LEWISBURG, W.Va. -- Florian Schleiff likes to give credit, or the blame, to his wife for the restoration of the historic Silas Mason mansion, in Lewisburg, that took nearly seven years. His latest endeavor, though, is all his own doing.
The Lewisburg contractor and two local lawyers are renovating the former Fort Savannah Inn with plans to create a surrounding park and local farmers market on the site of the now-closed motel.
Joe Lovett laughed in telling how Schleiff pushed all the right buttons to get him into the nonprofit venture. When Schleiff suggested the Fort Savannah site for an expanded farmers market, "I said, 'No thank you. It's a mess. Why would I want to get pulled into that,'" Lovett recalled.
Schleiff pointed out that Lovett was an environmental lawyer. As head of an environmental organization, why wouldn't Lovett be proud and honored to clean up a dump and create a beautiful public space?
"It worked. He knew how to sucker me in," Lovett said.
"And it will be amazing," Schleiff added about their project to redo the eyesore on U.S. 219, a main route into the historic town.
The two men had just had a business lunch looking for ways to pay for the project. And they were meeting later that mid-August day with a Boston landscape architect who will prepare drawings of the proposed market and park. Architectural drawings will help potential donors visualize the project, the men said.
One donor, though, didn't have to see drawings. Paul Lindquist's 19th-century brick mansion, Montwell, with its imposing white columns, looks down on the deserted two-story motel and empty parking lot. When the project founders visited Lindquist to outline their plans, he said, in essence, "I want in." Lindquist is giving 4 acres of surrounding land to what is now called Montwell Park, for a total of 6.5 acres.
Workmen, including several of Schleiff's sons are framing walls, replacing roofs and cutting out windows among other major improvements to the log inn.
The goal is to open a new restaurant there by October. If it's not ready, Lovett isn't sure what he'll do with all the produce he's committed to buying from Greenbrier Valley farmers.