The new owner of The Inn at St. John, which was built in 1897, believes that the area near Portland’s fashionable West End and Maine Medical Center is poised for an upswing.  Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Bill Simpson said he’s long wanted to buy The Inn at St. John, a historic hotel in an odd location.

It’s not in the trendy Old Port or near the airport. Instead, it’s tucked into a small block bounded by Congress, St. John and Valley streets in a Portland neighborhood dotted by houses, small apartment buildings, a few offices and an aging strip mall. But it also sits at a gateway to the city’s downtown and next to the fashionable West End. And Simpson thinks it’s a neighborhood poised for change.

A guest room at the Inn at St. John has 39 rooms of varying layouts and sizes ranging from luxury accommodations to budget rooms with shared bathrooms in the hallway. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Simpson, who owns Class Acts Property Management in Portland, said he’s made his interest known to former owner Paul Hood over the years and was surprised to hear late last fall that Hood might be ready to retire and sell.

“He checked in with me and I was eager to buy it,” Simpson said. The $6.5 million deal closed about a week ago.

The inn is an oddity in a world of corporate hotel chains offering cookie-cutter rooms. It has 39 rooms of different sizes and layouts, including traditional and luxury rooms with attached bathrooms and budget rooms with bathrooms in the hallways.  There’s no elevator for patrons to get to their rooms on the top floors of the four-story building.

It was built in 1897 when the neighborhood was a destination and a center of activity in Portland. Designed as a railroad hotel, it offered rooms to travelers who came by train to the city’s Union Station, which stood about a block away until it was torn down in 1961 after passenger trains stopped running.


Manager Terry Morrison said the inn is European style, meaning it offers a bit more of a homey atmosphere to its guests who embrace its eccentricities, like rooms with shared bathrooms down the hall, harkening back to a different era of travel.

Morrison said guests like the quirks of the 125-year-old inn, including the somewhat narrow staircase to the top floors. He said people stay there because “they feel like they’re home” – that is, if your home has more than three dozen bedrooms and is filled with antiques.

The Inn at St. John, known as Hotel Victoria in 1941, was designed as a railroad hotel, offering rooms to travelers who came by train to the city’s Union Station, which stood about a block away until it was torn down in 1961. Photo courtesy of Portland Public Library Special Collections and Archives

Operators of the Inn at St. John have claimed it’s the oldest hotel still in operation in Portland, but Simpson said he plans to do some research to verify that claim.

He said he doesn’t have any grand plans to change the inn immediately, although a few years down the road, he may enlarge it. Simpson also said he thinks it might be time to make sure that every room has its own bathroom to adapt to 21st-century sensibilities. He may also add an elevator to make it easier for guests to get to the top floors.

“I think that would be conducive to more customers,” Simpson said.

The inn’s neighborhood is in the midst of a transition, with the expansion of Maine Medical Center creeping closer with a high-rise building just a block-and-a-half or so from the inn.


Simpson said the hospital expansion will probably be good for his business as a spot for visiting doctors and nurses to stay within walking distance of the new facility.

“When the hospital is done in its latest incarnation, it will put us in great position for servicing the hospital,” he said.

Morrison noted that the old Greyhound bus station across the street from the inn has closed and that the strip mall where the train station used to be is in need of fixing up, but he thinks the neighborhood is on a bit of an upswing.

The inn also plans to host a neighboring business in an adjacent building that it owns. The owners of the Wharf Street “Bar of Chocolate” cocktail bar plan to soon open “Bread and Olive,” another spot for drinks and snacks and the expectation is that the inn’s guests will make up a substantial portion of the clientele.

Simpson said that now that he finally has the inn after years of coveting it, he will lavish it with attention. He said that he’s sold off most of the apartment buildings he once owned so he can focus his attention on the inn and finalize plans he has for changes to the hotel.

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