OXFORD — The iconic Robert Morris Inn is on the market, promising its new owners a business steeped in history and charm.
Sitting at the confluence of the Choptank and Tred Avon rivers, the two-story structure has been operating as a business for nearly 350 years, making it the oldest Inn in America.
The Inn, located at the corner of Morris Street and Strand, adjacent to the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry, was originally founded in 1684 by Robert Morris, Sr, father of Revolutionary War financier Robert Morris, Jr. The Inn was instrumental Oxford’s growth and prosperity.
The property has retained much of its original character, while the expansions over the years are indicative of the time periods in which they were added. An Elizabethan staircase leads to the guest rooms; handmade nails and 14-inch beams hold up white oak flooring upstairs, while patrons walk on Vermont slate in the Inn’s dining room.
Ross Benincasa, a broker for SVN | Miller, said his firm will market the Robert Morris Inn aggressively in New England and along the Atlantic Coast, mainly in large cities such as New York, Washington, DC and Philadelphia.
“There is a market for properties like the Robert Morris Inn,” he said, adding the specialty real estate market ebbed and flowed during the pandemic, but is coming back.
Benincasea said a major selling point of the Inn is Oxford, where it is a landmark. The Inn is an example of the history captured in Oxford’s downtown facades, he aid.
The ideal next owners would have deep pockets. “The next stewards hopefully will come in and inject money into the property,” he said.
The current owners, Ian Fleming and Mark Salter, agreed. The two said they’ve made major improvements to the Inn, but more rooms could be added, especially along the Strand side overlooking the Tred Avon River.
“Some improvements are beyond our pockets,” said Fleming, adding “I’m very happy with what we’ve done here.”
The owners said historic attributes of the Robert Morris Inn have served the proprietors well over the years, as the property nears two centuries of overnight accommodations. Year-over-year, the Inn has seen new and returning visitors endear themselves to the property and the historic, quaint nature of the town.
“My passion is converting boutique, genteel inns and hotels into thriving active and exciting businesses,” Fleming said. “Over the past eleven years we have achieved this. The hospitality business is so tactile—I really enjoy the opportunity to interact with our team and customers every day.”
Fleming and Salter have owned the Inn for 11 years and made many improvements, both structural and experiential. The two revitalized the indoor and outdoor spaces, added wine dinners, cooking demonstration and a calendar filled with other event, helping the Robert Morris Inn to become a destination.
“I have loved every moment of the past eleven years, driving to the Inn each day through stunning Talbot County countryside,” Salter said. “Working daily with my team for our loyal customers has been a great joy, as has the relationships I have built with many local watermen and farmers.”
However, after more than a decade of seven day weeks, both feel it is the right time to pass the Inn on to someone that can expand its assets while protecting the property’s charm and history.
Ian wants to spend more time with family in the U.S. and Scotland, where he also owns a hotel. While Ian also want to focus on family in the U.S. the United Kingdom and Australia.
“It’s like being a prize fighter,” said Salter. “When you win the world title, it’s time to retire. If you return to the ring and continue to fight until you’re 70 and lose, nobody remembers who you are.”
Fleming agreed, said it’s time to start letting go when knees and backs begin to hurt daily. “Plus, my new grandchild wants to see more of her granddad,” said Fleming, who said the two have been working in the hospitality industry for more than 45 years.
Benincasa said as the Oxford continues its own business and tourism revitalization, the time is ripe for redevelopment of the Robert Morris property. The right should be a visionary who is well-situated to take advantage of growing interest in the county and the opportunities that the currently underutilized water views offer.
“Thus, an historically sensitive reimagining of the Morris and Strand corner, with possibilities including residential, short-term accommodations, dining, or a hybrid model, make this one of the most unique hospitality offerings in the country, let alone in the Mid-Atlantic,” he said in a statement.
The Robert Morris Inn and Oxford are steeped in history, a big draw from some buyers.
Officially founded in 1683, Oxford is one of the oldest towns in Maryland and served as the only port of entry to the Eastern Shore. This designation led to steady growth and prosperity through the American Revolution, enjoying early prominence as a shipping center surrounded by tobacco plantations.
In 1710, Robert Morris built a home yards from the water. According to the Inn’s website, many years after the senior Robert Morris’s death the house was eventually for use as a hotel or inn and is referred to in sources as River View House and Riverview Hotel. The wealthy Goldsborough family lived in the house during first half of the 19th century. In April of 1831 records indicate the property passed to Charles Willis; who in turn sold the property to William H. Groome November 1839. Groome owned the Inn for 24 years, along with a Elizabeth Kennard. The relationship between Groome and Kennard is known.
They sold the Inn to Samuel Pentz in March 1863. Consequently, the Inn passed through the hands of William Pentz, and R.H. Chamberlain to Albert K. Robins. Mr Robins changed the name to the Robins Hotel, added much of the interior fabric and the entire exterior frame, which remains intact today. This major alteration which removed a substantial portion of the original structure and encased the remaining section in a Second Empire influenced cloak was made about the mid to late 1870s, according to the website.
In 1962, during the redecoration of the White House, Jacqueline Kennedy found the original wallpaper of this design in an historic home in western Maryland, had the paper removed and placed on the walls of the White House reception room, the website reads.
The Inn has been enlarged several times since its first use as a private home.
Meanwhile, while the tobacco industry waned, other trades filled in the gaps in the 19th and 20th centuries, including the oyster market, fisheries, and the connected canneries Oxford. Still a water-driven town, Oxford is enjoying a steady resurgence in the 21st century based on tourism and leisure activities, while the town itself is anchored by the forethought and investment provided centuries before, none more important than that made by Robert Morris.
“The Robert Morris Inn is an iconic fixture in Oxford,” Benincasa’s statement continued. “The property has been influential to our community for generations, and we are excited to match the Inn with the right visionary to continue its relevance for generations to come.”