Woodlands Inn to cease being high-end inn, restaurant
SUMMERVILLE — The Woodlands Inn will embark on the next phase in its long history next month, ending its 17-year run as a high-end getaway and dining spot that catered to tourists, local residents and, on occasion, movie stars.
A long history
The main structure that houses the Woodlands Inn was designed by Gibbes Museum architect Frank P. Milburn and built as a winter retreat for Philadelphia industrialist Philip Parsons in 1906.
It has been through several owners over the past 106 years.
In the mid-1980s it was converted into a bed and breakfast, the Gadsden Manor Inn. A group of local investors bought it in 1990 with plans to convert it into a private club.
Work on what is now the Woodlands Inn began in late 1993, after a group led by Joe Whitmore acquired the main residence and 40 surrounding acres. Whitmore restored and added onto the house and installed a pool, tennis courts and croquet lawn. The 19-room inn and dining room opened in 1995.
Sheila Johnson’s Salamander Hospitality bought the lodging and restaurant in 2006, paying $3 million for the real estate. Another investment group bought all but 11 acres of the land around the resort.
Johnson sold the property to a group led by local attorney Johnny Linton in September 2010 for $2.5 million. Her firm took back ownership in late 2011 after the buyers ran into financial trouble.
The Parsons Road property is scheduled to be sold next month and will cease operating as a lodging and restaurant, at least in its current form.
The buyer, Summerville Auto Auction owner Tom Limehouse, confirmed the published contents of a letter sent to some Woodlands regulars last week informing them about the deal.
Memberships to the resort will expire on Sept. 14, and the sale will take place three days later, according to owner Salamander Hotels & Resorts.
“There is a transactional closing scheduled for Woodlands Inn on September 17, and more information will be available after this date,” wrote Salamander spokesman Matt Owen. “In the interim, the hotel and restaurant remain open during our regular hours of operation.”
Limehouse referred questions Wednesday to Owen, who said he had no further comment.
“I regret I can’t go into it more at this time,” said Limehouse, who has not disclosed his plans for the property. The letter did state that the Woodlands will cease operations as an inn and restaurant.
Salamander is a hospitality business owned by Virginia billionaire Sheila C. Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television.
The firm bought the Woodlands in 2006, and its decision to sever ties with the property was not a complete surprise. Salamander sold the business once before, two years ago, but the new owner soon ran into financial troubles.
To avoid a foreclosure lawsuit, the buyer agreed to return the property to Salamander in December.
Summerville Mayor Bill Collins said it’s unlikely that the tucked-away resort ever made money.
“I’m sorry for that, but it did bring lot of exposure to Summerville,” Collins said Wednesday.
The tiny Flowertown resort has the distinction for being the only property in South Carolina to hold the Forbes Five Star and the AAA Five Diamond ratings in the accommodations and dining categories, which it has retained for six straight years under Salamander’s management.
“It’s really been a draw of very interesting people who stayed there over the years,” Collins said.
Among the celebrity guests was actor Richard Gere. “I think he was here filming a movie,” Collins said.
The inn’s online reservation system showed that current room rates range between $210 to $569 a night. In the a la carte dining room, a 10-ounce steak starts at $34, while the house specialty rib eye with foie gras butter and truffle fetches $85.
Collins said he did know what Limehouse’s plans were as of Wednesday, though he has heard a few rumors.
The mayor noted that the Woodlands has been the site of numerous events over the past 17 years, from business functions to weddings and other special occasions.
“I’m hopeful it will still be an important part of our community, even if it changes ... how it functions,” Collins said. “It’s a beautiful setting.”