Showing off a blend of Renaissance Revival styles, and delicately mixed with Beaux Arts, Lewis Ginter’s Jefferson Hotel on West Franklin Street in downtown Richmond is still proclaimed the finest hotel in the country.
From the grand staircase, said to have been the inspiration for the staircase in “Gone With the Wind”, to the stained Tiffany Glass skylights overhead, The Jefferson is , in a word, ‘Elegant’.
Lewis Ginter of New York, and Richmond
Lewis Ginter was born in New York on April 24, 1824, of Dutch immigrant parents. He moved to Richmond in 1842, at the age of 18 and set about making his first fortune in the import business. He lost everything at the start of the Civil War.
After serving in the Confederate Army, he went back to New York, took up banking, made another fortune, and lost that fortune. Coming back to Richmond, he went into the tobacco business. This was the period in cigarette manufacturing when the ‘pre-rolled’ cigarette was introduced. It made Ginter another fortune, well into the millions.
Besides being well traveled, and a real ‘man of the world’, Ginter was also a civic leader and philanthrophist. After selling his tobacco company, he embarked on one of his greatest ventures.
The Jefferson Hotel
Taking 3 years to complete his hotel, and $5-10 million dollars in planning, building and furnishing, Ginter took a personal interest in the construction, supervising almost everything that was done. Two million dollars of the almost $10 million was spent on the construction alone. That was a considerable sum of money at that time.
Ginter commissioned Edward V. Vatentine to sculpt a statue of Thomas Jefferson from carrera marble. It was to stand in the Palm Court upstairs in the upper lobby. There were billiard rooms, a ladies salon, library, and Turkish and Russian Bathes, in addition to all the modern conveniences available at that time.
Downstairs, in ponds surrounded by exotic trees and plants were live alligators and fish. The alligators in the palm court were removed in 1948.
Opening Day, October 31, 1895
The original opening day had been set for November 1st, but being it fell on a Friday was considered bad luck. Opening day was changed to October 31st, Halloween. At 7a.m. the doors opened, and the rest is history for the Jefferson.
On opening night in 1895, the hotel played host to the engagement party of Charles Dana Gibson and Irene Langhorne. Miss Langhorne is better known as ‘The Gibson Girl’ Since that time, there have been a long list of world renowned celebrities that have stayed at what was once known as “The Belle of the Nineties,”