Sandlapper Slept Here. . . .

The Inn at Merridun, Union

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.

The Inn at Merridun, Jim and Peggy Waller's 140-year-old prize of a southern home in Union, has 12- and 14-foot ceilings, two kitchens, a dining table that seats 18, and "30-something" exterior columns.

"This house never had fewer than three servants," Peggy says.

"It still has three: me, Peggy and Jessica Oh," Jim says.

Jessica, their part-time helper, is the daughter of Cherokee artist Nancy Basket of Union, whose works adorn the parlor.

Guests are definitely well-served here, and they let the Wallers know it. "Our job is to make it look effortless," Peggy says. "Probably 50-75 percent of the people who leave your inn want to be innkeepers."

Jim smiles and shakes his head. "I never worked this hard in the military."

They're both retired from the Navy. Jim was born in Columbia, raised in Savannah; Peggy is from West Virginia. They met and married while stationed in San Diego 12 years ago, and it was in San Diego that they bought what they thought would be their retirement home.

Then they got the B&B bug. They took courses in innkeeping, did some weekend apprentice work, and were on the verge of buying a bed-and-breakfast home in San Diego County. When they saw Merridun advertised for sale in a magazine, they sent Peggy's brother, who was living in Myrtle Beach, to check it out. He recommended they go for it.

Jim flew cross-country to probe further. "The minute I walked in the door, I had this déjà vu feeling. I overlooked all the problems."

Peggy flew in and quickly saw the reality of what was in store. The house had been unoccupied for 25 years and needed extensive work - replumbing, rewiring, replastering. "We were ready for innkeeping," she says. "We weren't ready for renovation."

They handled it remarkably well - so well that the home, listed on the National Register of Historic Properties, has been pridefully taken under wing by the townsfolk. Scheduled guests who have trouble finding it (Merridun is downtown, but secluded in a nine-acre estate) have been known to arrive in style with a police escort.

"We'll never `own' Merridun," Peggy says. "It belongs to Union. In a way, we're like temporary caretakers."

Named for three families who once owned the house - Merriman, Rice and Duncan - Merridun's original room design was the Georgian four-over-four plan. Apart from the high ceilings and unusual "accent lighting," the attention grabber as you enter is the curving central staircase.

The gentleman's parlor is to one side, the music room to the other - both enclosable by sliding pocket doors. You'll notice crystal chandeliers, mosaic tile on the foyer floor, oriental rugs throughout the house, Otto Hammer art on some of the ceilings. There are interesting portraits and numerous antiques, like the English bar and the Victorian feinting couch. "But we don't want a museum," Peggy insists. "We want the home to be comfortable."

It is. And the Wallers are naturals as innkeepers. Guests have told them their style is "southern, not southern Californian," and they're proud of that reputation.

Expect cultural enlightenment here. While in the Navy, they took in all they could of the places they toured, from the Mediterranean to the Orient. They enjoy serving ethnic cuisine; Jim's Chinese hot-and-sour soup and Peggy's Yokosuka Officers Club Egg Casserole - a breakfast favorite - are just two examples. Both of them have taken cooking courses, and they have a collection of about 800 cookbooks. "We sort of read them like novels," Peggy says.

They've become much in demand for serving luncheons and dinners. (Their desserts are pure heaven!) They're even being urged to convert part of Merridun's downstairs into a gourmet restaurant.

Why so much public enthusiasm over a B&B in Union, South Carolina? How is it that The Inn at Merridun already has hosted German travelers, a former Miss USA and English royalty?

"Much of nothing" is Peggy's answer. That translates: Relax. "When we were on the West Coast, we went to B&Bs to do much of nothing. I think that's what brings us a lot of our guests."

The Inn at Merridun (100 Merridun Place, Union, SC 29379; (864) 427-7052) has five guest rooms, all with private baths; $85-105. No children under 12. No pets. No smoking inside.

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