POINT PLEASANT — When the Lowe Hotel was built in the early 1900s, a hotel was much more than just a place to get a hot bath and a good night’s sleep.
In addition to accommodating travelers, a town’s hotel was the center of social life. There were guest rooms on the upper floors, but the ground level often was lined with stores, barber shops, restaurants and bars.
“The old hotels were the malls that supported the town,” said Ruth Finley, who has owns the Lowe with her husband Rush.
And while the Lowe isn’t quite the booming town center of years past, it still is a focal point for this tiny river town.
The 35-room hotel is booked solid for this weekend’s Mothman Festival, and sees a steady stream of returning guests through the rest of the year.
Finley said staying at the Lowe Hotel isn’t like staying at a chain hotel, where every room looks exactly the same. Each of her rooms are furnished differently, painted different colors. Some are bigger than others — some are multi-room suites — while others are quite compact and cozy.
Finley said her guests are aware they are staying at a historic hotel, and appreciate the quirks that come with that.
“We’re a niche market,” she said.
The hotel first opened in 1901, and has been in continuous operation since 1904.
It was originally called the Spencer Hotel in honor of J.S. Spencer, one of the hotel’s financial backers.
The Federal-style structure was built by itinerant craftsmen, many of whom worked on The Greenbrier hotel in White Sulphur Springs.
The Lowe family bought the hotel in 1929 and renamed it.
In 1990, Finley and her husband Rush purchased the Lowe Hotel. Their families thought they were crazy, but owning a hotel was one of Ruth’s longtime dreams.
She grew up in Lincoln County, the daughter of a coal miner, but often visited her grandparents in Logan.
“I loved the old Aracoma Hotel. I kept thinking, someday I’m going to do that,” she said.
After she got married, Finley had a few small businesses including a formal wear store, a couple beauty salons and a health food store.
Then, while she and Rush were living in Gallipolis, the Lowe Hotel came up for sale.
Finley said the family originally planned to rename the hotel to reflect the new owners, but never got around to it.
“And now it’s too late,” she said.
The family has done a lot of work on the hotel in the last quarter century, but much of the hotel’s interior is original, from the Tiffany stained glass windows to the intricate hand-laid tile floors.
“It was built to last,” Finley said.
But they are still uncovering the hotel’s secrets.
About a year ago, the couple began renovating the hotel’s former barbershop.
Over the years it had been converted to a typical mid-century beauty salon with a drop ceiling, wood paneling on the walls and a linoleum floor.
When the Finleys peeled up the linoleum floor, they found hand-laid tile, just like the design in the hotel’s dining room. They removed the paneling and found drywall.
Then they tore out the drop ceilings and, to everyone’s surprise, discovered the room’s original 15-foot ceilings lined with intricately-carved floral trim.
The trim didn’t even need painting. A little elbow grease removed the years of dirt and grime, and it was soon returned to its original glory.
“We love it. It’s a labor of love,” Finley said.
The room now features an updated bathroom, a few oriental rugs over the beautifully-restored tile floor and a four poster bed.
The hotel has 54 guest rooms in all, with 35 available to rent.
Some are still waiting to be refurbished — the Finleys are currently working on two rooms — while others have been turned into multi-room suites.
Many of the furniture pieces are original to the hotel, but some feature more modern furnishings.
The art hanging in many of the rooms is on loan from local artists.
The hotel also displays local art in its gallery, a large first-floor storefront that once held a department store.
The Finleys renovated the space six years ago. The gallery now hosts seven shows a year featuring work from West Virginia and Ohio artists.
The current installment is the first-ever art exhibit by Irene Roush, a 90-year-old Point Pleasant resident.
The gallery, as well as the rest of the hotel, will be on display this weekend for the Mothman Festival.
For more information about the Mothman Festival, visit www.mothmanfestival.com.