Published On: Wed, Jul 9th, 2014

Old Clark Inn owners celebrating a decade as inn keepers

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The winding roads and scenic beauty of Pocahontas County attracts motorcyclists from all around the country. One biker in particular – Nelson Hernandez – never got over the attraction and decided that it was time that he and his wife, Andrea Biondi, realized their dreams to own and operate a lodging facility.

“This was Nelson’s discovery,” Biondi said. “He was just out on his motorcycle, looking for the best possible roads he could find, and places he hadn’t discovered and explored before. He came through here and once he did, he was kind of in love with it.”

Hernandez returned home to Asheville, North Carolina, and shared his discovery with Biondi. At the time, the couple owned and operated an ice cream shop but they were looking into changing to the lodging business.

“We pictured ourselves more in a roadside motel and we actually came out here to look at the Rustic Inn but we decided that was not for us,” Biondi said. “Someone pointed us to this place and everything just fell into place, and we sold our other business. It was just kind of like karma, one thing after another led us here.”

The couple bought the Old Clark Inn in 2004 and have maintained its rustic, yet modern appeal. The inn has 13 rooms, some with private baths, and all share a nice common area and dining room.
In the beginning, winter was the busiest season for the inn.

“People never came out this way for summer. They were here for skiing,” Hernandez said. “I guess back then, everybody with an empty room was renting rooms, and this place was really thriving. Over the years, that has actually flipped completely.”

Now, with the assistance of reviews online and in travel magazines, the Inn has become very popular with motorcyclists and bicyclists who travel to the county in the spring and summer to enjoy the Greenbrier River Trail and scenic mountain roads.

“Bicycles and motorcycles are probably our biggest in summer,” Hernandez said. “With the trail, they’ll do part of it and come back the next year, or they’ll come back and bring other people with them. It’s exactly the same with motorcycles. Probably more so because we’ll often get a single motorcyclist that will come in and then he’ll come back with a group of his riding buddies. Then, he’ll come back again with his family because he saw things here he wants to show the wife and kids.”

The guest list has expanded to include international visitors from Ireland, Germany and Asian countries.

Hernandez explained that he believes people are attracted to the Inn because it is rustic, yet it has the amenities that are required by all travelers today.

“We like to say it as ‘travelers enjoy staying here,’” he said. “Tourists don’t. Tourists are looking for the big screen TVs, the big rooms and we try very, very hard on our website to let people know what they’re getting. At the same time, we get so many people who are asking if there are any other places like this because it’s so different. This is the way it used to be except it is somewhat modern.”

The Old Clark Inn is 90 years old and is officially the oldest, continually operating lodging establishment in the county.

In 1924, Lucy F. Moore-Clark purchased two lots on Third Avenue. She and her husband, George, a land-owner erected the hotel on property facing the railroad tracks. Lucy ran the establishment until her death in 1956.

The Inn was purchased by Dr. Robert Pittman at an auction soon after Lucy’s death. He changed the name of the establishment to the Marlinton Hotel.

The Inn changed hands again in 1964 and for the next 18 years, Roy and Betty Kelly, and Arlie and Eula White ran the business. In 1982, Rev. Kennth Cloud purchased the building and sold it the following year to C.P. Farley.

Farley made major updates to the establishment including adding indoor bathrooms. After the destructive ‘85 flood, the business was sold to Fred Etheridge in 1987, who owned it for a whopping eight months before he defaulted on his loan. Farley was forced to foreclose on Etheridge and took the reign until “Rusty” Lett bought the hotel in 1989.

In 1993, Lett sold to Richard and Shelby Morrison who renamed the established the Old Clark Inn. The Morrisons operated the business for two years before they sold to Mike and Leslie Cain.
In 2003, Hernandez took that fateful motorcycle ride and in 2004, he and Biondi became official owners of the Old Clark Inn.

Following in a long line of Inn/hotel/motel owners, Hernandez and Biondi enjoy the day-to-day chores of owning an Inn, as well as the unique experiences they share with their guests.

“My favorite part? It’s got to be the people you meet,” Hernandez said. “You meet some really fascinating people. You end up telling stories and often, you meet somebody that’s been to the same places as you or grew up near you. There’s actually people that are always coming back. There are people that come here just as much to be here as to say ‘hello’ again.”

The guests also have life-altering experiences when they stay at the Inn.

“We had motorcycle guys here and two women came walking off the trail,” Biondi remembered. “They were just walking the trail and had blisters. They came up on the porch where all these motorcycle guys were sitting and a year later, one of the guys came back with one of the two women as his girlfriend. So, they actually met on our front porch.”

Whether you call it an Inn, bed and breakfast, or hotel, The Old Clark Inn is for people.

“It is for the people who want to meet people,” Hernandez said. “That’s what it is about. You just don’t get that anywhere except for a place like this.”

The Old Clark Inn is featured on the 2014 Pioneer Days Badge.

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com

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