One of Christiana Borough's oldest and largest buildings, the 1854 Dickinson Hotel on West Slokom Avenue, is now undergoing a major renovation which could help bring visitors and economic development to the small town.
Steve and Jewell Shivery, owners of the Shivery Funeral Home in Christiana, purchased the three-story historic hotel next to the old railroad depot in August.
Those who drove by without giving the old building a second glance are looking now.
The Shiverys have torn off the old gray Smucker formstone and a dangerous porch, revealing a sound and stately brick building that was once a pleasant hotel and lunch destination for rail travelers between Philadelphia and Lancaster.
"It's such a treasure, a huge building, but did they even notice it?" said Steve Shivery. "Probably not, because it was such an eyesore. The building is a treasure and we want to take it back to its glory.”
The Shiverys are currently in the first phase of their plans to restore the building back to the proud decades when it was known both as the Dickinson Hotel and Hope Herschberger Hotel, built by Joseph Dickinson in 1854.
Working with architect Mark Myers, J&J Restoration and in consultation with Jim Groff of Victorian Heritage, the Shiverys said they have removed dump truck after dump truck of junk from the building and loads of pigeon poop from the attic.
The brick is being repointed and a construction crew has dug out the basement to create a higher ceiling in a space framed by many graceful brick arches.
Masons are underpinning the foundation; new energy-efficient windows are next on the list.
"Hopefully this phase will be done by the beginning of summer," said Shivery. "We want to get the building to where it isn't an eyesore and then work on the inside. It has sat here long enough like this."
While complete plans for the building are not firm, the Shiverys said the basement, with its beautiful brick archways, is the perfect place for a restaurant.
One of their four children, 22-year-old Paige, has enrolled in culinary school and will eventually run the eating establishment.
The Shiverys said they are considering offering a venue for weddings, special occasions and funeral meals, and also renovating the upper floors of the 13,000-square-foot building for overnight accommodations.
Steve Shivery, said the building could be "Christiana's jewel."
Jewell Shivery said her husband grew up in Christiana and loves the town.
His parents ran the old-fashioned Shivery's Uptown Grocery Store on Green Street, and his uncle ran Shivery Real Estate.
He began working for the Brown Funeral Home when he was 12, and purchased it with Jewell when the Browns retired.
"There are so many historic buildings in town," Jewell Shivery said. "Some of the old buildings are just beautiful. Steve is among a group of men talking about investing in Christiana. Somebody needs to start. We hope this will snowball."
Shivery said he plans to restore the building with respect, replacing parts that have to be torn down.
"We want to make it sound, tight and energy efficient, then we'll tackle the next phase," he said.
The hotel was the first building in Christiana to have electricity, and also once housed the first Christiana Bank. The bank safe is in good condition, although many features — including the original bar — have disappeared.
The Shiverys said they are interested in seeing any old pictures of the hotel to help in restoration.
The second-floor ballroom once had red glass windows and doors and two crystal chandeliers.
A tunnel led to the hotel's exterior ice house. Although the ice house had to be demolished, the Shiverys plan to excavate the tunnel.
They will also likely build a new porch with ornamental iron work, similar to what can be seen in original photographs. Jewell Shivery said she also plans to plant trees and flower gardens.
In recent years the building was the Railroad Lounge and apartments from 1989 to 2005, when Bill Fowler purchased the building and opened a restaurant.
The building was auctioned in 2008 and purchased by Elwood and Margaret Sampson, who placed the building up for sale in 2012.
"We're kind of letting the building tell us what needs to be done," said Steve Shivery. "It could be a crowning glory in this town. We want the town to be proud."