By Angela Shepherd
GREENFIELD — A once-fine building in Greenfield that has fallen into neglect in recent years is getting some attention from a Greenfield native who is looking to make the 120-something-year-old building shine again.
Doug Karnes bought the Elliott Hotel more than a month ago, and since then has been working to raise money to help him get the place cleaned out.
Karnes, who was raised in Greenfield and graduated from McClain High School, is now an architect living in Kentucky. A couple years ago, he started coming back to Greenfield, where he has offered his expertise to residents and the village, trying to foster a vision for what Greenfield can be again.
He has done that through Designing Greenfield, a forum on Facebook for the study of Greenfield and the challenges it faces, and a place for the sharing of ideas and providing feedback. For a time, Karnes was also traveling back to the village on a regular basis and holding office hours where he invited people to stop in and discuss ideas about the town.
Under the umbrella of Designing Greenfield, Karnes also developed a number of designs for buildings in Greenfield.
He said he has spent two years telling people what the village’s historic buildings can be. When it came to buying the Elliott Hotel — something he said “fell into” his lap — “it was time to put my money where my mouth is.”
The Elliott Hotel has seen better days, but underneath all that has been left to the elements, animals, vagrants, and the passage of time, lies a gem ready and waiting to be polished to shine once again.
According to information provided by the Greenfield Historical Society, the hotel opened in 1888, replacing the Harper House Hotel as “the premier hotel in Greenfield.”
Amid all the debris, damage and peeling paint, it is not hard to imagine how grand this “premier hotel” must have been.
Old photos show a large covered balcony jutting from the building out to Washington Street, a quaint lobby with intricate tile designs in the floor, and ornate ceilings above a large brick fireplace.
The Elliott Hotel was clearly once a beautiful place.
Now, walking through the building, seeing firsthand what fires, people, and years of being forgotten has done, still cannot keep the mind from imagining what can be again.
After the Elliott’s days as a hotel, it served as an apartment building. There were two fires in the 1990s, one heavily damaging a portion of the second floor.
After the most detrimental fire, Karnes said the building’s owner walled off the staircase and put in drop ceilings downstairs to cover damage to the original ceilings.
Since Karnes’ purchase, he has taken down that wall and the drop ceilings, and with the help of local people, has begun to remove what the years have left behind.
The first four rooms downstairs, Karnes said, have so far taken eight full truck loads to remove debris, and there is much more to do. Piles of what was left behind by tenants years ago remain, some of it rotted to a point of being unrecognizable.
Upstairs, about a third of the second floor of the hotel is a blackened and burned shell.
But amid all the rubble, some things are recognizable, things that seem out of place in all the decay: a gleaming ceramic clown figurine sitting alone atop an original brick fireplace in what was once the hotel’s lobby, a teddy bear, a child’s school folder, a mostly intact set of mustard yellow coffee mugs contrasting sharply against the burned black of the floor upstairs, a solitary fork.
In the rooms downstairs, debris has been removed enough to reveal what is underneath and has been there all along. Transom windows remain above doorways, the glass intact. Decorative woodwork has survived the years. Original doors — though having seen better days — would likely gleam after some attention. Sturdy brick walls peek out from behind plaster set long ago. The intricate tile floor that used to extend throughout the lobby remains, too.
The second floor of the hotel extends over two other storefronts on South Washington Street. Those rooms, Karnes said, have been blocked off for a long time and the fires didn’t reach them.
In those empty rooms, dust and time have been the only things allowed to settle in.
In each of the more than 30 rooms of the hotel are windows and each window would have allowed the sun’s light to pour in or a cool night breeze to come inside. Karnes said that every hotel room had access to the outside through what he called “light wells,” most of which have been sealed off at some point.
Since buying the Elliott, Karnes has secured the building against animals, weather and any other trespasser. He has taken measurements and created a set of drawings to try to see what can be done from a design standpoint.
Right now, Karnes said he does not know what his plans are for the building, but “the first step,” he said, is to get it all cleaned out and go from there.
He’ll develop a more clear design once he knows exactly what he is working with, he said, but his first thoughts are to perhaps have a meeting place downstairs, and some overnight or short-term rooms upstairs.
For now, Karnes is raising donations through a GoFundMe account that will be put toward cleanup. He is also looking into grant funding through the state for the restoration. He said a lot of programs are available, but they are all 50-50 match, so any funds raised through the GoFundMe account not used for cleaning the building will be put toward that, Karnes wrote on the Designing Greenfield, Ohio Facebook page.
Karnes said his reaction from residents has been mostly positive with some expressing thanks and appreciation for taking on the project, and others offering help.
He said he is going to use local people and services for the entirety of the project and plans to restore everything that he can, and replace whatever needs replaced with pieces that fit with the original.
For more information about the project or to contact Karnes, visit the Designing Greenfield Ohio Facebook page. Save the Elliott Hotel is the name of the GoFundMe account. So far, more than $2,100 has been raised.
The Elliott Hotel has stood on the corner of Washington and Mirabeau streets for more than a century. And even though a lot of people today may remember it only as a neglected and empty shell of something that might have been nice once, Karnes said the building has a history and everybody has a story about it. He said he believed it is “something the whole town can get behind.”
“It’s going to be an adventure,” Karnes said, “but it’ll be worth it.”
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.