The venerable Ruffner Hotel succeeded the Hale House on the northwest corner of Hale and Kanawha streets in Charleston. The Ruffner was built in 1885 and owned and operated until about 1900 by A. L. and Meredith Ruffner and the Charleston Hotel Company.
The Ruffner was grand in every way, and it came on the scene in Charleston with the splendid new Victorian state capitol, also built in 1885. With 180 bedrooms, the Ruffner as originally built featured a spire on one corner and an elegant portico facing Kanawha Street. Except for the capitol, the red brick Ruffner was the biggest building in Charleston and its elegant profile was familiar to generations. The South Side Bridge, the first bridge across the Kanawha River, was built almost at the Ruffner’s doorstep in 1891, allowing easy access to the C&O Railroad depot directly across the river.
As Charleston grew, other fine hotels were built, such as the Kanawha, the Holley, and finally in 1929, the Daniel Boone. But up until its demolition for a parking lot in 1970, the Ruffner never fell into ill repute. Its restaurant was noted for fine cuisine into the 1950s.
In January 1946, a historic fire destroyed nearby buildings and almost reached the eight-story Ruffner. After 1900, the Lilly family owned the hotel, and after 1941 Attorney General Abraham A. ‘‘Cousin Abe’’ Lilly resided in the elegant penthouse. A Lilly daughter recalled that Lilly raised flowers and even corn in the penthouse garden hothouse.
Written by Richard A. Andre