Roanoke Times Sunday, Dec. 14, 2003.
Past and Present Combined
The Inn at Hans Meadow is an unobtrusive historical landmark that has been transformed into a bed and breakfast.
By Donna Alvis-Banks
Kathy Wheeler and John Drummond had no idea they were buying birthrights to their hometown when they snagged the old Craig place last year.
Both Christiansburg natives, the couple graduated from Christiansburg High School in 1970 and waited 30 years to reconnect. When they did, however, they reconnected in a big way. They were married June 6, 2002.
At the time, Wheeler was managing the local Hampton Inn and Drummond had returned to his hometown after living in Salt Lake City. It didn’t take long for Drummond to see that his new bride “was working herself to death for someone else.” He believed her talents for decorating and showering others with hometown hospitality were being wasted.
Meanwhile, the old Craig house was up for sale.
“It was being marketed as commercial property,” Drummond noted. “Anything could have happened to it. They could have bulldozed it down and put a restaurant up.”
Surrounded by giant pines, holly trees and 100-year-old boxwoods, the stately mansion at 1040 Roanoke St. is an unobtrusive historical landmark. Built in the early 1800s, it sprang from John Craig’s estate. Craig, a Scottish immigrant, built a log cabin on the land in 1754 and his son, James Craig, inherited the estate and named it Hans Meadow after a Dutch friar who had come to the area as a missionary to the Indians.
The present house is an extensive renovation of James Craig’s house.
“I never really paid any attention to this house and had no idea that it had the history,” Wheeler said. “I don’t think a lot of people know the house goes back this far. I had looked over here and thought what a pretty house it is.”
Wheeler and Drummond bought the house for $350,000 with the idea of turning it into a bed and breakfast. They opened the Inn at Hans Meadow for last year’s Virginia Tech homecoming weekend on Oct. 18, 2002.
“What’s amazing about this whole project is that we renovated the whole house in 11 weeks,” Drummond explained, noting that five new bathrooms were added, the original oak floors were refinished and the house was completely rewired and replumbed.
“This house’s nickname is the money pit,” quipped Wheeler.
“If I added it all up what we have in the house,” added Drummond, “it would be enough to make me sick.”
Wheeler selected Federal period furnishings to complement the architectural style of the house, decorating the inn’s five bedrooms - four king size and one queen size - with new reproductions. She also ordered special mattresses like the ones used at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs and the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
“The key word to this business is bed and breakfast,” she explained. “I needed a good bed. I never hesitate to ask guests how they slept.”
The couple said guests are so enthusiastic about the comfort of the beds that they always comment. One visitor even ordered a mattress for his home.
One thing guests can’t order up, though, is Wheeler’s mother, 76-year-old Elva Slusser. She comes to the inn every day to iron all the bed linens by hand.
“We try to set ourselves aside from a hotel,” Wheeler said. “People like to stay here because it feels more like home.”
Ashley and Josh Sexton, both recent Radford University graduates, were married at the Inn at Hans Meadow on May 17. They chose the inn because of its convenience for local guests and its ambience.
“We wanted to do an outdoor wedding and it was one of the most beautiful inns around to do an outdoor wedding,” Josh Sexton said. “It was the ideal place.”
While trying to preserve the home’s historical charm, Drummond and Wheeler also wanted to modernize it. That’s why they installed microwave ovens, refrigerators, color TVs and two-line phones with a data port in each suite. Each room also has individual temperature controls and private baths, some with jetted tubs.
Outside, the couple spruced up the English gardens and added a waterfall pond that had to be dug by hand. While doing the work, contractor Phil Speirer discovered a cement pond that apparently had been covered over in the 1930s when the estate was owned by Mary Sherwood Flagg, the last of the Craig family.
While Drummond and Wheeler don’t know the complete history of the house, they have gotten bits of information from longtime Christiansburg residents. They were told that the ghost of a nun - one of those who helped the missionary friar - lives on the grounds. A neighbor relayed a legend that children were not allowed to play in nearby Crab Creek because a child had once been scalped there by warring Indians.
The couple enjoys hearing the stories almost as much as they enjoy the stories their guests tell after staying at the inn.
A man from California took home Wheeler’s country ham biscuits after he raved about the Appalachian treat he had never before tasted. A visitor from Uganda went on and on about what a great country America was after Wheeler took him shopping at local retail stores. An older couple, in their 90s, had their first bed-and-breakfast experience at the Inn at Hans Meadow.
“They said they would never stay in a hotel again,” Wheeler said.
The couple charges a rate ranging from $89 to $139 per night which includes a made-to-order breakfast. They also offer corporate plans because many of their guests are referred by local businesses and universities.
Drummond said it’s the history and the elegance of the Inn at Hans Meadow that attracts customers but it’s his wife who brings them back.
“She’s all about the hospitality part of it,” he noted. “She always tells them, ‘This is your home away from home.’”
1040 Roanoke Street, Christiansburg, VA 24073