Fragrance of Remembrance – The Rosemary Inn
Lovingly restored to honor its visionary builder, the Rosemary Inn Bed and Breakfast offers gracious hospitality and a front porch view of history.
Diana Combs is at work in the kitchen of The Rosemary Inn Bed and Breakfast. A frequent guest has brought fresh fish from a recent expedition, which she will cook and serve beautifully along with her homemade Remoulade sauce. It is a typical example of the level of hospitality enjoyed at the restored mansion in North Augusta, where Diana and husband, Kelly, welcome guests as dear friends.
When the Savannah River chose its winding path across the South, it had no ambition of marking the border between two states, or being at the center of a tale of two cities. But from the Augusta, GA side of the river, young James Urquahart Jackson stood gazing across the swiftly flowing water to the high bluffs on the opposite bank. He envisioned a new settlement on the other side. Years later, he crossed Augusta’s Fifth Street Bridge to North Augusta, as founder of the new city. In 1891, he completed a new bridge that would one day bear his name.
His vision for North Augusta included the Hampton Terrace Hotel, a five-story, 300-room luxury property he built with financial help from other investors. The $586 million hotel became a haven for northerners who wintered in the south’s warmer climate. Powerful and affluent names like Rockefeller, Firestone, and Fields collected in its guest book.
Jackson’s brother built a home he called Lookaway Hall, overlooking a city park on Carolina Avenue. Not to be bested, James built Rosemary Hall for his own family; a Beaux Art home half-again larger than his brother’s. His dream had become a reality. But the dynasty’s fortune took a downward turn when shortly after Jackson bought out his investors. A fire on New Year’s Eve, 1916, burned the Hampton Terrace Hotel to the ground. With it Jackson’s dreams and the family’s prosperity turned to ashes.
Lookaway Hall was later sold to a local doctor, but Jackson’s family remained at Rosemary Hall. As the years passed, the home fell into increasing disrepair. Jackson’s daughter, artist Edith Jackson Alexander, provided art and music lessons for hundreds of students to provide income, and rooms were rented out. Three of Jackson’s five children remained in Rosemary Hall until the 1980s. Dirty, stuffed with all manner of old furniture, and covered in peeling paint, the once-gleaming white home sadly became “the brown house.”
Changing hands several times in the 1990s, both Jackson brothers’ homes were converted first to office space and later to inns, before ultimately being repossessed by the bank. Packaged as a pair, the two Gilded Age beauties languished with few suitors. In 2009, Kelly and Diana’s first glimpse of the homes revealed a disheartening duo of southern debutantes gone to ruin.
Rosemary Hall called out to them. It was a plaintive cry for someone to care for the home’s magnificent architecture; the twelve fluted Corinthian columns holding the roof aloft, Italian glass fanlights, and the thirty train loads of knot-free rosemary pine, a Loblolly timber Jackson had hand-selected for the home’s walls and ceilings. Besotted, the hopeful couple took up a jumbled box of keys and embarked on a restoration journey that would open doors to a renaissance for the manse.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in America, the renamed Rosemary Inn offers six guestrooms and nine baths, complete with furnishings original to the period. Named a prestigious AAA Four Diamond property, the stately house harkens back to an era of grandeur.
It is a remarkable coincidence that the fragrant green rosemary plant has long been known as the herb of remembrance, for every inch of the home has been restored to honor Jackson’s dream, with the décor of guestrooms reflecting the personalities of its original occupants.
The Rosemary Inn is Kelly and Diana’s home, and they greet each guest with genuine warmth and gracious hospitality. No detail is overlooked in their efforts to create an atmosphere of relaxed luxury for all who enter. Fine linens and featherbed toppers lull guests into sweet dreams, cozy robes wrap them in warmth, and Diana’s ever changing gourmet breakfast invites them to linger at the table.
“It is still a little surreal,” Diana says of the home that is the recipient of their labors of love. “It’s so rewarding because what we have now is so different from what we started with—and it’s the most rewarding when we can share it with those who enjoy it.”
With downtown Augusta just a short drive from James Jackson’s beloved home, Kelly and Diana Combs are truly living the dream of North Augusta’s founder; from across the river, the fragrance of remembrance lingers in the gentle breeze drifting past the gleaming white columns of The Rosemary Inn.
By Susan Frampton