Sandlapper Slept Here. . . .

The Able House Inn, Leesville

by Dan Harmon

EDITOR'S NOTE: "Sandlapper Slept Here" is a column that appears in each issue of Sandlapper Magazine, featuring bed-and-breakfasts and historic inns throughout the Palmetto State. Here's an example. If you find it interesting, you may want to peruse our back issue listings for information about previous columns.

When you're greeted inside the front door by a laid-back, shaggy dog who stretches leisurely at your feet, utters one of those contented, guttural doggie groans and without a hint of prompting sits up on his haunches in salute, you know you are home.

That was part of our welcome at The Able House Inn. The dog, a Shih Tzu named Mr. Wiggles, had a Lhasa Apso companion named Bouncer who accidentally went swimming in the Able House pool last winter and now exhibits his own touching appreciation of warm-blooded humans. They live in harmony with Fluff, a gorgeous cat who might provide you with an unexpected lapful of fur to caress as you make yourself comfy in the sunroom. Owners Jack and Annabelle Wright welcome guests of every disposition, but they prefer the ones that make themselves comfy. That makes the Wrights comfy.

Once at dinnertime a young man staying with them was in a fitful mood. He worked as a computer trainer for a restaurant chain, and the last thing he wanted was to eat out again. "Would you like a ham sandwich?" Annabelle finally asked him. "Well, no - but if you fix it, I'll eat it."

She laughs. "He sat on the floor and ate every bit of it. And he called his mom and told her all about it."

The Wrights are perhaps unique on the South Carolina B&B; scene in that they came to South Carolina looking for an inn to operate. He's originally from Connecticut; she's from West Virginia. For 15 years they'd been living in Wisconsin, where the snow doesn't melt - it accumulates - until April. They moved south in 1989. "We were chipping ice one weekend," Jack says, "and she put down her ice chipper and said, 'I'm leaving. I'm not going through this another year.'"

On the market in Leesville was The Able House Inn, a white brick chateau whose intricate, steep-sloped roof lines had produced five cozy upstairs guest rooms, each with its own bath and its own piquant character. Built prior to World War II by a Leesville druggist, the house had been open as a B&B; since 1985.

Annabelle is a perfectionist, Jack says. So notwithstanding the genuine cordiality of the hosts, at The Able House you're surrounded by finery and a sense that everything is arranged just right. The furniture and embellishments are a mixture of antique, modern and oriental. The living room illustrates: A traditional sofa and camel-back Queen Anne loveseats are the central pieces, while in one corner is Annabelle's digital piano in the form of a white, miniature grand. On a small table across the room is a beautiful cloisonne bowl from the orient - a gift from their son Scott, an Army captain.

Padded wicker furniture and a collection of large plants are in the sunroom, which usually becomes the common room for visitors. There you have access to a color TV and stereo (bring your own records if you like), but chatting with the Wrights is far more delightful entertainment. The formal dining room adjoins both the living room and the sunroom. French doors connect all three and open from the dining room onto a patio and spacious back yard where, in good weather, many guests prefer to take their breakfast at one of the umbrella tables. When it's warm, traveling businessmen and women often find a prebreakfast swim a marvelous way to start the day. On summer nights the poolside is torchlit.

The inn has been booked for weddings, luncheons and dinners (it can accommodate up to 50 for socials), but lodging is its bread and butter. Travelers have arrived from as far off as France, South America and Japan; a couple from Holland, in the States to buy and export classic cars, stayed there a week. They exchanged small talk with other guests from surprisingly close to home. Couples from the nearby town of Gilbert--even from Leesville itself--frequently book a room at the inn "just to get a night out, away from the kids," Annabelle says. Celebrity guests have included country music star Lee Greenwood. At least one couple has booked the inn at the suggestion of an anonymous telephone operator.

The suites, named after relatives, offer varied combination of bedding. "Becky's Room" features a canopied double bed adorned by white fishnetting. "Jane's Room" has two double beds; two window seats are tucked along a broad exterior wall sloped inward near the ceiling to conform to the roofline and lend loftlike charm to the room. "Kathleen's Room," with two single beds, appeals to traveling business partners.

"Jennifier's Room," where we stayed, is the inn's honeymoon suite. It opens into a sitting room with a "window bed" (much larger than a window seat--so massive and inviting that a few visitors have opted to sleep there instead of in the bedroom proper). A normal window seat is in the bedroom, where guests retire in a queen-size, brass-and-enamel four poster.

Assorted desks, dressers, small tables, and other pieces, both ancient and new, furnish each room. Brass fixtures are found in most of the baths. The wall colors tend toward darker shades, but windowing abounds for ample brightness. Housewide, the floors are pine, with rugs tastefully employed. An unusual trait for this inn is that the ceilings are tongue-and-groove wood.

Breakfast includes a choice of cereals, prescooped grapefruit, croissants with jelly and butter, hand-squeezed orange juice, coffee, milk and ice water. The morning that we visited, the Wrights were serving lusciously fluffy sour cream coffeecake--a recipe that they borrowed from a California B&B.; Breakfast is advertised from 7:30 to 8:30, but "that varies," Annebelle says. "We've served guests as early as quarter til six and as late as 11 o'clock."

Neighborhood touring attractions? Leesville's not Charleston. But there are points of interest, like the historic Hartley House, which was a stagecoach stop in the early 1800s (and allegedly has a friendly ghost). In addition to the typical small town stores, you'll find artsy/crafty/antiquesy shops in the downtown area. (As a matter of fact, a gift "corner" may open soon inside the inn itself, featuring Annebelle's holiday sweatshirts and Jack's woodwork.) And Leesville has a twin, adjoining Batesburg, approximately doubling the number of businesses within a few minutes' drive or walk.

Culinarily, several chain and locally owned restaurants are within a mile of the inn. For lunch, I found a great meal, great deal and perfect atmosphere (for me, at least --i.e., "pastoral charm") at The Pine Cupboard, a tiny, split level cafe at the rear of the Attic, a gift/antique/china shop on Leesville's Main Street.

Every B&B; seems to have one special oblation, a fine touch of distinctive service. At the Able House Inn, it's the complimentary fresh popcorn after dinner. By the time we arrived back at the inn from The Peach Tree Restaurant (each guest is given a front door key) it was too late for popcorn. But Annebelle compensated along about 10 o'clock, bring a plate of fresh-baked brownies into the sunroom. "We want our guests to feel like old friends," Jack says. That they do.

The Able House Inn (244 W. Church St., Leesville, SC 29070; 532-2763) is open year-round except Christmas week. Five guest rooms, each with private bath, priced from $42-55. Accepts Mastercard & Visa; 10% senior discount. Kitchen access with separate refrigerator for guests. No phones in rooms, but can be installed on request. Children okay if supervised. Pets restricted (a nearby veterinary office offers boarding). Smoking is restricted.

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