When Glenn and JoAnn Blake decided in 2007 to fulfill a long-standing ambition to run a bed-and-breakfast, one big reason, they say, was to be able to connect with guests in an intimate, family-like manner.
"It's been enjoyable meeting people, and it's always nice to see them enjoy the place," Glenn says of their rambling 6,000-square-foot Victorian manor house. "To be in this business, you've got to enjoy sharing the house, making people comfortable here."
That was never truer than the time guests from Florida arrived around 10 p.m. With few in-town eating options at that hour, the Blakes served up a late dinner. "Afterward, their young daughter said, ‘This is like coming to Grandma's house.'" "That's the best compliment you can get" says Glenn.
Originally from Pennsylvania, the Blakes moved to North Carolina in 1993 and to South Carolina 10 years later. Glenn, a petroleum engineer, had decided that "the oil business, with all the travel, was not for me. I wanted a stable life."
JoAnn, an event planner, loved the idea of operating a B&B, and after considering several coastal sites, they discovered the 100-year-old property in the South Carolina foothills after searching internet sites.
Built in 1890 by W.R. Anderson, Westminster's first banker and owner of the town's first automobile, the house - with its stout walls, antique furnishings and 12-foot ceilings - had been occupied by a number of families before becoming a restaurant and, eventually a B&B.
"We liked the beauty of the property, the wonderful weather here, and we saw the potential to expand," JoAnn said. Little did they know that "potential" would become a booming business. Today, the Blakes have turned the house and nine-acre wooded property into a wedding, anniversary and reunion venue that books 75-plus events each year.
The B&B element is still important - "we have a lot of regulars who come on business travel," JoAnn says, many to visit Clemson University, 17 miles away - but wedding bookings now far outnumber regular B&B stays. The past two years, Magnolia Manor has won three "Couples Choice" awards from Wedding Wire, a weddings ratings site.
The Blakes call their wedding operation "a one-stop shopping experience," with dedicated dressing and changing rooms for the wedding party, family waiting room, reception hall (150 capacity), food and beverage service, and even a regular disc jockey and photographer on call. Couples from all 50 states have found their way to Magnolia Manor, though 60 percent are from the Upstate.
"We do all our cooking on-site (with Glenn as chef), and JoAnn does all the planning," he says. "Couples only have to pick out their flowers and the dresses (and tuxedos)."
The property has five sites where wedding ceremonies can be held, and two reception locations. Besides inside the spacious house or on a porch, other spots include an outdoor garden courtyard, a 30-foot-by-60-foot pavilion, and an overlook sited above a rolling meadow, woodlands and pond.
After the nuptials, the wedding party can retire to any or all of Magnolia Manor's five bedrooms, four on the second floor. The Magnolia Suite features a king bed, balcony, gas-log fireplace and Jacuzzi tub, while the Dogwood, Rose, Azalea and Wisteria rooms have queen beds and bathrooms with showers. A deluxe continental breakfast the morning after caps the experience.
The Blakes also pride themselves on Magnolia Manor's affordability. "Wedding's are expensive, but we try to keep our prices lower," JoAnn says. "We feel like we've found our own niche that way."
For a 100-person wedding, including catering, DJ and photographer, "our whole package will be what others might charge just for food and beverages," she says. Recently, the mother of the bride was told the cost to stage a wedding - the same amount as the deposit at another venue - and replied, "Where do I sign?"
Though weddings and other events now dominate the calendar, B&B stays remain popular with visitors who come to the area for such attractions as whitewater rafting, scenic waterfalls (more than 30), five major lakes, antiquing and shopping, as well as nearby state parks and the Smoky Mountains.
"And we don't raise our rates for Clemson (home football) games," unlike some area hotels and motels, Glenn says. A portion of the repeat business is by fans who discovered the B&B by accident and now return each fall.
Sitting in Magnolia Manor's library, in front of one of nine fireplaces with a book and a glass of wine, it's not hard to understand what drew Glenn and JoAnn to their Westminster home. "We call it rustic and elegant," JoAnn says. "We can swing both ways."
Glenn laughs as he recalls his first visit to the manor house a decade ago. "I kept driving, and I thought, ‘It's a lot farther out here than I thought,'" he says. "But I came to look at it anyway."
He says they've never regretted it.