The Bleckley properties reclaim portions of Anderson’s past with downtown revitalization projects
Steve Kay’s ‘aha moment’ came 11 years ago when Budweiser’s famous Clydesdale horses were in town for Anderson’s annual Soiree.
The Anderson native had moved from suburbia to live in a renovated bank building downtown next door to space now known as The Carriage House. Once a livery stable, the historic building not far off Main Street served as perfect accommodations for the iconic stallions.
“The horses had the nicest place to stay since they’d left St. Louis, but their caretakers – the young people who fed and washed them – had to go 10 miles out to the Interstate to find a place to sleep,” Kay said. “If there has to be an aha moment, that was it.”
It was only a short time after the Clydesdales’ 2009 visit to The Electric City that plans for The Bleckley Inn began.
“It became apparent to me that Anderson was growing, that we had a lot going on and that there might be a place for a small boutique hotel in downtown,” Kay said. “I had this property next door that needed to be improved and I decided that’s what I needed to do with it.”
Anderson officials were told for years that the city was too far from Interstate 85 to be considered for new hotel development, according to Anderson Mayor Terence Roberts. The Mayor credits The Bleckley Inn with being a catalyst for downtown Anderson revitalization that has included a return of retail, plans for a new mixed-use development across from Carolina Wren Park and an 85-room Home2 Suites by Hilton® now under construction next to Anderson City Hall.
The Bleckley Inn will celebrate its 10th year in business next March. Located in the heart of downtown on East Church Street, the Inn stands on one of Anderson’s most historic sites. Heart pine wood flooring and exposed brick from more than 100 years ago are a few of the details preserved from generations past.
The site has housed numerous downtown businesses over the years, including Tom Chapman’s tire recap shop, an appliance store and a tractor dealership, Kay says. But in its earliest days, the property was a horse-and-buggy store owned by J.J. Fretwell, an area mover and shaker and a son-in-law of local mule broker Sylvester Bleckley. Interestingly, Kay adds, Fretwell sold Studebaker wagons – the manufacturer of the wagon pulled by the Budweiser Clydesdales.
The Bleckley Inn features 17 sleeping rooms, 3,000 square feet of event space in the adjoining Carriage House, a 3,000-square-foot courtyard just beyond The Carriage House stable doors, conference space in The Benson Room, and Pracht Alley, a picturesque alleyway for smaller gatherings.
A big part of what was accomplished by construction of The Bleckley Inn is the creation of downtown space for weddings and events, and not just for Andersonians, Kay says.
“In the beginning, I was really hands-on and didn’t think we could have a wedding or event unless I was in the middle of it,” he explained. “But we would have a wedding with 200 or 300 people, and I wouldn’t recognize anyone. People were coming from Spartanburg, Oconee and Pickens counties, and I realized that we were bringing people to Anderson that had never been here.”
The Bleckley Inn’s success quickly led to a need for more downtown accommodations and event space. In 2013, The Bleckley Plaza opened above J Peters Restaurant on Main Street, featuring eight additional sleeping rooms and a rooftop venue called Rooftop at the Plaza.
Then in 2017, an additional 10,000 square feet of event space and two suites came online with the opening of The Bleckley Station on S. Main Street.
An important address in downtown Anderson over the last century, 310 S. Main has been home to a grocery store, tire store, furniture store and even a funeral home. But the once vibrant block had become a vacant hole next door to the Fox Restaurant.
Reclaimed brick, cast iron vents and a 1914 cornerstone all were salvaged and incorporated into the design of The Bleckley Station. And portions of a graffiti Monster painted by American muralist Patch Whisky has been left on one wall of the venue, becoming one of the station’s most photographed areas.
In all, there are three Bleckley locations created from 12 older, repurposed downtown buildings, all within easy walking distance of one another.
“It’s a lot of work to take on an old building,” says Kay, an electrician by trade and the former owner of Hill Electric Company in Anderson. “It would have been a lot easier just to push it over than to try to save and reclaim those pieces that are so interesting now. It’s rewarding when people walk through and recognize the details in what we’ve done.”
So, what’s next for the downtown resident and business owner?
“I think I’m done, but I believe Anderson will continue to grow and I hope we’ll grow moderately. We need more restaurants and a little more activity downtown, but I don’t see us being Greenville or Spartanburg. We just need to be Anderson and I think people like that.”