Three Local Inns Provide Unique Experiences
By Deena C. Bouknight
We may think of staying at a bed and breakfast only when out of town – at some historic destination in another state or perhaps while in the Carolina mountains. Yet, some in Columbia are beginning to seek solace at nearby bed and breakfast inns for one-night or weekend retreats. Although there are several in and around the capitol city, three distinct inns are spotlighted here: Chesnut Cottage, Old McCaskill’s Farm, and Whispering Willows.
Pastoral Old McCaskill’s Farm
The farm-to-table philosophy is alive and well at this bed and breakfast just a few miles from the heart of Camden. Contractor for renovations and historical properties, Lee McCaskill and his farmer wife Kathy rebuilt their home in 2008 after a catastrophic fire. Yet, it was rebuilt to look like a four-over-four plantation style home that has existed on the property for 100-plus years. Various woods, architectural details, accessories, and functional items are actually old finds that have been refurbished. Few elements are shiny new and modern. A few years ago, the couple decided they wanted to share their home and opened the four rooms upstairs to the public.
School children were already taking regular tours of the farm, and their daughter, Ashley Robinson, has been serving a Friday farm-to-table, first-come-first-serve lunch with about 80 percent of selected menu items grown or raised directly on the farm.
Those who stay at Old McCaskill are assured an authentic working farm experience – but without actually getting hands dirty. Kathy will often pop up from picking vegetables in the wide garden, while Ashley is busy canning foods. Guests can rock on the second floor expansive covered porch and admire a pastoral scene dotted with sheep and sometimes lambs. There is a wine bar and mini fridge in the wide hall/sitting area that four spacious bedrooms upstairs share. Each area is a treasure trove of antiques and artifacts.
Guests can also visit the animals, or shop in the on-site store, which includes blankets woven from a portion of the wool from the McCaskill’s sheep as well as farm and/or local meats, eggs, preserves, jellies, and cheeses. Hand-made soaps are also available for purchase.
Warming in the dutch oven for guests each morning are such specialties as homemade pecan and cinnamon French toast casserole and farm raised, brown-sugar sea-salt cured, nitrate-free bacon; or, another favorite is the special quiches made from the eggs collected on the farm.
Each room is $125 nightly. Rooms are named The Horse Paddock, The Honeymoon Suite, The Colonial, and The Swamp Fox, in honor of local Revolutionary War hero, Francis Marion.
Located just off Interstate 20, Old McCaskill’s Farm is only a few miles from historic a Camden, which boasts many unique shops, restaurants, antique/consignment stores, and a first-rate independent bookseller that attracts best-selling and local authors. Plus, Camden is equestrian country with a full calendar of equestrian events and activities open to the public. Driving in the opposite direction, yet still within a few minutes of the Farm, is the upscale Mill Pond Steakhouse dining experience.
Location: 377 Cantey Lane in Rembert
Phone Number: 803-432-9537
Historic Chesnut Cottage Bed and Breakfast
Despite its location on Hampton Street, just a few blocks from Main Street in downtown Columbia, Chesnut Cottage was not burned by General William Tecumsah Sherman’s men in February 1865. Mary Boykin Chesnut, who resided in the home at that time but “escaped” just prior to the Union army’s presence in the then-Confederate state, documented her eye-witness account of the Civil War years in her extensive and vividly descriptive diary. A Diary From Dixie was first published in 1905 and has since undergone several editions. The house, which was spared the burning that destroyed homes just one block away, is steeped in history. Mary’s husband was United States Senator James Chesnut Jr., while her father, Stephen Decatur Miller, was former governor of South Carolina. James became an aid to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who gave his last speech to Columbia from the porch of their cottage in October 1864.
The cottage was built in circa 1850 and was Mary’s home off and on just toward the end of the war. Even though much of the south struggled during Reconstruction, Mary’s home was a residence until the 1960s when it was converted into offices for a physician. Diane and Gale Garrett purchased the cottage and turned it into a bed and breakfast in 1991. Diane passed in 1996, but Gale still owns the property; he remarried and assists his wife, Sherwood, on a regular basis.
More than 150 years later, the Chesnut Cottage is on the National Registry of Historic Places and still welcomes politicians as well as everyday citizens and history buffs alike. In fact, Gale says guests expect antebellum and Civil War history as part of their experience. Century-plus-old bottles and jugs found in the dirt around the property are on display as is a 19th century drawing/map of downtown Columbia. About half the guests are staycation locals, but the cottage has also drawn some from as far away as Australia, China, Europe, and South America. Plus, there are plenty of local and out-of-town regulars. Spring and fall see the most activity.
As a bed and breakfast, the cottage provides five rooms decorated in antebellum period antiques. Three are named for the historic figures that once graced the cottage’s interiors: Mary Boykin Chesnut Room, General James Chesnut Room, and President Jefferson Davis Room. The other two rooms are named the Carriage House Bridal Suite and the Carriage House Suite. Even though the home is replete with Civil War artifacts and a library, there are plenty of modern amenities to enable guests to rest comfortably. Some include luxurious linens and robes, private baths with whirlpool tubs, and ample breakfasts either in the room or in the home’s dining room in the company of other guests. There is also high speed internet access and televisions in each room. Prices for rooms range from $159 to $179.
The Chesnuts did not have any children, but children and pets are allowed at the Chesnut Cottage Bed and Breakfast “if well behaved”.
Within walking distance of the cottage, guests have access to dozens of restaurants, cooking classes at Let’s Cook Culinary Studio, distinct shops such as The Mast Farm General Store and NEST, and even the Columbia Art Museum. Plus, on Saturday mornings from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. is the increasingly popular Soda City Market on Main Street.
Says Gale, “Very few people take time to be tourists in their own town … take time to see the Capitol and area plantations.” For exercise and weather permitting, there is the popular Riverwalk and the Riverbanks Zoo.
Location: 1718 Hampton Street in Columbia
Phone Number: 803-256-1718
Serene Whispering Willows
The peace that pervades this property, just two miles off Hwy 77 at the Ridgeway exit – 29 miles outside Columbia – is evident in the natural pastures and pine groves that line the half-mile driveway to the inn. Situated on a knoll overlooking a hardwood forest where there is a winding trail along a slow-moving stream, is a relatively new home planned specifically as a place of refuge. According to Grace Prichard, who is innkeeper with her husband Bob, the comment most often given about the home is that it is “castle-like”.
The Prichards have been contemplating a sort of respite center for the entirety of their 40-year marriage. Soon after marriage, although they were living on the cliché shoestring, they received a missionary couple whom they welcomed in and proceeded to serve a completely made-from-scratch peach pie. Grace says the experience of enjoying food and fellowship in their tight, but cozy home, instilled in them a desire for ministry through hospitality. In many ways, over the years of him working as a microbiologist and her as a teacher at a Ben Lippen School, as well as raising and parenting four children, Grace and Bob ran an unofficial bed and breakfast.
Then they stayed at a real bed and breakfast in 2003 in the mountains for an anniversary weekend. The ambiance and soothing music provided a serene respite for the couple. They knew they wanted to provide the same for guests in their own bed and breakfast one day. They found 23 acres of land in Fairfield County, just a few miles from Ridgeway’s idyllic and historic main street – with the “famous” Laura’s Tea Room and a hardware store that takes visitors back 100 years as they enter. They spent many months clearing land and building what would serve as home for them, gathering place for their children and families, and rejuvenating getaway for anyone in need of rest and solitude.
Called Whispering Willows – and it is, indeed, a place of quiet and calm – there are five rooms: The Remnant, The Blessing, The Sparrow, The Refuge, and The Radiant. Or, guests can rent the whole house. A substantial made-from-scratch breakfast is served at a guest-selected time in the room, or guests can sit in the sunlit dining room or on the wide decks, weather permitting.
Grace explains why she chose Whispering Willows: “I had always loved weeping willow trees, as they seemed to be reaching out and down for all, carefully desiring to embrace those weary ones sitting under their branches. I was also mindful of the fact that God often uses a gentle whisper to touch hearts…Thus, the name Whispering Willows was born.”
For those truly desiring out-of-town serenity without having to travel far, Whispering Willows is a place of reflection and renewal, points out Grace. She explains that it is more ministry than business. The couple has to charge to maintain the property, but prices are kept low, from $75-$120, to allow most anyone to enjoy and recharge. Plus, there are no distractions, such as Wi-Fi or televisions. There is also no smoking or alcohol permitted; however, guests talk, read, enjoy a cup of tea or coffee, sleep, write, and walk the trails that meander along a stream, through woods, and along pastures.
For dinner, there are a few local spots, including Old Town Hall Restaurant and Pub and Windmill. Shops attract customers from as far away as Charlotte due to the fact that downtown Ridgeway was the site of a historic depot and is on the route of the old Charlotte highway before Interstate 77 was constructed.
Location: 2402 East Peach Road in Ridgeway
Phone Number: 803-608-3280
SIDEBAR: Where Else?
To learn more about other bed and breakfast inns in the Columbia metropolitan and surrounding areas, visit www.tripadvisor.com as well as other hospitality sites. Each is distinct regarding number of rooms, pricing, services, and ambiance. Some also offer full-house and/or grounds’ rental for special events.