400 South Main Street
N.B. Revised 3 January 2019.
As I’m researching and beginning to write about Southern ghosts, I’ll be highlighting places that appear on my radar due to recent news articles. The Exchange Hotel is one of those places. An article appeared in a recent edition of C-ville, a Charlottesville, Virginia news and arts weekly and I immediately became interested in seeing what I could find on this place.
God bless the Virginia Department of Historic Resources for placing the state’s numerous (over 2,700 statewide) National Register forms online! It makes historical research on this location much easier. If available, these forms can present a fairly accurate history of a location. Unfortunately, outside of Virginia, the National Park Service (NPS), the keepers of the National Register, has only made select forms available online. Among those forms currently available are all forms for National Historic Landmarks (NHLs). NHLs are those places deemed by the NPS to be of national significance and inclusion as an NHL includes automatic listing on the National Register. The editors of Wikipedia have also deemed National Register properties to be notable enough to create separate articles on each which can be quite helpful and often provides information not found on the nomination form, though many places do not yet have articles.
Some places appear to be positively crawling with ghosts and the Exchange Hotel seems to be one of those places. According to the C-ville article, the hotel has been investigated some 20 times. However, it appears that investigations have yielded a huge amount of evidence, including EVPs (Electronic Voice Phenomena), photographs, video and recorded personal experiences.
It’s no surprise that the Exchange Hotel has ghosts. The three-story, late Greek Revival structure was built in 1860 to replace a tavern that was built on the site in 1840. The site was at the intersection of two major railways, the Chesapeake and Ohio (C & O) and the Alexandria and Orange (A & O) Railroads and is near the Gordonsville Depot which was built around the same time as the original tavern (the depot is apparently also haunted and has been investigated by the Shenandoah Valley Paranormal Society).
The hotel opened in a period of mounting hostility that would eventually lead to the first shots of the Civil War in April of 1861. By June 1862, the hotel was serving as part of the Gordonsville Receiving Hospital, a massive operation that, by war’s end, would treat some 70,000 soldiers, mostly Confederate, but including some Union soldiers as well. These soldiers would pour in from many of the nearby Virginia battlefields including Cedar Mountain, Chancellorsville, Brandy Station and the Wilderness. Obviously, many died, though I haven’t encountered an exact number, but it is known that just over 700 of those were buried on the hotel property.
Following the sadness of its days as a hospital, the building served as an office for the Freedman’s Bureau, a government agency that provided aid to freed slaves and war refugees between 1865 and 1872. The hotel was soon returned to its original function as a luxurious railroad hotel offering the best of Southern hospitality. The hospitality of the hotel was so well-known that humorist George W. Bagby dubbed Gordonsville “the chicken-leg centre of the universe.” This fine reputation was enjoyed until the hotel closed in the 1940s. The building served as a private residence and later was divided into apartments before being acquired by Historic Gordonsville, Inc. which restored the hotel as a museum.
So far, nothing in my research has indicated when people in the Exchange Hotel began experiencing spectral phenomena. I would speculate that the phenomena began shortly after the building’s usage as a hospital, though I don’t have any evidence of that. Many buildings throughout the South were commandeered for use as hospitals throughout the war and many of those remaining are often considered haunted; witness Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee. This house served as a hospital during and for many months after the Battle of Franklin in 1864 and the activity in the house is at a high enough level that a book has been written specifically about it.
Among those spirits are a young African-American male who is supposed to have hanged himself in the kitchen building, a former cook, one the Quartermasters who was in charge of the hotel during the war as well as a female who was possibly his companion and, according to a longtime museum volunteer, the wraith of Major Cornelius Boyle who was the post commander. These spirits and possibly a host of others, have caused a high level of paranormal activity including disembodied voices, apparitions, shadow figures, items being misplaced and witnesses being physically touched.
It appears that information on the hotel’s haunting has yet to be published aside from scattered ghost hunt reports and the C-ville article. Though, it does appear that the site is receiving attention from the local ghost hunting community, even appearing in a TV show produced by Research Investigators of the Paranormal or R.I.P., a team out of Richmond, Virginia. Two other teams, SSPI (lead by Mark Higgins and the subject of the article) and the Shenandoah Valley Paranormal Society, teamed up for two joint investigations of the premises. All three teams were able to collect a good deal of evidence ranging from EVPs to video. Numerous photographs also had anomalies including dark shadows, the de rigueur orb photographs (which are often easy to discount) and a few with some possible human forms. One of the more interesting videos shows a door that just been closed opening by itself while another video captures an odd light in one of the bedrooms. Both investigations by SSPI and the Shenandoah Valley Paranormal Society were concluded with the finding that the Exchange Hotel is haunted.
Certainly, this is a location that is brimming with history and important simply from a historical standpoint. It also appears that with the high amounts of paranormal activity occurring in these locations, this place may also end up being important in a paranormal sense. As always, I would welcome any input readers have on this location.
- Civil War Museum at the Exchange Hotel. Accessed 11 August 2010.
- Fitzgerald, Brendan. ‘Investigators say hundreds of ghostly voices speak out in this Gordonsville hotel.” C-ville, 8/10/10-8/16/10.
- National Park Service. Exchange Hotel – Journey Through Hallowed Ground. Accessed 11 August 2010.
- R.I.P. Ghost Hunters and Nightquest Paranormal. Investigation of Exchange Hotel and Civil War Museum, Gordonsville, VA. Accessed 23 August 2010.
- Shenandoah Valley Paranormal Society. Investigation #26, The Exchange Hotel, Gordonsville, Va. 16 May 2009. Accessed 23 August 2010.
- Shenandoah Valley Paranormal Society. Investigation #28 The Exchange Hotel, Gordonsville, Va. 21 August 2009. Accessed 23 August 2010.
- Thomas, William H. B. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for Exchange Hotel. 10 June 1973.