History has a way of repeating itself. Bud DeWitt ’07, manager of The Fredonia Hotel, was born into the hospitality industry much like the hotel’s founder, Jack Raines McKinney, whose parents owned and operated the Banita Hotel where McKinney was born in 1911.
Bud has worked in the service industry since he was a teenager at restaurants owned by his father, Richard DeWitt Jr. ’72. Richard owns two of Nacogdoches’ most-visited restaurants, Auntie Pastas and Clear Springs.
“My dad definitely did not let me get away with being the son of a restaurant owner,” Bud laughed. “I’ve picked up cigarette butts, washed dishes, bused tables and worked my way up.”
In his new role as manager of The Fredonia Hotel, Bud has the responsibility of running the most iconic hotel in Nacogdoches. Bud and his dad’s mission to reopen the East Texas landmark has taken several years to complete.
Situated in the oldest town in Texas, the family-owned-and-operated hotel is historic in every sense. From the hotel’s groundbreaking in the 1950s to its reopening this summer, The Fredonia Hotel’s story is one of trials and triumphs.
From the Heart
The vision to build the Hotel Fredonia (its original name) began with McKinney in the 1950s. Raised in the Banita Hotel, McKinney graduated from Nacogdoches High School and attended SFA. He later worked for his brother in the construction business where he traveled extensively, often staying in hotels.
McKinney concluded Nacogdoches needed a first-class hotel to attract and cater to vacationers who came to see the city’s historic sites and to provide a place for executives from the lumber, gas and oil industries to stay while on business trips.
In 1952, McKinney shared his idea with community leaders, who agreed. The group presented its proposal to the Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce. Chamber board members approved the venture June 16, 1952, and the hotel officially opened April 1, 1955.
Whether it was hosting banquets, conventions, executives, family reunions or vacationers, the hotel was always bustling with activity. Richard remembers staying at the hotel as a child and worrying how Santa would find and leave him presents without a chimney to climb down.
Later, Richard lived on the hotel’s sixth floor while building a home in Nacogdoches. Bud would sometimes stay at the hotel with his dad and recalls running around the lobby staircase, exploring the hotel, and attending banquets and festivals.
After 58 years in business, the hotel’s heyday came to an end in 2013.
“Just after the hotel closed, a friend told me he was scheduled to be married there,” Bud said. “He joked that my father and I should purchase the building and work to reopen it.”
While Bud first laughed off his friend’s remark, he now sees the irony in it.
“When dad talked to me about buying the hotel, I asked if he thought he would make money,” Bud recalled. “Dad said he wanted to do this for Nacogdoches. He knew it was important to the community, and he wanted to bring more economic development into the area.”
Richard admits financial profits were not a priority when considering purchasing the hotel. Instead, giving back to the community and treasuring the nostalgic building were the deciding factors.
“Buying and renovating the hotel has been a challenge and new adventure for my family that has been stressful and rewarding,” Richard said. “Nacogdoches and the hotel both hold a special place in my life, and I’m happy to bring this landmark back to life for the community.”
In September 2015, Richard purchased the hotel for $2 million and began a multimillion-dollar renovation, which Bud describes as “a labor of love."
“My dad did this from the heart, so it has a lot of promise and opportunity for success,” Bud said. “That was one reason I moved back to Nacogdoches from New Braunfels — I wanted to be a part of something.”
Dr. Chay Runnels, SFA hospitality administration program coordinator and graduate program co-coordinator, taught Bud when he was a hospitality student at SFA and agrees the hotel will help fuel economic growth.
“The Fredonia Hotel will once again be among the crown-jewel hotels in Texas,” Runnels said. “People traveling to visit Texas’ oldest town will want to stay in the hotel and experience Nacogdoches in a new way.”
Haven’t Put On Bandages
A historical restoration is no easy task, as there are many restrictions and regulations in effect to preserve the structure’s historical aspects. Contractors were prohibited from changing the building’s exterior, including the windows. However, the DeWitts were allowed to install a new sign on the building’s front, which boldly displays the hotel’s name.
While the hotel may look much the same on the outside, the interior showcases a completely new look. Walking into the lobby, the hotel is almost unrecognizable with futuristic lighting and a mixture of 1950s seating and midcentury modern decor.
A design team, led by Richard and his wife, Barbara, remodeled the hotel to look simultaneously historic and contemporary. The custom design merges 1950s-retro character with modern design and sophistication.
“The design team knocked it out of the park,” Bud said. “The furniture and amenities are not what you’d find in most 109-room hotels. Our decor is akin to what you would see in places like the Four Seasons and The Ritz-Carlton.”
A new gift shop showcases a variety of novelty items, such as bowls carved from a catalpa tree that once stood by the hotel’s duck pond. The Nine Flags Bar also houses wooden tabletops made from a pecan tree that grew on the hotel’s property.
As the hotel’s renewal progressed, everything from the plumbing and electrical work to the towels has been replaced.
“We haven’t put on bandages or tape on the building and fixtures,” Bud said. “We’ve done everything we can to ensure the hotel is here for a long time.”
Memories Will Continue
This summer, the hotel hosted its much-anticipated grand opening.
“Reopening the hotel was truly a team effort. So many people have poured their hearts into this project,” Bud said. “It makes me happy that memories will continue to be made here for future generations.”
The DeWitts have reached out to their Lumberjack family to help staff the hotel. Along with Bud, several SFA alumni and current students work there.
“SFA’s hospitality administration program is thrilled to have alumni running the hotel, and we are excited about sending our students to learn from Nacogdoches’ best,” Runnels said.
“It’s exciting that we have such a close tie to the hotel with the DeWitt family. We are looking forward to a long partnership.”
The Fredonia Hotel has a full-service concierge, convention center, banquet facilities, and fitness and business centers. Dining options include the Republic Steakhouse, a fine-dining chophouse; 1st City Café, a casual dining experience with farm-to-table Southern cuisine; and the iconic Nine Flags Bar. A special roast from local coffeehouse Java Jacks is served, and outside, visitors can enjoy a new pool with a video screen, cabanas and a fire pit.
Behind the front desk, a giant vintage photograph pays homage to the building’s history and welcomes guests to check in and check out the “restored, renewed, remarkable” Fredonia Hotel.