Historical Charm Meets Southern Hospitality

Originally published in DESOTO MAGAZINE – EXPLORING THE SOUTH, August 2011.


A visit to the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art in Laurel, Mississippi’s Central Historic District calls for a special place to lay your head at night — especially if you are a returning native who always wondered about the interiors of those magnificent turn-of-the-20th-century mansions lining the city’s stately Fifth Avenue.

The Wisteria Bed and Breakfast, also known as the Gardiner-Schneider House, reflects the grandeur of a bygone era but retains a family atmosphere where guests feel at home. One of Laurel’s founders, Silas Gardiner, built the Colonial Revival house in 1900 as a second home, and it is listed on the National Register for Historic Places. Located diagonally across Seventh Street from the museum, the lavender-colored inn is considered one of Mississippi’s top B&Bs.

Current owners Peggy and Earl Schneider bought the house in 1972 and raised their two boys amid the crystal chandeliers and family heirlooms. In 2004, they turned the home into a bed and breakfast. With three suites, each with private baths, and Southern gourmet  breakfasts, the Wisteria is one of Laurel’s best-kept secrets. The $105 nightly rate is comparable to, and in some cases better than, the rates offered by the cookie-cutter motel chains across town. In addition, free Internet access is available in every room.

“We’ve had guests from all over the world,” said Peggy. “And once people find out about us, they return whenever they are in Laurel.”

The courtyard of the Wisteria Bed & Breakfast, reminiscent of Peggy Schneider’s native Savannah, Georgia

The courtyard of the Wisteria Bed & Breakfast, reminiscent of Peggy Schneider’s native Savannah, Georgia

And no wonder. The Schneiders have made Southern hospitality and service a cornerstone of their business. Relax in the magnificent living room, complete with a Steinway baby grand  piano. Sit a spell on the wicker-filled veranda and invite Earl, a third-generation Laurelite, to tell you stories about the city’s history. And don’t miss an opportunity to walk through the courtyard, reminiscent of Peggy’s native Savannah, Georgia.

The two guest suites on the top floor and the Silas Gardner suite off the living room are amazingly quiet. My husband and I didn’t hear another soul until breakfast was served in the  elegant dining room each morning. Peggy and Earl present a delicious spread, including French toast that should not be missed. During our visit, the other couples (one from California and the other from Arkansas) were all returning guests.

After breakfast, stroll oak-lined Fifth Avenue to look at the majestic homes built by lumber barons who came to the area for the abundant pine forests. Laurel’s Central Historic District is  considered the state’s largest and most intact ensemble of early 20th-century architectural styles. The area’s lush landscaping is part of American architect Fredrick Law Omstead’s 1909 city plan.

Walk a few blocks downtown to the Southern Antique Mall on Central Avenue, where you’ll find vintage jewelry, pottery, and more. Take a break at the Pinehurst Park’s shady gazebo. And, of course, spend a leisurely afternoon exploring the Lauren Rogers Museum.

Grab a bite at one of Laurel’s downtown eateries. If you want to see more art work with lunch, stop by Lee’s Coffee & Tea at 409 Oak Street, where an upstairs gallery features works by current Mississippi artists. Don’t miss the grilled BLT/pimiento cheese sandwich, which is one of Lee’s most popular items along with the chicken salad.

Located in a former bank building, The Loft is known for steaks, seafood, and pasta. If you are looking for a taste of New Orleans, head over to Cafe LaFleur for gumbo, bisque, bread pudding, and signature po’boy sandwiches. And after all that walking, treat yourself to a milkshake at City Centre Crepes and Coffeehouse on Central Avenue.

Related Story: http://www.maryanndesantis.com/the-lauren-rogers-museum-of-art/

[The Wisteria Bed & Breakfast is located at 706 North Fifth Avenue, Laurel, MS 39440 • 601-426-3805]

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