The luxurious lobby of The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond VA showing large pillars entwined with grape clusters and vines, and a vaulted ceiling with a sky window. The lobby is carpeted in blue and gold with numerous seating arrangements.

Explore The Rich History Of The Jefferson Hotel In Richmond VA

The history of The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond VA to someone like me is just as appealing as its accommodations might be to those who relish grandeur and luxury.

With a past that spans more than a century, this architectural masterpiece continues to stand as a timeless symbol of elegance, luxury, and hospitality in downtown Richmond.

Since the hotel is large, with lots of nooks and crannies, I thought I’d share some of its historical background, as well as a few of the items that some guests may overlook.

So come along and see what you can discover when enjoying a meal, attending an event, or spending a night at this iconic and historic hotel.

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  • Built by Lewis Ginter, The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond opened its doors in 1895 and was among the first structures in downtown Richmond to feature electricity, working telephones, and indoor plumbing.
  • The hotel has been visited by 13 presidents and dozens of celebrities including Charlie Chaplin, Elvis Presley and Ray Charles.
  • Alligators once swam in pools in the lobby at The Jefferson Hotel.
The large clock tower is part of the history of The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond Va. The building is massive and yellow, with a car parked in front.
The iconic clock tower at The Jefferson Hotel.
Vintage postcard showing the iconic Jefferson Hotel in Richmond with its large clock tower featured.
A vintage postcard of The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, VA.

Jefferson Hotel History: 10 Fascinating Tidbits

I was tempted to call this post “hidden treasures of The Jefferson Hotel,” because I’m sure most people walk right by many of these gems that are hidden in plain sight.

Keep reading to discover things about the history of The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond that many people don’t know about.

Ready to book a room at the historic Jefferson Hotel?

The beautiful brick-laced entranceway to The Jefferson Hotel, showing the overhand and the sign.
As soon as you pull into The Jefferson Hotel, you can see it is special.

1. The Jefferson’s Palm Court

No matter how accustomed you are to nice hotels, The Jefferson will leave you awestruck, so take your time and take in the wonderful views.

When you first walk through the door into the expansive lobby, you’ll pass the elevators on your left, the Concierge desk on your right and stately Palm Court right in front of you.

Your attention will probably be drawn to a statue of Thomas Jefferson in Carrara marble that cost an estimated $12,000 to create back when the hotel first opened in 1895.

Though damaged, the statue survived a destructive fire in 1901.

In addition to the statue, the focal point of the Palm Court is the circular stained-glass dome that highlights the room’s 35-foot ceiling. Surrounding the dome are 12 stained-glass windows, believed to been crafted by the famous artisan Louis Tiffany.

Nine of the windows are the same stained glass panels that were installed in 1907 after the fire.

Other historic things to see in this area are the bellman’s desk and the painting behind the concierge desk, which are both original to the hotel, circa 1895.

The stained glass dome in the lobby of The Jefferson Hotel, with numerous sitting areas beneath.
The beautiful lobby where you check in. Notice the statue of Thomas Jefferson in the center.

Interesting History Fact: During World War II, the hotel lodged transient recruits on their way to one of the war’s many theaters around the world. The stained-glass skylights and windows were taken down to conform to blackout requirements, as well as to prevent breakage from empty bottles tossed by the rowdy crowds.

The white marble statue of Thomas Jefferson is part of the history of the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond VA. It stands beneath a colorful stained glass dome, with white columns in the background.
The Jefferson statue in Palm Court.

Why is it called Palm Court? Because the original hotel had real grass and live exotic palm trees in this area.

And back then there was also marble pools in this lobby that contained alligators.

2. The Jefferson Hotel Alligators

Yes, you read that right. Alligators.

Apparently back in the day, people would buy pet baby alligators in Florida and soon tire of them when they outgrew the sink and bathtub. Guests would then drop them off at The Jefferson Hotel.

If you’re looking for historic sites in Virginia, check out the Arlington House just outside of DC or Washington’s Mount Vernon.

The history of the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond va includes having alligators in the pools. This iron alligator stands outside the lobby as reminder.
This alligator outside the lobby is a reminder of those that once resided inside The Jefferson Hotel.

Pompey, the last alligator at the Jefferson, died in 1948.

A longtime doorman at the hotel is recorded as saying, “Every night Pompey would crawl out of the pond and sleep in the a chair, right here in the lobby.”

Another long-time employee said that the alligators would get out of the pools from time to time and “we’d find them all over the hotel.” Hotel employees would run for brooms and mops, and once the alligator clamped down, they would drag them back to the pool.

3. The Mezzanine

Continuing on our historic tour of The Jefferson Hotel, you can check in at the registration desk and then turn left and make your way to the Mezzanine above the Grand Staircase.

The Mezzanine features a collection of beautiful reproduction paintings. Many of the originals hang at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.

A beautiful reproduction oil painting hangs between two faux marble columns against a red wallpapered wall at The Jefferson Hotel.
Elaborate reproduction paintings line the walls of the Mezzanine.
Four comfortable looking gray chairs sit around a table with the elaborate pillars of the Jefferson Hotel in the background.
There are lots of comfortable and quiet places to sit at the Jefferson Hotel.

4. The Grand Staircase

When you’re done exploring the Mezzanine, continue down the Grand Staircase to the Rotunda level. This is where guests used to check in when the hotel was new.

Pictures do not do this architectural marvel justice.

The magnificent lobby of The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond VA with large tan pillars draped in intricate vine and grape clusters. There is a sitting area with a blue and gold rug.
This is the Rotunda level, which was once where visitors checked in.

The Jefferson Hotel & Gone With The Wind

Notice the Grand Staircase in the photo above and compare it to the one in the famous movie, Gone with the Wind.

Margaret Mitchell, the author of the novel Gone With The Wind, stayed at the Jefferson during the time that she wrote the book.

It is said that the description and portrayal of the staircase in Scarlett O’Hara’s Atlanta mansion was inspired by the grand staircase in the Jefferson.

A vintage photo from the movie Gone with the Wind, showing Mammy going up the red carpeted stairs.
From the movie, Gone with the Wind.

The majestic, 36-step marble staircase is a renowned attraction that makes for grand entrances at celebrations and weddings.

The Grand Staircase is an iconic piece of history at The Jefferson Hotel Richmond VA
Grant Staircase.

5. The Historical Exhibit At The Jefferson

Once you descend the historic staircase, turn to your left and you will find a Historical Exhibit that features memorabilia from the hotel’s history.

Many of the items were donated by guests and include photos of a young Elvis Presley enjoying a meal, and newspaper clippings from the great fire that destroyed much of the hotel.

The historical exhibit space at The Jefferson Hotel shows glass cases with historical memorabilia inside.
The Historic Exhibit at The Jefferson is tucked to the left when you descend the Grand Staircase.
An example of the exhibit that shows the history of the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond is a picture of a clipping from the Tobacco Ball that was once held in the hotel.
One of the historical exhibits.

6. The Amazing Rotunda Level

Of course you can’t help but be amazed by the magnificently adorned columns in the Rotunda level.

Amazing intricate carvings on the columns at the Jefferson Hotel.
The details on the columns is stunning.

The 40-foot ceiling of The Jefferson’s Rotunda lobby features both a massive stained-glass skylight as well as intricately carved plaster featuring an elegant palm frond motif.

The skylight in the Rotunda level at The Jefferson Hotel along with the ornate columns.
The skylight on the Rotunda level.

The novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda are just one example of the couples who once socialized and enjoyed the luxurious surroundings of the Rotunda at The Jefferson.

(Fitzgerald also liked to retreat to the historic Welbourne Inn in beautiful and scenic Middleburg. VA)

7. The Empire Ballroom and Grand Ballroom

The Empire Ballroom at the far side of the Mezzanine is a historic space because it was originally the dining room of the hotel.

The space now serves as one of the hotel’s 19 meeting and banquet rooms.

To take a peek at the Grand Ballroom, go to the Main Street entrance to the Hotel and pass by the hotel’s lovely gift shop (Gator Gifts), where you can also grab a snack or a cup of coffee.

The staircase to the Grand Ballroom, which is the largest of the hotel’s function spaces, is found down the hallway past the gift shop.

Stairs above the Grand Ballroom at The Jefferson  Hotel, shows blue carpet and a regal room.
Stairs rise up from the Grand Ballroom.

The stunning ballroom has been restored to reflect is original design. Over the years the ballroom has served as the venue for many of Richmond’s most prestigious business and social events.

The Grand Ballroom at the Jefferson Hotel set up for an event, with blue carpet and formal round tables.
The Grand Ballroom set up for an event.

8. Library Dining Room: My Favorite Hidden Gem

It’s probably no surprise to those who know I’m a historical fiction author that my favorite “secret” room at The Jefferson Hotel is the Library dining room.

This room, which can be found by going past the maitre d’ stand at the Lemaire restaurant and turning left, is a true historical gem.

The library dining room at The Jefferson Hotel shows white tablelclothed tables with a chandelier hanging above.
The library dining room features a mahogany fireplace on the left and original painting on the right.

The room features a solid African mahogany fireplace and is home to the painting, “The Soap Bubbles.” This painting by Elizabeth Gardner Bouguereau, was exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 before being purchased by Lewis Ginter, who built The Jefferson Hotel.

The piece of art still hangs in its original location above a bookshelf.

Dinner and books. Heaven!

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An original portrait in a gold gilded frame hangs above a bookcase, with a table with a white tablecloth in the foreground.
The original painting, hanging above a bookcase in the library dining room.

9. The Steps To Nowhere

This is a hidden gem that most people won’t see unless they’re staying in a certain area of the hotel’s fifth floor.

Five steps go to a landing and then a French type door with glass pains. The carpet and drapes are gold.
The steps to nowhere once went to a veranda which was a popular place for gatherings.

These steps once went out to a veranda that was a very popular gathering place for guests of The Jefferson Hotel.

The view from the veranda area at The Jefferson Hotel shows the skyline of Richmond.
The view of Richmond would have been stunning from this gathering place.

This area is not longer accessible for guests, but is an interesting glimpse at what was once a very popular spot for socializing.

Book A Richmond Arts District Food Tour!

10. Other Historical Touches

Everywhere you look you get a feel for the past at The Jefferson, even while being surrounded by the most luxurious and modern amenities.

For instance, two ornate candelabras stand on each side of the Grand Staircase, reminiscent of bygone days.

An old candelabra gives a nod to the past at the Jefferson Hotel.
Small touches like this old Candelabra are nods to the past.

You can also see unique items like these old phones that were once an integral part of communication for The Jefferson’s guests.

Two old rotary phones that are black, hang against beige walls at The Jefferson Hotel.
Keep your eyes open for these old rotary phones.

Who Stayed At The Jefferson Hotel?

Many famous historical figures and celebrities have stayed at The Jefferson Hotel. Here are some of the most notable ones:

Celebrities Who Stayed At The Jefferson Hotel

  • Scott Fitzgerald: Renowned author best known for The Great Gatsby
  • Charles Lindbergh: Historic aviator and military officer
  • Dolly Parton: Renowned country music musician
  • Elvis Presley: Rock star celebrated as the King of Rock and Roll
  • Ray Charles: Musician who pioneered American soul music
  • Frank Sinatra: Celebrated actor and singer
  • Charlie Chaplin: Actor known for his silent roles in early movie days
  • Robert Mitchum: Famous actor
  • Others include: Morgan Freeman, Tom Hanks, Charlton Heston, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Tina Turner, Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Newman, The Rolling Stones, Robin Williams and Sally Field.

Presidents Who Stayed At The Jefferson Hotel

  • Grover Cleveland, 22nd and 24th President of the United States (1885 – 1889; 1893 – 1897)
  • Benjamin Harrison, 23rdPresident of the United States (1889 – 1893)
  • William McKinley, 25th President of the United States (1897 – 1901)
  • Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States (1901 – 1909)
  • William Howard Taft, 27th President of the United States (1909 – 1913) and 10th Chief Justice of the United States (1921 – 1930)
  • Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States (1913 – 1921)
  • Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States (1923 – 1929)
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States (1933 – 1945)
  • Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States (1945 – 1953)
  • Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States (1981 – 1989)
  • George H.W. Bush, 41st President of the United States (1989 – 1993)
  • Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States (1993 – 2001)
  • George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States (2001 – 2009)
  • Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States (2009 – 2017)

Who Built The Jefferson Hotel?

Entrepreneur and tobacco baron Lewis Ginter began building the hotel in 1892 and opened it in 1895.

Records indicate that between $5 and $10 million went into planning, building and furnishing the hotel, with $2 million spent on actual construction.

When it first opened, the hotel had 308 guest rooms, and 34 rooms reserved for employees.

Fun Fact: Rooms cost $5/night with some as low as $3.50.

Hungry? Check out the 5-star Church Hill Food Tour in Richmond.

History Of The Jefferson Hotel In Richmond VA

Ginter supervised every detail of its construction, including importing exotic palm trees from Central and South America and purchasing hundreds of antiques domestically and abroad.

Among the amenities at the time were billiard rooms, a library, and Turkish and Russian baths. Every contemporary convenience was also included like: electric lights, electric elevators, hot and cold water in the bedrooms, and a Teleseme (predecessor of the telephone) for room service.

Nothing was overlooked. The hotel had a writing room, barbershop, news and cigar booths and a drugstore. The bar boasted a thousand-bottle wine closet and the library was well stocked with books. There was even a ladies’ billiard room on the fifth floor.

Some of the special features for men included a barbershop, a bar, railroad ticket office, telegraph office and 50-square-foot smokers hall.

The Richmond Dispatch wrote upon its opening “Everything connected with the house is on scale of ultra-magnificence, and, as it now stands, the hostelry is the most complete and luxurious in the south.”

POV from the top of the Grand staircase at The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond with red carpet and white pillars.
Looking down at the Rotunda level.

Jefferson Hotel History Fact: The Jefferson has been credited with introducing the “trunk rest” which was a small stand for guests to rest their suitcase or trunk for unpacking and packing.

Ginter did not get to enjoy his hotel for very long, passing away on October 2, 1897 at the age of 73. In addition to The Jefferson, his legacy includes Ginter Park and the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens.

The Jefferson Hotel Fire

In 1901, a defective wire started a fire that demolished three-fifths of The Jefferson. One hundred guest rooms fronting Franklin Street were intact and reopened in grand style in May 1902.

Major reconstruction was required in the portion facing Main Street. The hotel languished in this poor condition for several more years until a group of local citizens, pledged funds to restore the hotel.

One of those men was Joseph Bryan, a businessman and philanthropist. Sadly, a statue of Bryan that honored his financial dedication to Richmond was torn down and destroyed a few years ago, along with many other historic statues that were truly works of art.

In May 1907, the enlarged hotel was reopened, thrusting The Jefferson back into the spotlight as the place to hold elaborate weddings, cotillions and banquets.

Pro Tip: If you want to explore some of the historic sites of Richmond, try an open air “TukTuk” sightseeing tour.

If you’re looking for ideas for day trips from Richmond, you can visit Middleburg, VA for shopping and wineries, or Winchester, VA, which is a history lover’s paradise.

Staying At The Jefferson

A 3-year renovation at The Jefferson scaled down the number of rooms from 262 to 181, making the remaining rooms much larger. (They are not only beautiful, but highly functional for guests).

The bedroom at The Jefferson shows a bed with white coverings and gold headboard with a chandelier hanging above. A blue lounge chair is on the left and a desk on the right.
Guests enter the bedroom through a welcoming foyer. There is also a dressing room and storage closet in addition to an expansive bathroom.

You get the feeling you’re walking into an apartment rather than a hotel room because each room features an entry foyer, dressing room, spacious bedroom and exceptionally large bathroom with a separate water closet, shower, and soaking tub.

Two unique features I enjoyed were the television in the mirror in the bathroom, and the privacy light that alerts housekeeping, instead of using a door hanger.

The hotel also offers guests an onsite spa, salon, exercise room, indoor heated pool with an outdoor sundeck and a gift shop.

Dining At The Jefferson

Dining at The Jefferson Hotel is an experience. I don’t consider myself a “foodie” but you can’t help appreciate The Jefferson’s commitment to locally sourced ingredients and the care that goes into their meals.

Good luck deciding what to choose!

A picture of smoked royal salmon on muffins with a glass of juice behind the plate.

Lemaire Restaurant

The main restaurant, called Lemaire, offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, with offerings that are steeped in the Southern influences of Richmond’s food culture.

I had the Harissa Glazed Salmon with French green lentils, root vegetables, and herbed yogurt. Delicious!

For dessert, I ordered the Apple Cider Bread Pudding with vanilla ice cream and roasted apples. Needless to say, I needed a doggie bag and it made a delicious afternoon snack the next day.

TJ’s Bar and Lounge

This beautiful space has a curated list of classic cocktails, local craft beers on draft, wines by the glass and non-alcoholic selections. The menu also features the classics with appetizers, salads and sandwiches prepared simply to let the quality of ingredients show.

Champagne Sunday Brunch At The Jefferson

The Jefferson Hotel also offers a very popular Sunday Brunch with a seasonally crafted menu every week. The hotel offers a sample menu to give you an idea of what the Brunch offers.

Reservations must be made in advance and both the Sunday Brunches and special holiday Brunches sell out quickly.

The Jefferson Hotel Is On The Richmond Mimosa Trail

If you’re in the mood for a weekend brunch and mimosa, The Jefferson Hotel is on the Richmond Region Mimosa Trail, which is a self-guided tour featuring 45 restaurants that offer everything from traditional mimosas to mimosa flights.

You can also try different flavors like pineapple and pomegranate — and even a Beermosa.

If you enjoy history, check out the legendary Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, where two presidents and many notable Civil War officers (like JEB Stuart) are buried.

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Parking At The Jefferson Hotel

Parking at historical hotels located in cities is usually hard to come by, but parking at The Jefferson Hotel is very convenient.

The hotel offers both valet and self-parking options.

For self-parking, the lot is very close and is gated for added security. Entry and exit is accessed with your room card.

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Frequently Asked Questions About The Jefferson Hotel

Where Is The Jefferson Hotel Located?

The Jefferson Hotel is located at 101 W. Franklin Street in downtown Richmond.

How Much Is A Room At The Jefferson Hotel?

Rooms start at $275 per night, depending on the season.

Where Is The Nearest Airport To The Jefferson?

The Richmond International Airport (RIC) is about 10 miles from The Jefferson Hotel (about a 15-minute drive).

Pro Tip: You can hire private transportation from the Richmond airport to the city for as little as $36.

Historic Hotels Off The Best Accommodations

I hope you enjoyed this brief history of the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond.

Personally, I always try to stay at historic hotels when I travel and it’s even better if I can stay in one that is on the list of the Historic Hotels of America, a program by the National Trust of Historic Preservation.

The Jefferson Hotel is on that list and it’s one of the most incredible places I’ve ever stayed from both a luxury and a history standpoint. It is also one of only 27 American hotels with both the AAA Five-Diamond and the Forbes Five-Star ratings.

Of all the things worth savoring, my favorite is how the hotel simultaneously balances history and luxury. With amazing architecture, spectacular craftsmanship, and inviting sitting spaces, the hotel creates a an environment full of hospitality and comfort.

The Jefferson Hotel stands as a testament to Richmond’s rich history, embodying elegance and charm since its inception in 1895. With over a century of welcoming guests, this historic landmark conceals a treasure trove of hidden gems waiting to be discovered within its walls.

Historic sites that are just a short drive away include the Stonewall Jackson Death Site and Long Branch Plantation.

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Many thanks to The Jefferson Hotel for providing complimentary lodging and meals. All opinions in this post are honest and my own.

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