On the South Carolina side of the Savannah River fall line is the town of North Augusta, best known for its proximity to the Augusta National Golf Club. But don't wait for the PGA Masters to justify a visit to the area. North Augusta is a town rich with history you can delve into and experience when you stay at the Rosemary Inn, a beguiling bed-and-breakfast that is a destination in and of itself.
Since its erection in 1902, the many-columned majesty of Rosemary Inn has been the heart of North Augusta. This landmark home embodies all the graciousness of a bygone era. Inside its rosemary pine halls, you'll find the story of James U. Jackson, a perfectionist and visionary who not only built a fine house but founded the city in which it is located.
Jackson also was the mastermind behind the legendary Hampton Terrace, a 300-room grand hotel patronized by the likes of the Rockefellers, Firestones and President William H. Taft. The sweeping property, built on a hilltop just blocks from the Rosemary, boasted luxury amenities and a golf course. It famously burned to the ground, with the fire starting in the west wing on Dec. 31, 1916, and culminating on New Year's Day, 1917. Though the tenacious Jackson planned to rebuild, he died before that dream came to fruition.
Proprietors Kelly and Diana Combs have an encyclopedic knowledge of this family and love to explain how their many dreams, joys and sorrows helped shape the North Augusta of today. And, as is the often the way with innkeepers, the story of the Jacksons is now deeply entwined with their own.
From Home to Inn:
Since acquiring the mansion in 2009, (along with its sister property, the Lookaway, built just across the street by Jackson's brother Walter), the couple has acquired an intimate knowledge of what makes these inns integral to the city's history.
But it was definitely not love at first sight. When a friend prodded Diana to travel from her home in California to take a look at the homes, which were up for sale, her intentions were less than serious.
"We wanted something on a smaller scale," Diana remembered. "While I admired certain features of Rosemary, the condition of the house was deplorable. I could see it had good bones, though."
Jackson family members lived in the homes until the 1980s. In the 1990s, new owners turned the houses into inns. By the time Diana took her tour, which uncovered massive leaks, a vibrant flea circus and other maladies, the Rosemary had been empty for a while. Despite the monumental effort required to bring it up to standard, Diana unexpectedly found her calling.
"Before I saw the houses, they went up for auction but no one showed up," Diana explained. "My friend believed it was a sign they were meant for us. When I walked into the Rosemary and saw the gorgeous staircase and wood, I got an overwhelming feeling this poor house was crying for someone to take care of her."
In the end, the bank made an offer they couldn't refuse: A sweet deal that surprisingly included both the Rosemary and Lookaway.
"That was certainly never the plan," Diana said. "In fact, we'd told a friend of ours we were buying the Rosemary, so he went to see it and was shocked because he knew we'd been looking for something small. He said, ‘You didn't tell me you were buying your own Tara.' I laughed and told him to turn around and look across the street. ‘Not only did we buy Tara,' I said, ‘but we bought Twelve Oaks, too!'"
Thus began a grueling investment of sweat, tears and money. The results, however, were worthwhile and the inns finally opened for business.
The Beaux Art architecture of the Rosemary, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a draw for those who appreciate the ornate classical style. Inside, the era of the Jacksons comes to life thanks to preservation and restoration efforts. Most notable are the striking staircase and a mural on the landing that pays homage to the Jackson legacy.
Each room strikes a charming balance between good taste and the lavish lifestyle of the Gilded Age, thanks to Diana's expert eye and decorating instincts. Her meticulous attentions earned the Rosemary the coveted AAA Four-Diamond designation. Of interest are some of the paintings in the house, said to have once hung in the Savannah home of the notorious Jim Williams, the central character in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."
The six guest rooms are furnished with comfort and luxury in mind. Sink down into a delicious sleep in pillowy feather beds and pamper yourself with top-shelf products in your private bath. Lounge in the parlors and on the magnificent porch, its 12 mighty columns representative of the 12 apostles. And those plush bathrobes hanging in your room are fine for relaxing in your room, but they are also appropriate attire for your sumptuous homemade breakfast in the dining room.
"I like to walk around in my slippers - this is not just a business, but it's our home," Diana said. "I want our guests to feel at home, too."
Reservations can be made by calling the inn or through the Rosemary Inn website. A discount is offered for guests with active military status.
Things to Do:
When it comes to lunch and dinner, you have the option of driving over the bridge to Augusta, but it's certainly not necessary. Pick up your own victuals and wine at a nearby grocer and picnic on the porch, or try one of North Augusta's eateries for a dining out treat. Among the best are the French-influenced Manuel's Bread Cafe and DiVino Ristorante Italiano, with more casual options along the downtown strip.
While in North Augusta, plan a walk along the Greeneway, a beautiful 7-mile paved trail that wends its way along the Savannah River. When the weather's fine, head over the bridge into Augusta to one of many outdoor outfitters where you can rent paddle boards, kayaks and other equipment for a day on the river.
Construction of Project Jackson, a multimillion dollar North Augusta complex, is underway and will be home to a baseball stadium, lodging, shopping, dining and more with the river as a backdrop. Until then, enjoy rotating art exhibits at the Arts & Heritage Center of North Augusta and visit the Living History Park, where colonial times can be experienced through living exhibits. Call for hours of operation.