VERSAILLES — In Billy Wilder’s 1954 silver-screen classic, Sabrina, a chauffeur’s daughter, Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn) has dinner with her father’s employer, Linus (Humphrey Bogart). In their colorful banter, Sabrina shares her thoughts on visiting Paris, and attempts to persuade her cynical companion of its inexplicable charm, “…It’s for changing your outlook, for throwing open the windows and letting in ‘la vie en rose.”
“La vie en rose” – a French idiom – in its barest translation, means “life in rosy hues;” however, it often implies a more subtle meaning which speaks to the feeling of being so happy that everything seems beautiful, no matter what may come.
For many Ohio travelers throughout the decades, the intersection at Main and Center Streets, and the two-block radius surrounding it, is a memorable, magical place, filled with the sights and sounds of busy village life. For Versailles residents, it is the hallowed ground of those who dreamed of a better life, and worked tirelessly to attain it, making the most of their circumstances with optimism and grace. Without a doubt, the heart of the Village was the Inn at Versailles, the treasured nook of “la vie en rose.” Now, thanks to the generosity of Midmark Corporation, the Inn and its legacy will continue to inspire future generations to live with renewed joy and hope.
The site of the Inn emerged from humble beginnings, and has evolved as circumstances prevailed upon it. According to the Versailles Area Historical Society records, in 1860, hotel proprietor Isaac Marker opened the Golden Eagle House. In 1872, Harrison Brandon bought the hotel, but died only three years later. His widow, Margaret, remarried in 1877, and together with her new husband, Frank Snyder, renamed the hotel the Snyder House. Renovations to the structure took six years, and became a noteworthy hotel and boarding house until the great 1901 Versailles fire destroyed most of the standing structures.
Undeterred by his misfortune, Frank Snyder rebuilt the hotel on the same site, using the very foundation which miraculously survived the destruction. In 1909, Snyder was elected to serve as the Darke County Auditor in Greenville; thus, he sold the hotel that year to George Worch. In 1927, title transferred to Worch’s widow, Amelia, who hired James Beare in 1929 to manage the property. Soon thereafter, Beare added a restaurant, which added to the establishment’s popularity.
Mrs. Worch sold the hotel to Glenn Hansey in 1946; however, Hansey put the hotel up for bid at a public auction, listing it as a “24-Room Hotel-Barber-Shop-Grocery.” Ross Ward, a Versailles visionary who owned a longstanding drug store, bought the hotel for $26,500, and rented the rooms as apartment space and hotel stays for long-term clients, renaming it the Ward Hotel. When he retired in 1976, Carl Subler bought and refurbished the structure, creating office space within its walls for his transportation company, Carl Subler Trucking.
In 1993, Midmark Corporation acquired the property, with a vision to create a hotel and restaurant which reflected the history and period architecture of a picturesque French villa. After extensive remodeling and restoration, Midmark reopened the hotel, in 1994, as The Inn at Versailles, and hundreds of world travelers crossed the quaint threshold of its awning entrance; however, in October, 2019, a four-alarm fire damaged the hotel structure, rendering it untenable for business operations.
Last week, Midmark Corporation renewed its commitment to the community by announcing that it would demolish and rebuild the Inn at Versailles, with a view to blend the traditional French architectural style while updating with the modern conveniences and amenities. This is music to the ears of village residents, who know and appreciate the significance of the Inn, and its ability to adapt to the changing landscape of the marketplace.
Versailles Area Historical Society Board President Deb Pohl is delighted with Midmark’s plans for the new Inn, recalling the many joyous celebrations she and her family have enjoyed there over the years.
“For our family, the Inn was our ‘happy place’,” said Pohl, “‘Big City’ dining in the small town that I love. I’ve lived here all my life, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else!”
Pohl, like many other longtime residents, have fond memories of the Inn. “My husband and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary there, and my family surprised me for my 60th birthday at the Inn. One of my favorite meals was Michael’s spaghetti with mushrooms called Tagliatelle. Their bread and butter that came with the meal was wonderfully delicious!”
Other family favorite meals served at Michael’s were the pecan-encrusted walleye, farfalle (bow tie pasta) with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and pine-nuts with chicken in a garlic olive oil base. Pohl also reminisces about the Inn’s interior. “One of my favorite rooms was the Versailles Room. My daughter-in-law loved the dining room…cozy with a beautiful French mural.”
Indeed, many visitors to The Inn remarked upon its old world charm and warmth, noting how lovely the front lobby was festooned throughout the winter holidays, with four large fir trees, elegantly decorated for Christmas in seasonal colors, with fireplaces crackling in the dining room.
Each guest room was also exquisitely decorated with period décor. One former patron remarked, “My favorite was Room #122, with its white provincial furniture, including a white fireplace, and blue carpeting with accent accessories.” Another favorite among the guests was Room # 114, because of its warm, red tones, furnished in style with a Jacuzzi and fireplace.
For many travelers, The Inn at Versailles became their “home away from home.” Many have remarked upon the friendly, small town atmosphere when perusing the shop-windows downtown, and how beautiful Darke County is when driving down a winding country road.
Saying goodbye is never easy. With the iconic Versailles Inn sign now gone to the Versailles Area Historical Society Museum, and the structure to be fenced off for the demolition phase of a new project, the corner of Central and Main beckons us with memories of laughter and love which have lasted for over a century. So, as you take a stroll downtown, rest awhile by statues in the square. Smile. Change your outlook. Throw open the windows and let in la vie en rose. See what lovely, new surprises life will bring.