By Randy Bell
A piece of Clinton history is still waiting for a new identity. Tim Parkman envisioned opening a restaurant called Chilton’s in Olde Towne last year, but the work to restore the 150-year-old property has taken longer than expected.
“The first objective was to save the buildings,” Parkman says. “We’ve done that.”
When the project began a couple of years ago, the roof of the old Chilton’s store at the northeast corner of Leake and Jefferson streets was falling in. The building Parkman and his wife, Alicia, own next door on West Leake – connected to Chilton’s by a brick archway – was in bad shape, too. But using a careful and historically sensitive approach, the two buildings have been brought back from the brink, and the final renovation touches are now being added. The floors are being finished and plumbing fixtures installed. And although it’s not a restaurant, Chilton’s has already welcomed its first guests at a recent event catered by 303 Jefferson, another of Parkman’s Olde Towne properties.
Parkman said, at the moment, Chilton’s identity is uncertain.
“Really, what we need to do is sit back and study what is the most feasible and best use of this property,” Parkman says. “It is a precious piece of property, and we want to use it the best way we can.”
His original vision was a barbeque restaurant with a sports bar feel, featuring entertainment and a speakeasy-type tavern located downstairs.
“My concept of Chilton’s may not fit the market right now,” said Parkman. “And, while that’s what I’d like to see, we’re not going to do it if it doesn’t make sense.”
Continuing to use the property as an event venue – at least temporarily – is a possibility. Parkman says 303 Jefferson, which he also owns, having restored the property that was labeled on city plats as a livery stable in 1829, occasionally gets requests to rent out the entire restaurant.
“We’re reluctant to do that, because it’ll disrupt the [regular] patrons who come in, and we don’t want to give our customers a bad experience.”
But he says they would like to accommodate those who need space for an event.
“So, this [Chilton’s] may be a venue that would allow 303 to capture more of that business, while we figure out what is the best use long-term.”
Parkman says there are several non-restaurant options.
“We could segment it into, perhaps, a deli and a bookstore/library, both upstairs, and then have another revenue component, which would be the speakeasy, downstairs.”
Main Street Clinton Director Tara Lytal says she is thrilled that Parkman felt moved to invest in the restoration of the properties.
“For many, many years, Clintonians watched this historic property be allowed to deteriorate under its previous ownership to the point that, not only was it uninhabitable and unusable, but we were in danger of losing it altogether,” said Lytal.
“In a small downtown, every property is important, and the Olde Towne area is a vital part of the character of our community,” she continued. “The Parkmans have played a huge role in preserving and enhancing our city’s character with their painstaking and careful restoration of these buildings.”
While, at this point, there’s no way to predict whether the Chilton’s name would survive as part of a future business operating in the footprint of the old store, as Parkman says he might find a partner with different ideas about branding, Lytal says the important thing is that the historic property, whatever it winds up being called, is secure.
“We as a community should be very grateful to the Parkmans for their massive investments in Olde Towne, not just in this property, but in many others, as well. Even when restoration efforts hit a snag – such as when it was discovered that the 303 Jefferson property had no foundation and was going to require extensive work to complete – the Parkmans have remained committed to the historical preservation of the properties in Olde Towne,” said Lytal. “Their love for this community has set us up to be able to enjoy the Olde Towne area and appreciate its history for generations to come.”
“It’s preserved now,” Parkman says, of the Chilton’s property. “And, hopefully, it’ll be here for another one hundred fifty years.”