How We Began; Part 3-Coming Home

Let’s pick up where we left off.

If you recall, our last installment had us calling the Historic Preservation Officer in Gainesville because the house we wanted, the one that River Phoenix’s girlfriend lived in, fell through.  We already had our minds and hearts set on moving to Gainesville. Luckily Thad Crowe, the Preservation Officer had a house in mind.  It had been taken off the market but he promised he would make some calls.

Thad set up a meeting for us to look at the Baird Mansion (its historic name) on Easter Sunday.  We dragged Joe’s mom and dad with us hoping they would be the voice of reason.  Jane Myer, the realtor met us at the house.  As we drove up, Joe said “this is the one” and I said “are you out of your mind”.

Joe and his parents saw what this mess could be-1174x794

Joe and his parents saw what this mess could be.

We were obviously looking at two different houses.  Joe saw this stately three story Victorian with a central tower.  I saw a house with a couch on the roof of the porch, screens hanging off the windows and 1/3 of the windows.  Turns out, the inside was not much better.  As soon as we walked in the back door there was a lovely pile of something the dog left.  It appeared the floor had not been swept in years and there was spaghetti stuck to the walls.  As Joe’s mom and I were walking around she notices a container of starter plants on the window seat.  She said “these kids can’t be all bad.  Look they’re growing tomatoes”.  As I took a closer look I realized they were, well, not tomatoes.  Was this day going to get any worse? 

After we saw almost the whole house I saw THAT look in Joe’s eyes and knew….it was over.  I was doomed to buy this house.  All I had was Joe’s mom and dad and the fact that they were reasonable people.

Oh no, they had that same look.

Even Jane, the realtor was swept up in the frenzy.

Jane explained that the owners, Jean and Terry had purchased the house 5 years earlier with the idea of renovating it into apartments.  Their contractor, Mike, was a young guy who Jean and Terry fell in love with.  They kept buying houses for him to restore.  They watched him graduate from college, fall in love, get married and have 2 little babies.  Shortly after he began working on the Baird Mansion he developed melanoma and died.  Jean and Terry were devastated and basically walked away from the house.

Their son was about to enter the University of Florida so they told him he could move into the house and take on roommates.  Their only house rule was not to paint the woodwork.  Their son had graduated by the time we entered and new boys had moved in.  They were semi college students.  Taking just enough classes to get mom and dad to pay for them to live but not really taking enough classes to ever get a degree.  We nick named them “Granola”.  There was one room in the house that we could not get into.  Phillip kept 3 dead bolts on his bedroom door and we could not get him to open the door.  The owners sat on the stairs for hours waiting for Phillip to come out of his room.  When he did, they called their carpenter who took the door off the hinges and then they called us and we drove up from Orlando to look at the room.

A few years after we had restored the house, Phillip came back and brought his parents.  He wanted to show them where he lived for 3 years.  When he came down from showing his parents around he asked us how we were able to put the fireplace in his old bedroom.  Joe explained that the fireplace was original to the house.  Phillip said that he had lived in that room for 3 years and there was not a fireplace in the room when he lived there.  Do you remember the pot plants that Joe’s mom and I found?  Sounds like Phillip was sampling a bit of his product.

Phillip wasn't really interested in the historic aspects of the room during his time living there-3264x2448


We had no idea what to offer for the price of the house.  The realtor made it very easy.  It seems the owners just wanted out of the house.  They went to their lawyer and asked him to figure out a sales price so they could walk away from closing with nothing.  They ended up selling the house to us for $35,000 less than what they purchased it for 5 years earlier.

Joe and I decided we would both quit our jobs.  Joe figured he would be able to find a job in Gainesville and I was going to concentrate on restoring the house.   When Joe tried to quit his job the owner of the company said that he had been thinking of opening a branch office.  Gainesville was not his first choice but he did not want to lose Joe as an employee.   So while we were tearing down walls and stripping woodwork, Joe was also opening a branch office.

When we first closed on the house, we did not really think through the logistics of where we would live.  Jane, our realtor refused to allow us to move into the house in the shape it was in; plus the Granola boys were very slow at moving out and we didn’t really want them as roommates.  She was leaving on vacation and invited us to live in her house for 3 weeks while we worked on getting the house empty.

Jane, our realtor, was one of many angels who made this possible-1186x797

Jane, our realtor, was one of many angels who made this possible.

Thad, the Preservation Officer, led us to the Baird Mansion-1053x794

Thad, the Preservation Officer, led us to the Baird Mansion.

At the same time we were visiting banks trying to get some financing.  We went to 5 banks in town and they all turned us down.  One bank agreed to loan us the money we needed but only if we tore the house down.  Another told us they would loan us the money but not if we were going to turn the house into a “boarding house”.  Frustration did not even cover our feelings.  We called the City and they referred us to the Economic Development Officer, David.  David was very sympathetic to our issues with the banks and discovered that the City of Gainesville was given Grant money for certain projects.  Until the projects started, the money just sat in the bank.  He somehow, magically got the City to agree to loan us the money until the project was due to start. We could not interfere with the project the money was granted for. Also, someone out there in finance world needed to agree to hold the permanent financing and pay off the construction loan. Sounds good right? Not so much. The project the money was slated for was due to begin construction in 120 days. That means we had 4 short months to completely gut 5,400 square feet of 100 + year old house, hair plaster, rewire, add a fire sprinkler system, install 6 bathrooms, sand & refinish floors and strip blackened woodwork. To say espresso and I became besties is an understatement.

But this is only the beginning…


How We Began; Part 2-Spreading Our Wings

So after 2 weeks of sleeping on an AERO bed, Joe decided we needed to start looking for a house that we could operate a ligament Bed and Breakfast out of. At this point we still naïvely assumed we would continue working our jobs and somehow work the guests into the mix. I was a real estate paralegal and Joe was working for an engineering company.

There was a historic house that had been for sale for at least 3 years and it was still in our downtown historic neighborhood. We made an appointment with a realtor to see the property. At that time Orlando had restrictions on how many square feet you could operate as a business in your home. We figured we would be able to get 3 guest rooms with what the codes allowed but felt sure that at some point the restrictions would relax and we could add at least 2 more rooms. We made an offer and waited by the phone as the realtor presented our contract. She called us at 6:30PM and told us that 30 minutes earlier someone else had made an offer and it was accepted. Now remember this house had been on the market for 3 years. This happened to us at least 4 other times on our search. We would make an offer and for one reason or another someone always beat us to the finish line. It became laughable.


Every weekend we drove around looking for suitable houses. Our search kept getting farther from our desired neighborhood but we still held on to the hope of being able to continue working. I think we still believed the Bed and Breakfast was more of a hobby than a vocation. Make sure you write your dreams in pencil…

We found a house in Claremont and it really was perfect. It was completely original with a large piece of land surrounding the house, basically a blank slate. As we were walking through the house I was envisioning beautiful weddings with the bride coming down the grand staircase and the house lit with candles and soft music playing.   Then we walked into the kitchen/dining area and something happened. Joe and I looked at each other and could not get out of the house fast enough. The kitchen was outdated but other than that, there was nothing that should have made us skedaddle. When we got outside, the realtor asked us what was wrong and we both had no explanation. Side Note: In October 1991, 3 months after we had finished restoring the Magnolia Plantation and probably 2 years after we had our unexplained experience at the Claremont house, we were watching a TV show on haunted houses and Joe paused the TV long enough for me to really look at the house they were talking about. It was the house we had looked at in Claremont.   It seems John Harden was living in the house with his second wife and their newborn. He woke up and smelled smoke. He went through the kitchen and saw his truck on fire. Someone shot and killed him and his murder has never been solved.

Check out the ghost story for yourself here.

But back to the story of our search; it continued and one Sunday we found ourselves at Leonardo’s 706 in Gainesville. We picked up a paper and found a Victorian for sale in the Duck Pond neighborhood. After calling the phone number listed and leaving a message, we took a drive by the house and immediately fell in love. The owner called us back the next day and that next weekend we took another drive up to Gainesville.

Gainesville has always been important to us. Joe was just starting his senior year at The University of Florida when I moved from Cleveland to be with him. We got married in Gainesville and started our lives together so we knew the student area of town but had no idea Gainesville had so much history.

We got to the house and met with the owner. While the house still had much of its original woodwork, it had been cut up into mini apartments. I kind of liked the idea of leaving it alone so every guest would have a suite.

The B&B that almost was. River Phoenix's girlfriend had other ideas-480x360

The B&B that almost was. River Phoenix’s girlfriend had other ideas.

We met a young lady who was living at the house and she was very curious about what we were planning on doing if we bought the house. Later that night we called the owner and told him we wanted to make an offer. We were planning on offering him his asking price and the only contingency would be us selling our house in Orlando. That’s how bad we wanted this house. I worked up the contract and sent the owner his copy for his signature. Nothing…a week went by and still…nothing. Finally Joe called the owner and he apologized for not getting back to us but he decided not to accept our offer. Seems the young lady who asked us so many questions was the girlfriend of River Phoenix, the actor, and she did not want to move so he offered to buy the house from the owner.   River never bought the house but the young lady got to finish out her education living in the house that she loved.

Despite suffering another loss, we had decided by then that we really wanted to be in Gainesville so Joe called the City of Gainesville, and told them of our dream. He got transferred to the Economic Development officer, Thad, who told him of a historic house that had been for sale for a few years but was no longer on the market. He told us he would do some checking to see if it could be bought or if there were any other houses that would fit our needs.

Joe got a call the next day from Thad telling us the house could be bought and a realtor would be happy to show it to us on the following Sunday, which just happened to be Easter Sunday.

How We Began; Part 1-Moving Out

Every story has a beginning. This is ours.


After 25 years of running the Magnolia Plantation Bed and Breakfast, we have quite the repertoire of interesting stories. Some exaggerated; some that we wish were exaggerated but are unfortunately true; guest that made us laugh; guest that made us cry; guest that made us want to run down the street; the daily roller coaster ride that comes with maintaining a house over a century old—we could have our own sitcom for sure.

With new arrivals, we often will find ourselves sharing some of these tales. This inevitably leads to the question that we ourselves are still asking—why open a B&B in the first place?

We usually answer with “insanity runs in both our families”, which is true, but, as Walter Cronkrite would say, here’s the rest of the story….

In the early 1980’s Joe and I took our first non-camping vacation. I had done some research on Bed and Breakfast and while there were not near as many as there are now, it was an up and coming trend. We were taking a road trip to Maine and I found a B&B in Bar Harbor, Maine that looked interesting. I booked the Inn for 3 days and as Joe was packing the car to check out on the last day, he found me sitting in one of the Adirondack Chairs in the yard contemplating life. He recognized the look on my face and was justifiably concerned. He sat down in the chair next to mine and asked “The question”…What are you thinking about sweetheart. And so the dream began. “Joe”, I said, “I can do this. I can run an Inn, I want to run an Inn, and I need to run an Inn.” Poor guy, I bet he wished he had just waited in the car for me.

We had just bought a historic house in Orlando. It was a small 2 bedroom, 1.5 baths but it had great potential. We contacted an architect and designed an addition. Our master space was at one end of the house and the other two bedrooms were at the other end. After the renovation was completed I signed us up with a reservation service. Much like the current Vacation Rental by Owner sites, people would call a service and she would call her list of people to see who could accommodate guests. The agency took almost 60% of what I made but I was experimenting to see how we would feel with people in our home. Our first guest was AJ. He lived in New England and traveled around the country building playgrounds from used tires. Since he traveled so much and stayed for over 3 months, he was looking for something homier. He wanted to prepare his own meals since he didn’t know what his schedule was going to be. Joe and I both worked within walking distance from where we lived and would come home most nights to find AJ sitting on the couch watching the news with a cat stretched out on the couch behind his neck and the dog laying at his feet. AJ is the one who introduced us to Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. B&J is what got us through the restoration of The Magnolia Plantation.

One day Joe came home from work and found our suitcases at the front door. I had booked us out of our bedroom for 2 weeks. We had some friends who had just moved and were waiting to close on their house. It was currently empty and without furniture. We slept on an air mattress for 2 weeks. Joe, being the patient guy he is, decided that I must be serious about this B&B thing. Thus began our search for the perfect Inn to call our own.