Operating a bed-and-breakfast out of an 1890s-era country home in tiny Salem, SC, wasn't exactly on Julie and Jeff Pierce's radar in 2004. Yes, she recalls that on their honeymoon, she had mentioned to her new husband that doing so was "my dream job." But during the nine years the Midwest natives (Ohio for her, Michigan for him) lived in Fort Myers, Fla., and ran physical therapy and yoga practices, a B&B seemed just that: an in-the-future dream.
But after visiting friends in the South Carolina Upcountry and enjoying the area's hiking trails, lakes and waterfalls, the outdoors-loving couple decided to sell their businesses and move there. "We had no deep roots in Florida," she says, "and we thought we'd maybe build a house on Lake Keowee, get a Jet Ski."
That all changed the day they visited Sunrise Farm, a local B&B since 1991. "Jeff saw in a real estate magazine that it was for sale," Julie says. "We came just to look at it; Jeff thought it was just a look, anyway.
"But when we got back in the car, he said, ‘When do you want to make an offer?' And I thought, ‘Wow!' We left, hiked to Lower Whitewater Falls, prayed on it, and decided to offer the next day."
Now owners of the two-story house and 10 acres of an original 385-acre cotton plantation, the Pierces are comfortable in a lifestyle that stresses getting away from the fast-paced modern world. With three upstairs suites plus two separate accommodations - the one-bedroom efficiency Corn Crib Cottage and the June Rose Garden Cottage, both with kitchen facilities - Sunrise Farm can host a dozen or so guests in quiet, rural comfort.
The couple officially took over the property in 2006 - the previous owners ran things while the Pierces completed a business contract in Florida - and when they relocated, Julie admits thinking with some trepidation, "this is really happening." They hung a Bible verse from Isaiah on a wall, and when their first guest signed the guest book with that verse, "we said, ‘OK, this is us now,'" she says.
Salem and the surrounding area exude relaxation, a theme Sunrise Farm embraces. Its first-floor wraparound porch is a perfect place to unwind to the buzzing serenade of flocks of hummingbirds. A few yards away, a Noah's Ark of animals - including a potbellied pig, llama, pygmy goats, sheep and mini horses, plus four cats and Buddy, the Lhasa apso, all of them guest-friendly - feed the country motif.
Up a narrow staircase, the guest rooms (Farmhouse Suite plus Morning Glory and Hummingbird) are tastefully decorated with antiques, comfy beds and modern bathrooms. Views of the tree-filled property make visitors feel as if the real world is far, far away.
"If someone comes and says, ‘What's there to do around here?' this might not be for them," Julie says. "But if you enjoy the outdoors, this is a wonderful, special place."
"I like watching the transition of some guests from the city. They arrive in fourth or fifth gear, but the next morning, they're relaxing on the porch, listening to the birds. That's one of my favorite things: watching that (tension) melt away."
Breakfasts at Sunrise Farm contribute to the mood. During a recent visit, the kitchen whipped up juice and coffee or tea, fresh fruit medley, vegetable frittatas with locally sourced sausage and - a real delight - homemade strawberry-pecan bread. In the evenings, a selection of coffees, teas and soft drinks are available any time.
Depending on the length of visitors' stays, a wealth of outdoor attractions is within easy driving distance. Lakes Keowee and Jocassee bracket Salem; Devils Fork State Park and Oconee State Park also are nearby. A number of family-friendly restaurants are close at hand, including Habaneros (Mexican) and Victoria Valley Vineyards (which, besides local wines, offers a lunch menu).
For those wanting contact with the outside world, Sunrise Farm has free Wi-Fi and satellite TV. And during college football season, the house and apartments are often full of Clemson fans, with Memorial Stadium about 30 minutes away.
The Pierces didn't totally give up their previous lives. Jeff works as an in-home physical therapist while Julie teaches yoga classes part-time. But when their workdays are done, they come home to a "business" that feels more like a country retreat.
"There's lots of natural beauty, lakes, the waterfalls," Julie says. "But it's the peace and quiet most of all."
325 Sunrise Drive
Salem, SC 29676