By John McNeilly
When word got out three weeks ago that the long-vacant, eight-room Weona Villa Motel near Round Hill was for sale, social media exploded with curiosity.
Sean Dunn, the owner and lead broker of Purcellville’s Fieldstone Real Estate, who’s managing the motel’s sale, had posted about the Weona on his business’s Facebook page on Jan. 13 to get in front of the official listing announcement the following week. Within three days, he had received several solid offers from potential buyers. And after six days, the property was officially under contract.
“The response was truly overwhelming,” Dunn said.
His office received hundreds of calls and emails inquiring about the 63-year-old motel, and his Facebook post was shared 88 times. “It clearly shows how special the property is, and how important the Weona Villa remains to western Loudoun,” he said.
Few seemed to know the entire story behind the empty though well-maintained Weona Villa Motel, located on Rt. 7 Business just east of Round Hill. Several folks speculated online about the motel’s mysteriously long vacancy. Some said they heard it was haunted—that a person had been murdered there and a ghost aimlessly roamed the property—but the property’s heirs say that isn’t true. One person wrote that the motel rooms, decked out in ’50s vintage chic, chillingly remained exactly as they were since the day the place closed nearly a decade ago (which, as it turns out, is true).
But according to a family heir of the property, the full story behind the historic property is anything but scary or macabre.
Jack Harper, a highly regarded, recently retired Boston TV reporter and the co-heir of the motel has fond memories of the property that his aunt and uncle, Dorothy and Bob Harper, built and opened in 1954. The couple ran the motel until it was unceremoniously closed in 2007, following Bob’s death.
Jack Harper remembers hearing that his father wasn’t an early believer in the motel. When Bob shared with his older brother his idea to close his nearby gas station to instead build and run a motel in off-the-beaten-path Round Hill, Jack’s dad said it “was crazy and would never work.”
Not only did it work, it flourished.
From the time Bob Harper had his seven-acre, six-room motel (two larger rooms were added in the 1980s) and private home built in 1954, until its closing 53 years later, the motel was a sought-after destination. The Weona Villa, meant to be a play on the words “we own a villa,” quickly earned a reputation as a simple but immaculately maintained stop-over, serving countless families passing through, tourists visiting DC, vineyard-goers soaking in the new but fast-growing local wine industry, and workers who could stay for weeks at a time while constructing power lines in rural western Loudoun County.
Dunn shares a story about a framed letter that hung in the motel lobby since the 1980s. It was from a visitor who, angered at the steep prices of DC hotels, decided to stay at the Weona Villa before he knew just how far it was from Washington, DC. But the Harpers soon won the guest over with their generosity that he promised in the letter that he would return to the motel whenever he visited the area.
“The Weona was really their baby,” Jack Harper said. “They didn’t have children of their own, so they poured themselves into it. Their pride and joy showed in everything they did. Guests and locals came to really admire their kindness.”
He remembers the couple’s thrill when they were informed by AAA in 2004 that they were then officially the oldest, continuously operated, family-owned motel in the nation.
Jack Harper remembers his uncle as a hard-working visionary. In addition to opening a motel in the middle of a then-quiet Loudoun County in the ’50s, he listened carefully to the power line workers staying at his motel. He was so impressed by their work and busy schedules that he invested money in their company. Their stocks did quite well, and Bob Harper prospered as a result.
Jack Harper describes his aunt, Dorothy, as a feisty, classy lady who liked to come across as tough, but who was really a kind woman. She grew up in a large house in nearby Hamilton and had worked in a bank in DC when she met and married Bob. She was responsible for maintaining all the Weona Villa rooms herself, which she attacked with a persistent dedication to cleanliness and care. Her family was known to joke with her about the literally thousands of beds she changed during her lifetime.
“That was something she didn’t like to talk about,” laughs Harper.
Sadly, it explains why Dorothy Harper couldn’t bear the thought of the motel changing ownership after her husband died in 2007. She continued to live in the private home on the property until her death two years ago. Throughout the eight years the motel was shuttered, she continued to maintain the property and rooms as if a guest might show up at any minute.
Dunn and Jack Harper said many were surprised by the enthusiastic public response to the Weona’s listing. Before members of the Harper family agreed to sell, they asked the slew of interested buyers to put together creative proposals for the property that would respect the Weona’s rich history and place within the community.
Dunn said he cannot yet publically name Weona’s soon-to-be owners or their specific plans for the property. He wouldn’t say whether it would still serve as a motel, in a part of the county that has a demand for rooms. Several proposals have been floated to build a hotel in nearby Purcellville to serve visitors of the county’s 40-plus wineries, the booming rural wedding industry and families visiting students at Patrick Henry College, but nothing has come to fruition.
The heirs are pleased with the plans, and Jack Harper indicated that the property that for so long has held the intrigue of the community, would have a promising future.
“We’re excited about the prospective buyers. They truly respect the history of the motel and the area,” he said. “We look forward to letting the community know all about it as soon as everything is finalized.”