Mother, daughter team open bed and breakfast in historic downtown
By Morgan Bryce
The Heritage House, or the W.E. Davis house to older Opelikans, is home to Opelika’s newest bed and breakfast, owned and operated by the mother-daughter team of Haley Wilder and Virginia Haley.
An audio interview from 1980 archived by the Museum of East Alabama contains historical information about the house provided by Mrs. W.C. Davis and her daughter, Chilton Varner, who conducted the one-on-one interview with her mother.
“My grandparents were William Easley Davis and Annie Mariah Cole Davis, who lived on Geneva Street in Opelika. When their son, my father, William Cole Davis was born, Mr. Brady Preston and his wife, Prussia, gave to their niece, Annie Cole Davis, a lot on the corner of Second Avenue and Chambers Street. Chambers Street was later renamed as Eighth Street,” Varner said.
The lot came with a house already on it, a picket fence surrounding it. After the Prestons passed away, the Davises had the house dismantled and embarked on constructing a new, two-story brick home.
A news clipping from a Sept. 8, 1911 issue of the “Opelika Daily News” discussed a contract between Mr. Davis and the B.E. Hudson Construction Company, which had particular construction details about the house, such as “Ashlar block stone foundations and a Spanish-tile roof.” The clipping concluded with the Davis house being hailed as “one of the prettiest, not only in this city but in any city in the state.”
The house was completed in early 1912, at a cost of $12,000, and Mr. W.C. Davis spent his entire adult life there, working as both a farmer and real-estate holder for the family. He passed away in 1965, leaving his wife alone. The house proved large, with substantial upkeep, for a single person. Mrs. Davis decided she would be happier in a smaller dwelling and decided to sell the house.
In 1971, Ruth Crook and her sister Virginia Magee purchased the property. The sisters had previously run an antique business called Odds and Ends on South Railroad Avenue, and were looking for a new location for their business, and the Davis house was the ideal place to relocate.
After repainting throughout the house, the sisters opened their antique business AS it “Heritage House.”
They operated an antique business there for 17 years, and in 1989, decided to sell the house and retire.
Though Crook and Magee had fixed some of the house’s problems, the overall condition of the house had detiorated and there was discussion of demolishing the home and clearing the property for a fast-food restaurant.
Hearing these rumors, Barbara Patton purchased the property in 1993, with the intention of saving and preserving the house, with the help of her son Richard. During the renovation, the Pattons decided to repurpose the house for a bed and breakfast/special events business, believing that to be the best way to utilize it. The renovations took nearly a year, and after that, the Pattons were ready to implement with their plans.
The Heritage House Bed and Breakfast opened for business in 1994, and the Pattons ran the business for nearly a decade. However, when Barbara became Opelika’s first female mayor in 1996 and Richard wanted to pursue another business venture, they decided to sell the house.
In 2003, current Auburn residents Steve and Carole Harrison were looking for a new place to establish a bed and breakfast of their own. They heard about the Pattons’ desire to sell the Heritage House in Opelika.
They fell in love with the property, and purchased it later that year, opening their bed and breakfast in early 2004. Because of the Harrisons’ demanding work schedule, the bed and breakfast was a part-time, weekend-only operation. The hectic work week proved to be taxing, and the Harrisons began to have doubts about continuing the business, clarified when their first grandchild was born in 2008. The Harrisons knew their priorities had permanently changed and closed the bed and breakfast.
For the next seven years, the Harrisons lived in the Heritage House, but began looking for someone interested in purchasing the property. Much to the Harrison’s delight, current owners Virginia and Haley, purchased the home in November 2015.
Virginia and Haley both have deep connections to the Auburn-Opelika area. Both are Auburn graduates, and during their school years at Auburn, visited Opelika many times. The area was particularly significant to Haley, who graduated from Auburn with a degree in Landscape Architecture.
“In 2006, I was in graduate school for my landscape architecture degree at Auburn. I spent a lot of time here in Opelika, because I loved being here and loved the architectural style of the houses in the historic district. I saw the house and immediately fell in love with it,” Haley said.
Virginia, who received a science degree from Auburn, has worked as a teacher and successful business owner over the years, running several floral and special events planning operations.
Haley moved back to the Opelika area last year, and, to her surprise, found the house for sale. Virginia had recently lived in the Auburn area, but had taken a job as a special events planner for a ranch in Wyoming.
“Haley called me up and told me the house was still for sale, and asked me if I’d go into business with her, and of course I said yes,” Virginia said.
They purchased the house, and began work on restoring the carriage house in the back, as well as the flooring In the interior of the house.
During the several months of renovation, Virginia and Haley said they were surprised by their warm reception from Opelikans.
“From the very moment we got here last fall, we felt so welcomed and embraced by this community. People would pop in and check on us and see how the house looked. They were full of encouragement and interesting stories not only about the Heritage House, but the area,” Virginia said.
In February, they hosted their first special event and bed and breakfast guests, and Haley said “the way things went in those few days told us we were doing the right thing.”
The pair officially opened for business in April this year, and, according to Virginia, they have already had guests from all over the country come.
“We’ve had visitors from Texas, California and Pennsylvania come here. Opelika, in a sense, is a central location for a lot of people, and that has helped us bring in a lot of visitors to our bed and breakfast,” Virginia said.
When asked why people travel so far to a bed and breakfast in Opelika, Haley and Virginia both cited Opelika’s charm as the main reason.
“The small-town feel and beautiful city of Opelika is unbelievable. The people are so warm and friendly, and having lived outside of the South before, it is a definite change of pace from other places, which I think is a huge draw for us,” Haley said.
“Opelika and the surrounding areas have so much to offer and see, and give people from outside of the South a chance to experience true Southern culture,” Virginia said.
Even with their early success, they hope to keep growing their special events and bed and breakfast businesses by the means of the Internet and social media. But, they said that the online reviews from previous guests so far and word of mouth are the primary ways that word about them can spread.
“We hope to keep growing, especially with football season coming up in the fall. We are expecting to have more people stay with us. And when we finish the renovations to the carriage house in the back, we’ll go from being able to sleep 14 to 18. We are making great progress here and want to do our best to maintain and preserve the beauty of this house and property,” Virginia said.
The significance of the house both as a historical and architectural landmark for Opelika is not lost on Haley and Virginia.
“This house almost is like an entrance into the historic neighborhood here, and we want it to be like a beautiful gatekeeper and jewel of Opelika,” Virginia said.
For information about special events or booking accommodations at the Heritage House, call Haley and Virginia at (334) 203-1775.