At the time that it was built, 1890, the Brandon Hotel was in Basic City, not yet a part of Waynesboro. It opened on Thanksgiving Day to a grand feast and a brass band from Charlottesville. Two hundred people were invited and four hundred showed up. It was the showcase in the valley with up-to-date amenities like hot and cold running water, a radiator in every room, electricity and gas lighting.
So elegantly appointed, pleasing of staff and catering to the wealthy that Criswell Dabney Langhorne scheduled the hotel for the wedding of his daughter, Phyllis, to Reginald Brooks of New York.
The Langhornes lived at Mirador, a lavish mansion near Greenwood in Albemarle County. After Mr. Langhorne lost his fortune during the Civil War, he found new wealth in tobacco and the railroads. Grand places such as the Homestead and Greenbriar were snubbed for this huge event. In 1901 it was the biggest affair ever held in the valley.
The day after the wedding, which was held on November 14, 1901, the New York Times ran an article in the newspaper: Special train cars were hired and transported guests from Boston, New York and Richmond. There were six bridal attendants and 17 groomsmen, all Harvard classmates of Mr. Brooks. Among the hundreds of guests were Mr. and Mrs. John Jacob Astor, Mr. and Mrs. Stanford White, Mr. and Mrs. George Peabody, Gen. and Mrs. Fitz Hugh Lee and Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Harriman. Gifts for the bride and groom were sent by Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Macray, Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt and Payne Whitney. Mr. Langhorne reserved the entire hotel for the three days of the wedding and party.
Mr. Langhorne, after recovering his wealth, was generous to his daughters. In their teens, they were sent to New York City for finishing school and introduction to society as “Belles.” Beautiful and talented, they attracted the attention of many suitors. One of Phyllis’ sisters, Irene, married illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, and she was his model for his “Gibson Girl” which took the country by storm. Another sister, Nancy, became Lady Astor and the first woman to be elected to the British Parliament. Phyllis was an avid and accomplished equestrian, winning many ribbons, medals and the hearts of her countrymen.
Reginald Brooks was the son of Henry Mortimer Brooks of New York and Newport, Rhode Island, a multi-millionaire in the textile industry. His mother, Josephine, was an heiress from the Higgins Carpet Company. It must have been an interesting time for both the citizens of Basic City to see such wealth and the millionaires to come to the “country.”
Unfortunately, the marriage did not last and ended in divorce. In 1917, Phyllis married British Economic Scholar Bob Brand, known as “The Wisest Man of the Empire” for his vast knowledge.
The Panic of 1893 changed many things and the opulence of the millionaires. By 1909 the Brandon Hotel was no longer the place for “conspicuous consumption.” In 1913 the building became a school called the Brandon Institute. That was sold in 1956 to become a junior college called Fairfax Hall. Female students from near and far availed themselves of scholarship, horsemanship and aquatics. The alumnae were from nearly every state and from 31 foreign countries. It closed in 1975 and then was leased to the Virginia Department of Corrections. It closed in 1993.
The building holds many memories and secrets and stands as proudly on the grounds as it did on its opening day in 1890. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Fairfax Hall was completely restored in 2001 and today houses 54 apartments of affordable housing. The former ballroom is used for receptions, parties and other events.