New Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center will pay tribute to nature, history

BLACKSBURG, Va., Jan. 13, 2005 – -- When The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center opens its doors early this summer, the facility's restaurant, private dining rooms, lounge, and conference rooms will bear names that pay tribute to Virginia Tech's history or that recognize local geology and landmarks.

The Inn's elegant restaurant, Preston's, will memorialize a distinguished 19th century native of Montgomery County, Col. William Ballard Preston, who lent his name to the school that preceded the university.

Preston was born in 1805 at Smithfield, a plantation home constructed by his ancestors in the 18th century, and was the last member of the Preston family to live there. He became a prosecuting attorney in Montgomery County and served in the Virginia General Assembly, first as a delegate and then as a senator. Later, President Zachary Taylor appointed him secretary of the Navy, a post he held from 1849-1850.

Preston was a member of the 1861 Virginia Constitutional Convention, where he opposed secession. Despite his anti-secessionist views, he served as a senator in the Confederate Congress from July 1861 until his death in November 1862.

Eleven years before Preston's death, local Methodists had founded a school in Blacksburg for boys, which they named the Olin and Preston Institute after Preston and a local Methodist minister, Stephen Olin. After the Civil War, the names were switched and the school was re-chartered as the Preston and Olin Institute. In 1872, the school was reorganized and became a public land-grant school, the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, today known as Virginia Tech.

The two private dining rooms adjacent to the restaurant also honor university history and tradition. The 1872 Salon commemorates Virginia Tech's 1872 founding as a land-grant college, while the Old Guard — the only name retained from the Donaldson Brown Hotel and Conference Center — pays tribute to senior alumni who become members of the Old Guard upon the 50th anniversary of their graduation.

The Continental Divide lounge, next to Preston's, recalls Blacksburg's location on the Eastern Continental Divide — the boundary line between springs and streams that ultimately flow into the Gulf of Mexico and those that flow into the Atlantic Ocean.

The names selected for conference rooms in the Skelton Conference Center refer to local landmarks, both natural and man-made. Solitude, the largest conference room, takes its name from the oldest building on campus. First built as a log cabin in 1801, Solitude was developed into a plantation house and ultimately became the home of two Virginia governors. Because of its rich historical and architectural heritage, Solitude was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and named a Virginia Historic Landmark in 1989.

Another conference room will be named for The Huckleberry, the railroad train that brought generations of students to the Huckleberry Station in Blacksburg. The train also carried students from Blacksburg to out-of-town football games until the automobile displaced railroads as primary transportation. A six-mile section of the abandoned Huckleberry rail line has been converted into the Huckleberry Trail, a popular walking and bicycle path that runs from Blacksburg to New River Valley Mall in Christiansburg. Other conference room names will be Smithfield; Drillfield; Duck Pond; Cascades; Draper's Meadow; Ellett Valley; and New River.