner.

Mayor Tom Stevens says firefighters responded to reports of smoke coming from the Colonial Inn on Tuesday.

“Apparently the owner, Francis Henry, was burning some materials- some papers- in the fireplace to dispose of them,” says Stevens. “People saw the smoke, there was a call made, the fire department responded. It was merely the owner burning things in the fireplace. There was then a visit from the Fire Marshal, who strongly suggested he not do that.”

This comes one night after Henry and his legal representatives met with the Hillsborough Board of Commissioners to discuss a plan to save the 176-year-old building, which has fallen into disrepair since Henry bought it in 2002. The building was condemned in 2011. Henry was ordered to vacate the premises the following year.

Although the fire was controlled inside a fireplace, Stevens says he’s worried by Tuesday’s incident.

“What’s the owner doing there at all? He does own the property and have some rights to come in and supposedly be working on repairs, so that’s where it gets really questionable as to what reason is he really there?”

Henry asked the Historic District Commission in 2014 for permission to demolish the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Commission denied the request, a ruling that was later upheld by the town Board of Adjustment. Henry did not pursue further appeals.

In a bid to save the iconic inn, town leaders in January contracted with the Development Finance Initiative of the UNC School of Government to determine how best to bring the building back into public use.

Monday’s meeting was a chance for Henry to respond to that report and put forward a plan to collaborate with the town, but Stevens says that didn’t go as many had hoped.

“We were hopeful about this and I think we were pretty disappointed that there did not seem to be much of a plan other than batting around ideas,” says Stevens. “This is very similar to what we’ve been hearing before.”

All this leads Stevens to say the town may pursue more aggressive measures to protect the Colonial Inn from further neglect.

The town could conduct repairs then place a lien against the structure for the cost of those repairs. Officials could also explore seizing the building through eminent domain.

“I suspect we will be looking at the longer-term options about what sort of direction we are heading in, based on the responses we got that were fairly frustrating. It’s becoming more of a public safety issue. Certainly, the building is not in great shape and with every day that goes by, it’s not getting better.”

But, Stevens notes, there’s still hope for one of Hillsborough’s most famous landmarks.

“There are buildings that are in far worse condition that have been restored, so we know that if there were ownership and effort put into the building, at least the façade and the core of the building could be restored and put to good use.”

For a full timeline of the controversy surrounding the Colonial Inn, click here.

Races Heat Up For CHCCS, H’boro Town Board

We’re almost through the filing period for local elections – and on Wednesday, four new candidates added their hats to the ring.

Incumbent David Saussy and challenger Pat Heinrich are now officially in the race for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School board. Saussy is running for his first full term; he was appointed to the Board last December to fill the seat left vacant by Mia Burroughs when she got elected to the Board of County Commissioners.

Saussy and Heinrich join incumbent Annetta Streater and challengers Rani Dasi, Theresa Watson, and Margaret Samuels in what is now a six-person race for four open seats on the board. Two other incumbents, Jamezetta Bedford and Mike Kelley, haven’t announced their intentions yet. (Bedford, though, has previously indicated that she was not planning to run again.)

And the race for Hillsborough Board of Commissioners also heated up Wednesday with two more candidates: incumbent commissioner Brian Lowen and challenger Ashley DeSena.

DeSena currently works as operations coordinator for the Pope Center for Higher Education, but she spent nearly five years as program coordinator at the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough from 2010 until this February. She also serves as vice chair of Hillsborough’s Parks and Recreation Board.

Also in the race for Hillsborough town commissioner: incumbent Evelyn Lloyd and challenger Mark Bell.

See the full list of candidates who have filed to date.

The filing period ends on Friday at noon.

Latest Candidate Filing Info

The filing period for 2015 local elections opened up at eight o’clock Monday morning.

The latest official reports from the Board of Elections are listed below:

Chapel Hill:

Mayor: Mark Kleinschmidt*, Gary Kahn, Pam Hemminger.

Town Council (4 seats open): Lee Storrow*, Michael Parker, Paul Neebe, Nancy Oates, Jessica Anderson.


Mayor: Lydia Lavelle*.

Board of Aldermen (3 seats open): Michelle Johnson*, Damon Seils*, Bethany Chaney*.


Mayor: Tom Stevens*.

Board of Commissioners (3 seats open): Evelyn Lloyd*, Mark Bell.


Mayor: Glendel Stephenson*, Robert Huey.

City Council (2 seats open): Patty Philipps*, Everette Greene*.

Chapel Hill – Carrboro School Board (4 seats open): Annetta Streater*, Rani Dasi, Theresa Watson, Margaret Samuels.

The filing period runs through July 17. Election day is November 3.

*- incumbent

Hillsborough Confederate Memorial Stays Up, For Now

South Carolina lawmakers are debating removing the confederate battle flag from the state capitol; Governor Nikki Haley endorsed the change after the mass shooting last week at a historically black church in Charleston. Meanwhile, the town of Hillsborough voted to let stand a memorial to the Confederacy on the Orange County Historical Museum—at least for now.

Weeks before the shooting at Emanuel AME in Charleston ignited national debate about the Confederate flag, the town of Hillsborough began a conversation about three lines of black letters above the entrance of the County Museum: “Confederate Memorial, 1934.”

“Since I’ve seen that lettering up there, it—you know, it makes me uncomfortable,” Hillsborough Town Commissioner Jenn Weaver said.

Weaver has been a vocal advocate for taking the memorial down since the Orange County Historical Society, which runs the museum, asked the town to remove the letters at the end of May. The Historical Society says the memorial deters residents from taking advantage of the museum’s resources.

“If you don’t want to go in the building because of the fact that it has a Confederate memorial across the front that makes you feel unwelcome, then you’re not able to enjoy a museum that we have here for our community,” Weaver said.

The Confederate memorial debate is a complicated and emotional issue for many southerners. Some Hillsborough residents say the memorial should stay as a remembrance of the Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. But University of North Carolina History Professor W. Fitzhugh Brundage says many Confederate memorials, especially those built after 1900, weren’t constructed just to honor fallen soldiers.

“More and more of the monuments were erected in public spaces, in front of courthouses, conspicuous thoroughfares, etc. And those monuments had a much broader goal, which was to impose a Confederate version of the past on the public as a whole. So they were intended to be didactic not just about loss and grief, but about the redemption of the Confederate cause.”

The building at the center of the Hillsborough debate wasn’t always a museum. The United Daughters of the Confederacy funded its construction as a whites-only library and a memorial to the Confederacy. Brundage says he can’t be certain how directly the Hillsborough memorial can be tied to a white supremacist agenda. But as a whites-only library and a Confederate memorial, he says it certainly was a product of a white supremacist mentality.

“Those women and the generation that they were part of were erecting a monument with little thought to being members of a diverse society in which all citizens, all residents for that matter, should be comfortable in public spaces,” Brundage said.

On Monday, the Board voted 3 to 2 against Weaver’s motion to take down the Confederate memorial lettering. Mayor Tom Stevens and other town commissioners said the Board needed more time to hear public comment on the issue. The Historical Society also says it needs more time to decide how it will incorporate the building’s history into its exhibits.

Hillsborough Hospital To Begin Phased Opening in July

UNC Health Care’s new 68-bed hospital in Hillsborough has all the services you might expect, including an emergency department, medical imaging, operating rooms and a critical care unit.

The interior, however, is more Martha Stewart than Marcus Welby, M.D.

“It doesn’t have that sterile hospital appearance, and that’s purposeful,” says Jeff Strickler, associate vice president for the Hillsborough campus. “We’re trying to create something that’s warm and inviting with a focus on healing and wellness.”

The four-story building boasts lots of windows and lots of light. There’s a soft color palette and a North Carolina nature theme throughout.

“The first floor is coastal, the middle levels are the Piedmont region, and the upper floors are the mountain region, so all the art and all the wayfinding match that theme,” explains Strickler.

HB Hosp WindowsTurning the corner around a hallway, sunlight appears to filter into the hospital through a grove of birch trees. It’s an optical illusion provided by a decorative window film spread floor to ceiling. On every floor there are glass panels and walls covered with similar nature scenes that let in light, but also grant privacy.

In addition, Strickler says local art helps provide an antidote to the antiseptic décor of older institutions.

“You’ll see photographs, pastels, watercolors, oils, 3D pieces of art,” says Strickler, gesturing to shelves that currently sit empty. “We’re really pleased to have that. It creates a healing environment.”

The new medical campus on Waterstone Drive has been six years in the making. Strickler says it’s a community hospital designed to serve a range of needs. While the emergency department is expected to treat up to 15,000 patients a year, much of the focus will be on elective surgeries.

That’s because several practices currently housed at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill will relocate to Hillsborough.

“It is sort of a surgically-leaning community hospital,” says Strickler. “This is where UNC is going to have a lot of our elective surgical practices. Our joint replacement surgeries will be done here, our elective spinal surgeries will be done here, opthamology cases and pretty much all of our non-cancer gynecological cases will be done here.”

That’s likely good news for many patients. In Chapel Hill, those needing joint replacement or spinal surgery must navigate parking decks, ramps and a lengthy pedestrian bridge to get to the hospital. In Hillsborough, they’ll be able to park just outside the front entrance.

Strickler says the Hillsborough campus design incorporates lessons learned at UNC’s older hospitals about what patients and their families need in times of illness and recovery.

“The patient experience is real important here at this facility, but also the family experience. One example of that is for the Intensive Care Unit, given the types of patients we may have, we have a family suite, and that’s a new concept.”

The family suite is like a mini-hotel room adjacent to the ICU, with two bedrooms, a common area and a kitchenette, where relatives of a patient can stay for a short time.

“This is really for a unique situation where you’ve got multiple family members in, or perhaps you’ve got people coming from a long distance and we’ve not yet made arrangements for them to go to a hotel,” says Strickler. “Their loved one may be struggling through the night and they can be close.”

The medical offices are already open, but the hospital itself is not yet ready to admit patients. There are still curtains to be hung, walls to be painted, equipment to be tested and art to install. Nonetheless, Strickler says the emergency room will open its doors in less than a month.

“The hospital is fully open August 31, that’s when we start the inpatient services, but as a service to the community we wanted to get some other things here earlier, so the emergency department is planning to open at 7 a.m. on July 6.”

Hillsborough Hospital To Host Open House On Saturday

The paint is still drying on the walls of Hillsborough’s new hospital, but this Saturday, UNC Health Care officials are opening the doors to let the public see the four-story facility for the first time.

Jeff Strickler is the associate vice president for UNC Health Care’s Hillsborough Campus. He says the new 68-bed facility is designed to be a community hospital.

“This emergency department has ten rooms and is projected to see somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 patients per year. It is a fully-capable emergency department; we have emergency medicine here 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We can take all ages from newborn delivery all the way up to an elderly patient.”

It will also be the new home for several departments currently located in Chapel Hill. Strickler says many elective surgical practices will relocate to Hillsborough, including joint surgery, spinal surgery, ophthalmology and gynecology.

“We went to a number of our physicians and said, ‘are you interested in coming to Hillsborough?’ They evaluated their patient population and their own service needs and those were the services that said, ‘yes, we see a benefit to our patients and we’d like to come to Hillsborough.’”

The medical offices are already open in a building adjacent to the main hospital. The emergency department will begin taking patients in July. Outpatient surgery and inpatient services are slated to begin in August and September.

But before that happens, members of the public are invited to take a look around. Strickler says the open house might be your best chance to see the inside of an operating room without having to be wheeled in on a gurney.

The hospital will be open to the public for self-guided tours from 2 pm-4 pm on Saturday at 430 Waterstone Drive in Hillsborough. You can find more information here.

UNC Report on Colonial Inn: $3 Million Investment Needed

A UNC School of Government report on Hillsborough’s Colonial Inn gives stakeholders some hard numbers to consider when it comes to saving the rundown 176-year-old building.

On January 12, the Hillsborough Board of Commissioners voted to pay $8,500 to the school’s Development Finance Initiative to analyze different models for making the Colonial Inn an attraction for private developers.

DFI works exclusively with local governments, with the goal of attracting private development and investment in community projects.

Christy Raulli is associate director for DFI.

“So we put together a development budget,” said Raulli, “to give them that total project cost – how much a developer could access from federal tax credits; If the North Carolina State Historic Tax Credit comes back, how much they could likely access through that.

“So, how much a developer could access from debt and equity though a variety of sources. And then we calculate what the gap is.”

According to DFI, the project cost is close to $3 million – mostly, in renovations.

Mayor Tom Stevens and town Commissioners looked at that report on Monday night.

“They said that the value of it, currently – depending on which model – is somewhere between $142,000, and less than zero,” said Stevens.

As it stands, private developers could expect about a 3 percent return on that $3 million investment. Generally, developers are looking for between 18 and 20 percent.

So now, the task of town government is to sweeten the pot somehow.

“The cost of the rehabilitation would make it prohibitive for the town to just take it on as a solo project,” said Stevens.

Grants, tax breaks, philanthropic contributions and various incentives could make the Colonial Inn more appealing to developers, although it may take willingness on their part to lower expectations on a return.

One sticking point that remains is the asking price for the property. Owner Francis Henry, who purchased the Colonial Inn at auction for $410,00 in 2001, has found himself in some legal battles with the town over the upkeep of the place.

Now, the ball is in his court to come up with an asking price developers can live with, if he even chooses to sell. He’s turned down several offers.

Still, the mayor said he is hopeful.

“Francis Henry did, in fact, come to one of our board meetings, and presented us with a letter, and said he was appreciative of the process,” said Stevens. “I believe he saw that the town was going to fund this – which is an independent third party – to take a look at the inn. I think that was perceived as a positive step, and as an investment the town was willing to make upfront.”

Stevens said he’s just glad that stakeholders now have realistic numbers to look at.

“I would be surprised if nothing is happening in the next six months,” said Stevens. “I think, at that point, the town would probably want to flex its muscles a little bit.”

Former Hillsborough Officer Pleads Guilty to Indecent Liberties with a Child

A former Hillsborough Police Corporal has received a sentence of 20-to-33 months, with active jail time suspended, for two counts of indecent liberties with a minor.

James Riley Jr. pleaded guilty on March 23, in Orange County Superior Court, according to court records.

Riley began working with the Hillsborough Police Department as an officer in January 2004, according to the department. He was dismissed from his position on July 23, 2013, three days after the town placed him on administrative leave following an internal investigation.

After receiving a complaint of potential misconduct by an off-duty officer, the department opened an investigation into Riley. The town contacted state authorities after their investigation found potential criminal misconduct.

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office filed charges against Riley in April of last year.

Riley’s use of his position as an officer, even while working off duty, was cited as an aggravating circumstance by the court in determining his sentence. He is on probation, was placed on the N.C. sex offender registry and was ordered to perform community service.

Arrest Made in Hillsborough Attempted Armed Robbery

An arrest has been made in connection with a December 23, 2014, attempted armed robbery in Hillsborough.

US Marshals arrested 24-year-old Jermaris Dejuann Bolden after Hillsborough Police issued warrants for his arrest on charges of Attempted Robbery with a Dangerous Weapon and Assault with a Deadly Weapon with Intent to Kill Inflicting Serious Injury.

During the attempted armed robbery, Hillsborough investigators say that Bolden approached two victims and demanded to turn over their property while being held at gunpoint. During the incident, one of the victims attempted to disarm the suspect by physically grabbing the gun. The gun discharged striking both victims, before one was able to wrestle the gun away and shot the suspect in the leg.

Both victims were treated and released from UNC Hosptial.

Marshals arrested Bolden on the charges on Friday, in Greensboro. Bolden was transported to the Guilford County Jail, where he is currently being held on the charges.

This Month, “The War Ends” In Hillsborough

In Hillsborough in April 1865, more than 90,000 Confederate soldiers under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered to Union General William T. Sherman. It was the largest surrender in the war, effectively ending the Civil War in North and South Carolina as well as Georgia and Florida.

This month, the town of Hillsborough and the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough mark the 150th anniversary of that event with a month-long commemoration called “The War Ends at Home: Hillsborough 1865.”

It begins on Saturday, April 4: from 10-11 am, local historian Steve Peck will lead group tours of the Old Town Cemetery near the corner of N. Churton and W. Tryon Streets. The commemoration continues all month long: highlights include an ongoing exhibit about one-room schoolhouses at the Orange County Historical Museum; a lecture on former slave and Mary Todd Lincoln confidant (and Hillsborough native) Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly on April 29 – and “This Unfaltering Faith,” an exploration of the role of churches in Civil War Hillsborough, with events at several churches in town that date back to the era.

WCHL’s Aaron Keck spoke about “The War Ends at Home” with Alliance for Historic Hillsborough executive director Sarah DeGennaro and St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church Rector Brooks Graebner.

For a full schedule of events, click here. The commemoration runs all through April, with some ongoing exhibitions continuing into May.