Houses are personal-history treasure chests, repositories of memories. When you visit one you haven’t entered for years, those memories are easily triggered. In August, I stepped onto the porch of the house in Stanford where my Grandma Lankford and Aunt Martha lived while I was growing up, and a trove of treasured memories came flooding back. Now one of the Wilderness Road Guest Houses, the house at 103 Mill Street has undergone an enormous transformation since the days I visited as a child.
One of my favorite memory treasures is the amount of time my sisters and I spent playing on Grandma’s front porch. Then, it seemed enormous to me, covering much of the front of the house and wrapping around the left side. We played house there, held imaginary school on the steps, and spent oodles of time on the porch swing.In the process of renovating the home to become one of the Guest Houses, the large porch was removed and replaced with a more diminutive one. When I first heard this, I was a little unsettled, thinking the appearance of the house would be diminished and marred somehow. Naturally, it doesn’t look the same; instead, it looks tremendously better, since the new porch seems more proportionate to the house, no longer overwhelming it. And it still has the ever-important porch swing.
Entering the kitchen of what is now known as the Boone House sparked another of the treasures in my memory chest—that of being allowed to have a full-size bottled Coke, just for me, and not having to share with my two sisters. This was a quintessential grandmother indulgence that only such matriarchs can get away with. As a rule, my family didn’t have sugary soft drinks at home, except for some occasional Kool-Aid, Tang or Country Time lemonade. A large—or so it seemed to me—Coke was a sublimely special delight.
Other memories induced by the visit include that of Splinter, Grandma’s small, snippy dog. On one occasion, I decided to try to get into Splinter’s good graces by giving him a taste of my Milky Way bar—another of Grandma’s decadent allowances—but this tactic backfired when I was caught and then reprimanded by Grandma herself for giving the little pooch something that wasn’t good for him.
Some treasured memories are less ephemeral, such as Grandma’s collection of small porcelain and crystal shoes. These were especially intriguing, as items so precious and delicate that my sisters and I were allowed only to look, “no touching.” As I recall, this decree came from my mother. I’m not sure who inherited the shoe collection, but I have a feeling the shoes would not hold the same magical draw for me today as they did then.
A treasure I don’t actually recall, but desperately wish I did, is Linus, Grandma’s pet spider monkey. And I deeply regret this because what child wouldn’t have wanted to be able to watch—and possibly touch—a monkey? My eldest sister, Ann Carolyn, apparently was granted permission to put her hand into Linus’ cage because, as family lore has it, Linus once was sitting on her arm when he urinated. This story, of course, has never ceased to elicit giggles from my sister, Cathy, and me. After all these years, Ann Carolyn, however, remains somewhat less amused.
“The house where your grandmother lived is probably one of the most dramatically changed on the outside, not really on the inside,” says Angela Correll, who, with her husband, Jess, began purchasing and restoring older homes in downtown Stanford—a town with around 3,500 residents—in 2004.
Prior to that year, the Corrells’ home “served as a bed and breakfast of sorts for friends, family, business connections and folks in ministry who traveled through Stanford related to my husband’s business,” says Angela, an accomplished novelist, columnist and blogger. The first of what was to become the Wilderness Road Guest Houses was a dilapidated structure on Lancaster Street a couple of blocks from Main Street. “[Jess] bought it and thought we could fix it up a bit, and then we got the idea to make that our guest house.”
Jess Correll is president and chairman of First Southern Bancorp, the parent company of the Stanford-based First Southern National Bank. “We used [the house] within the company and then realized there was a demand within the community,” Angela says.
“We travel a lot and personally like something different from just a standard hotel room,” she explains. “We’re always looking for a place that’s got more character and not necessarily more luxurious, but just interesting. We were in Texas and stayed at Sayles Ranch Guesthouses in Abilene, and we just thought it was such an interesting model.
“We think of staying in bed and breakfasts around here, and that brings to mind the big Victorian house and the little granny in the kitchen making the breakfast the next day and everybody sitting around … This was so different. It was a really cool house that had been renovated, had all your linens, full kitchen, hair dryer—but you had all the privacy of just being in a home. That was nice. We went back and thought, ‘Wow, that was really interesting.’ … It got us thinking about having a group of homes that we would open to the public.”
Over the next few years, the Corrells purchased four more houses, all on Mill Street. Like the property on Lancaster Street, three of the Mill Street cottages were from the Victorian era. My grandmother’s house is of a later vintage—a 1930s Arts and Crafts design.“
All of those houses, like your grandmother’s, had wonderful people who lived in them, and when they passed away, they became rentals, and all of them deteriorated,” Angela says.
Stanford architect Garlan VanHook handled the extensive renovations of the houses. “He’s done all our projects,” says Angela, “and I love working with him. It’s great to collaborate.” Garlan and Angela, who served as interior designer for the houses, worked to maintain the historical integrity of the structures while at the same time making them 21st-century friendly. The results are striking.
“I’m not a designer at all, but I just know what I like, and with the interiors, I tried to do a couple of things,” Angela says. “I wanted them to feel warm, so I always tried to go with warm colors on the walls. And I wanted them to feel inviting and comfortable—I didn’t want something that was pretty or creative but didn’t have a good function. I wanted them nice, functional, comfortable.”
In styling the interiors, Angela wasn’t particularly interested in adhering to the décor that matched the era in which the house was built. “If you have a Victorian style, I didn’t want it to look like lace had vomited all over the place. That’s not my style,” she says. “Even though it was Victorian on the outside, I wanted to make the inside more neutral, so that anybody with any style preference could walk in and not be offended, because some bed and breakfasts I’ve gone to, you walk in and feel like you’re in Grandma’s house. That can be a good thing, and it can be a negative thing. I didn’t want it to feel like Grandma’s house at all. I wanted to juxtapose a little bit of modern against this old character.”
“She’s got good taste,” Guest House manager Candice Smith says of Angela. “It’s very inviting when you walk in. I could easily live in any of those houses any day of the week. There’s not a lot of ‘stuff’ in the houses. They’re just very streamlined and clean and neat and fresh.”
“I just wanted it to be simple,” Angela says. “I wanted lots of empty spaces on top of furniture, so people could put their things there when they’re visiting.”
Angela achieved her goals—and then some. The houses are warm and welcoming, with soft colors and simple, tasteful décor. The majority of the flooring is original to each house, as is most of the woodwork and molding, and what’s not original blends seamlessly. New bathroom and kitchen cabinetry, along with interior replacement doors, were placed in the capable, creative hands of Jamie Gibson, who distressed the wood and sometimes used crackle paint to make the items look, in her words, as if they’d “been used and loved for a long time.”
The walls of the houses sport a variety of treatments that lend a vintage feel. Beadboard, horizontal wooden paneling, and exposed brick create visual interest and texture in some rooms, and a pressed tin backsplash in one kitchen adds a homey touch. The majority of the furniture is antique, with the remainder being reproductions. While the décor is simple, it’s anything but stark, with vases and antique or reproduction lamps here and there. Most of the art that adorns the walls are original paintings—many by local artists.
Adding to the cozy, inviting ambience—while also providing entertainment for guests—are books, DVDs and games in each of the houses. There are small, delightful details, such as two extremely narrow built-in bookcases in the doorframe of an upstairs bedroom of the Boone House. Deep, built-in shelving provides a perfect space for towels and toiletry items in the bathrooms.
Angela dressed the windows of the Bishop House—the largest of the guest houses with four bedrooms and four full baths—with coordinating drapery panels and sheers, but opted for the clean lines of plantation shutters for the four Mill Street houses. Attractive and functional, the shutters, as she points out, showcase the distinctive window frames—from the delicate, white-painted trim at the Victorian-era Logan Cottage to the heavy, darkly stained wood of the Boone House.
Expense wasn’t spared, as anyone who has purchased plantation shutters can attest to. Quality is key in the houses’ décor.While Angela was averse to decorating the Victorian homes with the clutter and fussy frilliness that defines the style, she had no such reservations for utilizing an Arts and Crafts-influenced décor for my grandmother’s former home. She selected wall colors with warmer, more earthy tones and included a few Mission Style pieces of furniture, reproduction Stickley rugs, and period-influenced light fixtures. A comfy chair sits on the stairway landing accompanied by a Mission Style stained-glass lamp. VanHook designed stained-glass windows of a similar fashion for the house. The dark wood of the door and window frames remains unpainted, reflecting the Arts and Crafts movement’s penchant for a natural look.
Aside from the expected bath and bed linens, guests will find each house equipped with toiletries from Plainview Farm (goat milk-based products made for Kentucky Soaps & Such, also owned by the Corrells), hair dryers, irons and ironing boards, washers and dryers, microwaves, coffeemakers and spring water. Each kitchen is equipped with cookware, dinnerware and flatware for those who wish to cook while staying at the guest house, or visitors can take a brief stroll to the Bluebird Café (another of the Corrells’ businesses) on Main Street for breakfast or lunch.
“You have all the privacy of not being in a bed and breakfast,” Angela says. “In a bed and breakfast, you kinda have to be in the mood to sit around a table and talk to strangers, and sometimes you may be, but sometimes you just want to have that privacy.”
The houses typically are rented by the night instead of the weekly vacation house rental with which travelers are likely more familiar. Guests who have stayed at the houses since they opened to the public in 2011 include “a good mix of business associates and ministry folks for the foundation [the National Christian Foundation, of which Jess is a founding member],” Angela says. “Local churches use them. A lot of people come here because they have family in the area. They’re coming for a wedding, a family reunion, funeral.“Centre College has been great. The houses are booked for commencement for the next two years. They’ll come on family weekends. Usually on Thanksgiving, we’ll have some parents that use them. They’ll come and use the kitchen to cook a Thanksgiving dinner. And Danville’s got a lot going on, so we’re really glad to be only 10 minutes away.”
The local hospital uses the guest houses for lodging doctors who come to town on the weekends to work in the emergency room.
“We had a couple not long ago from the Moreland area [a community only a few miles from Stanford] that came to stay, who just wanted a little getaway,” Candice adds.
“We’ve had guests from other countries, some Norwegian folks that knew a family in town,” Angela says. “We’ve had guests from Ethiopia; Indian friends have been in, and South America.”
The Wilderness Road Guest Houses contribute to a revitalization of Stanford, which is the second-oldest town in Kentucky. As had happened in many small communities, Walmart and its adjacent shopping center had pulled shoppers away from Main Street. One business that retaliated was Coleman’s Drug Store, a downtown mainstay that has been owned by the Pence family for 50 years. In 1998, Alfred Harris Pence Jr., Coleman’s current owner, purchased the building next door and had both structures renovated and updated to include a gift shop and deli that feature the décor of the late 1800s, when the buildings were erected.
A few years prior, Jess Correll had given First Southern National Bank on Main Street a complete overhaul. It had undergone a renovation in the 1970s that left it with a contemporary, stark façade. Correll restored the bank to its original, late 19th century-style exterior. These renovations, along with the Wilderness Road Guest Houses, are appreciated by the locals.
“Jess is not from here; I’m not from here,” says Angela, a Danville native (Jess hails from Somerset). “There definitely could be a sense of resentment in the community, and we have never felt that. In fact, everybody’s been the opposite. Everybody’s been so encouraging. They see things happen, and they’re like, ‘Oh, we just love it.’
“Frankly, it makes you feel better about staying at it because there are times when it’s hard. It’s hard to do. It’s expensive. It’s been a huge effort, but it’s not just us. There are so many people who have been part of that team. The leaders of the bank have to be willing to do all this, and the city and the county have been huge cheerleaders. When we did the renovation of Mill Street, they did everything they could to help make that happen and bury the utilities.“
Obviously, nobody can do it alone,” Angela says of the community support. “You have to have a partnership.”
The Corrells’ Wilderness Road Guest Houses are so much more than a part of Stanford’s revitalization and pleasantly unique lodging for the town’s visitors. For people like me, who have a personal connection to one of the homes, they preserve an invaluable wealth of memories.
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Wilderness Road Guest Houses