Boutique hotel in Railroad District is the oldest in Ashland
By Phyllis M. Fernlund
Ashland’s oldest hotel is once again open for business. Ashland has two historic hotel buildings, the Peerless Hotel, built in 1900, and Ashland Springs Hotel, built in 1925. The Peerless, at 243 Fourth street in the Railroad District, was closed for three months for renovations by its newest owner, Shawn Donnille. Donnille, owner of Mountain Rose Herbs in Eugene, is an antique collector and history buff interested in saving historic structures.
Three years ago, Donnille and his partner, D’Ann Hawkes, stayed in the Peerless and fell in love with the Victorian décor and carefully preserved original woodwork, doors, and windows. They had often stayed in historic hotels but, when they planned to book a Peerless room again in 2021, they found the hotel was for sale. Within a couple of months Donnille became the new owner and with the help of the new hotel manager, Hawkes, began their own restoration work.
The Peerless Hotel is on the National List of Historic Places and on the list of “1000 Places to See Before You Die.” The National Register states that the Peerless is the “best surviving example of the brick commercial structures” in Ashland and “the best example of early rooming house use.” The small boutique hotel has six rooms, including two suites, decorated with 18th and 19th century antiques, high ceilings, and featuring some original brickwork.
The Peerless has an interesting past. Built as a rooming house by a wealthy business woman, Lucinda Ganiard, there were 13 small rooms with a communal bathroom. Drawn by a surging economy due to the completion of the north-south rail line over the Siskiyou Mountains, the Peerless Rooms served as lodging for railroad workers and salesmen. The Railroad District in 1900 was a bustling site with the depot, saloons, brothels, an ice cream parlor, bakery and livery stables. In 1915 its sign was painted on the brick wall of the building, which can still be seen today: “Peerless Rooms,” along with an ad for Coca Cola.
The good times did not last for the Railroad District as passenger and freight service throught lines were rerouted through Klamath Falls. Jobs disappeared, stores and hotels closed. For several decades, the building was owned by Samuel Davies and went from a rooming house to a barbershop. The first floor became his barbershop with the second floor used as a home by his family until his death in 1951, according to the Southern Oregon Historical Society.
After 1951 the Peerless stood empty and untouched for decades and fell into disrepair. The neglect was an asset for the new owner, Chrissy Barnett, who bought the hotel in 1990, and did an extensive restoration. Because it had been vacant, the original woodwork, staircase, transom windows, and four-inch wide tongue-and-groove floors were still present and restored. The installation of new plumbing, electrical wiring, and HVAC systems transformed the old Victorian-era tenement into a boutique hotel.
The current owner, Donnille, bought the hotel in 2021. He continued the work of Barnett, preserving and enhancing the restoration. He has added soundproofing, decorative tin ceiling tiles, a private courtyard and updated parking area. A sunlit “serving room” has antique tables and sofa, ferns and other decorations, windows on three sides and the original brick wall. The Peerless Restaurant and courtyard adjoins the hotel but has separate ownership.
Donnille describes the Peerless as a “self-check-in hotel” with no formal host. Guests use keypads to access their room and the front door. Unlike the boarding house days, each room has a mural on the wall based on reproductions of Victorian wallpaper, a private bathroom and, in one case, original side-by-side bathtubs. There are no radios or televisions. The least expensive room is about $125 a night and the entire hotel can be rented for varying rates depending on the season.
Donnille has promised an open house for the Ashland community in the coming month so locals can see the latest restoration of this piece of Ashland history.
For more information, go to peerlesshotel.com.
Ashland resident Phyllis M. Fernlund wrote this story for the spring Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OSHER) on Community Journalism. Email Ashland.news Executive Editor Bert Etling at firstname.lastname@example.org or call or text him at 541-631-1313.