HILLSBOROUGH — Anne Crawford and her husband, Chick, used the 1750s in marketing the Colonial Inn, but it was their proprietorship in the 1950s that made it famous.
In 1952, the Crawfords bought a restaurant the seller called a "financial loss" that he had kept open as a "service to the town of Hillsboro." They turned it into a tourist attraction that helped Hillsborough become a destination for small-town charm.
Before the annual Hog Day, the Blue Bayou blues club or Churton Street's fine restaurants drew visitors to Hillsborough, dozens a day came to dine at the Colonial Inn. While the inn is deteriorating, the visitors keep coming.
Anne Crawford died Sunday, only weeks shy of her 96th birthday.
With the Crawfords running it from 1952 to 1969, "the inn became known for its restaurant, ... visited by thousands of tourists over the years," wrote Cathleen Turner, former executive director of the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough.
The Crawfords added a large dining room and expanded the kitchen.
In its heyday, the old tavern was where travelers could stop for a taste of Southern hospitality and a family-style meal. Favorites were fried chicken, baked sugar-cured ham with raisin sauce, roast beef, Eastern North Carolina barbecue, hot rolls or biscuits, and heaping bowls of home-style vegetables.
In 1968, Crawford told The News & Observer that the inn served 100 meals a day, quipping that Duke Medical Center's famously bland Rice Diet drove "most of the notables to the Colonial Inn."
A year later, they sold the inn to James and Maxine Freeland, who added a banquet hall that would host many wedding receptions.
"Anne put the Colonial Inn and the quaint town of historic Hillsborough back on the map of the South," her grandchildren wrote in an obituary this week.
Though closed and crumbling since 2001, the inn was once "one of the cornerstones of the town's tourism economy," Turner wrote.
Crawford's daughter-in-law, Nancy Crawford, said Anne was the "heart and soul of the Colonial Inn" even though Anne claimed she couldn't cook.
"She was the out-front person," said Nancy Crawford.
The Crawfords' only son, Charles III, now deceased, shoveled coal and churned ice cream after they bought the inn when he was 9 years old.
"We all hate to see it being in the condition that it's in," his widow said.
This isn't the first time the inn has fallen into disrepair. The community lauded Col. Paul A. Henderson for buying it in 1946, renovating it and adding the high-end, fine-dining restaurant, according to Turner. The restaurant was not successful until the Crawfords bought it six years later.
"They just had a wonderful restaurant there," Nancy Crawford said.
A memorial service for Anne Crawford is scheduled 11 a.m. Friday at Hillsborough United Methodist Church.
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