Once upon a time, Railroad Street was teeming with life and the P.A. Smith Hotel was the jewel in its crown. The past few decades have not been kind to this historic street in Navasota, but that is about to change. Thanks to the vision of Old Washington residents Janice and Steve Scheve, the old P.A. Smith Hotel building will be transformed into the new Smith Hotel, reflecting the spirit of its predecessor but with modern day amenities.
The ultimate fixer-upper
The Scheves are no strangers to Navasota. They frequently shop here, and as Janice Scheve said, “We’ve gotten to know the area pretty well.”
She is no stranger to renovations either. Her love for old buildings and old things was a genetic gift from her father and she has rescued about a dozen small, one-bath homes and “flipped” them – not for the money, but for the joy of doing it.
According to Scheve, her husband isn’t a fan of “old,” so she was surprised when he wanted her to see the building he found for sale in Navasota.
Scheve said, “We looked at it not really thinking about purchasing it. He wanted me to see it because I like old buildings. Over time we both really fell in love with that building. We did some research on what the area needed and decided to turn it in to a hotel, because that’s what it used to be, and an event center. It’s been a big, big undertaking but we’re both excited about it!”
The Scheves already had experience with Airbnb, an online marketplace that allows members to rent out properties or spare rooms to guests. In fact, they were surprised when their Old Washington Airbnb “in the middle of nowhere” stayed full, and credits that with its proximity to Texas A&M – an obvious plus for Navasota as well.
Scheve has seen Brenham and Navasota change during her 12 years in the area and said, “There is a new energy about Navasota that’s never been here before. I feel it and so does Steve.”
Referring to other renovations taking place in Navasota, she said, “If we were the only people starting a business, it would be one thing. The fact that other people are doing it too, it just feels like the right time.”
The overwhelming response of residents and local merchants has been positive - as has been the Scheve’s working relationship with the city of Navasota.
Whether it’s about permitting, or the infrastructure work in progress in and around Railroad Street, Scheve said, “They have been very helpful, and we still have regular meetings with them.”
In addition to the revenue the Smith Hotel will bring to Navasota, it will offer employment opportunities as well.
While the couple will be on-site daily, she said, “We will be looking to employ housekeepers, a bell hop, coffee bar waiter, front desk help and eventually a hotel manager.”
Design and decor
According to Scheve, this floor plan of the three-story hotel will differ from the original. For instance, the entrance is being modified to be compliant with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The first floor will feature an event center in the two-story high Great Room that can accommodate 80-100 seated guests. It will also house a coffee shop that’s accessible from the street and covered sidewalk seating.
Four guest rooms and a laundry room make up the second floor with six guest rooms and a conference room on the third floor. All 10 guest rooms will have private baths and the entire facility will be ADA compliant.
As for décor, Scheve said the goal is for guests to “feel like you’re walking into an 1800s hotel. It’s not a rustic Texas theme, more presidential but family-friendly where you don’t feel like you can’t touch anything.”
Whenever possible they’ve reused the original materials. For instance, they’ve kept the original stone walls but are regrouting. The hardwood floors on the second floor will remain intact, but some original beams are being repurposed in other areas of the building.
The Scheves intend to pay homage to the hotel’s past by showcasing donated and salvaged historical photos and memorabilia in a “museum” in the first-floor lobby. A concrete wall behind the check-in desk will serve as the canvas for a mural of the original P.A. Smith Hotel – a project for which they are seeking a local artist.
Not surprisingly, the massive renovation has provided some learning experiences.
Scheve said, “One thing I’ve learned is don’t be afraid to ask for help. Without a good architect and contractor, we couldn’t do it.”
And as for the surprises, Scheve said, “If you can’t do it this way, take another route. It’s a living process.”
While some in the modern era might raise eyebrows at opening a hotel near Navasota’s train tracks, Scheve embraces it.
She said, “If I were in a town other than Navasota - which was built because of the railroad - I would feel differently. I certainly want a good night’s sleep for the people who come, but this is what Navasota is, in my opinion.”
Scheve said they will be doubling insulation in the guest rooms, and the conference room will be situated at the rear of the third floor, but they will promote the train as part of Navasota’s character and history.
She continued, “We need to embrace what Navasota is, and Navasota has a train that comes right down the middle of it. Trying to fight it would be to change Navasota.”
Old versus new
The Scheves anticipate the Smith Hotel will open between late 2019 and early 2020, but they plan a public preview at Fourth Friday once the site is safe for visitors.
Scheve said the couple never wanted to own a building just to be able to say they “own” an old building.
Citing the emotional impact old buildings, old houses or things passed down through generations can have, she said, “The reason I like old things is it reminds you of yesteryear. I think people are starting to realize that new is not always better.”