The Old Inn is said to have been built about 1790 by General John Campbell of Strachur with money earned when he was commander-in-chief of the British Army in North America. The Statistical Account, written in the 1790s, describes it, along with other buildings in Strachur, as having a “new, neat and finished look”, which is rather ambiguous. The Account also describes it as “an excellent inn”. We certainly know that it was there in 1791, thanks to Alastair J. Durie’s book “Travels in Scotland, 1788 – 1881”. The book includes extracts from the diary of a young Glasgow businessman, Adam Bald, who enjoyed travelling around the countryside. In July 1791 he and two friends arrived at the inn in Strachur at about 10 in the evening. He describes it as “Mr Nelson’s Inn, Strachur, a two storrie slated house, which we did not expect to find amongst these regions of hovels”. After drinking tea and punch they settled down for the night. The eldest was given first choice of room, but the other two were wakened by him in the early morning when he said he had been unable to sleep for the cold. When they went to look at his room …. “to our astonishment, found they were building an addition to their house, which was neither plastered nor windowed, and to keep out the external air was hung all around with carpet” which they had taken for tapestry the night before.
The building shows several signs of alteration over the years, including an angle cut away in 1804 when the road was widened.
After Mr. Nelson, the first Innkeeper we know of was John McKenzie. In 1817 he married Mary Tiviotdale. John was Servant to Colin Campbell Esq. Of Strachur, at Halfton, Dunoon, and Mary was a servant at Halfton also.
1818 John is a Footman at Halfton when daughter Letitia Catharine is born and also at Halfton when Jane is born in 1820.
In 1822, daughter Elizabeth is born and John has moved to be Servant at Ardgartan House where The Campbells of Strachur live.
By 1830 John is Innkeeper at Strachur Inn where his son John is born.
John McKenzie died in 1838 and his gravestone was “erected by John Campbell Esq. Of this place as a mark of esteem for his past services to my Late Father Major Colin Campbell.”
Mrs Mary McKenzie continued to run the hotel as shown in 1841 and 1851 census records.
Their daughter, Letitia, married a surgeon, Duncan McCall living in Oban. In 1851 Letitia is living in Greenock with her son, Duncan 4 yrs, her occupation is Druggist. Her two other children are living with her mother at Strachur Inn, Mary 9yrs and John 7yrs.
By 1861 Census Letitia is running Strachur Inn, her mother died later that year. Letitia is in the papers in 1863 as being Bankrupt.
The next innkeeper was John Campbell, who was born in Glasgow about 1820. (Not to be confused with the estate owner) He followed his father Duncan as a coachman at St Catherines, appearing in the census in that capacity in 1841 and 1851. He married Ann McCallum in 1843. We are indebted to the book “Return to Loch Fyne” by Eoin McArthur for the information that in 1856 he was coachman on a connection between St Catherines and Lochgoilhead. He entertained his passengers with stories of the famous people he had met, and raised funds for the building of a school at Poll. In 1861, John was Innkeeper at St Catherines. There is an advert for a Shootings Let at Glenshellish in 1867 where interested parties are to apply to John Campbell Innkeeper, Strachur. John died in 1873 and was succeeded by his wife Ann. There is a mention in the Oban Times in 1879 of the long established Hotel at Clachan, well administered by Mrs Campbell, widow of the late celebrated John Campbell. This was the same year in which the Creggans Hotel was built. The opening of the Creggans led to the demise of the Old Inn in the Clachan. In 1886 it was refused license, but there was some continuity in that John and Ann’s son Donald became Hotel Keeper at the Creggans in 1892
The following are some documents from an account book showing what was due by John Campbell Esq. for transport or staying at the Inn, at times deducted from the rent due to him. This was during the time of Mary McKenzie and her daughter Letitia. We have several more documents similar in our files.