By Marissa Donnelly | firstname.lastname@example.org
Stroll by The Cedar House Inn and more often than not the sign will read “No Vacancy.” A quintessential reflection of Victorian era homes of the late 1800s, The Cedar House Inn is nestled among three other Bed & Breakfasts’ along Cedar Street, and is just one of 33 inns in downtown St. Augustine. This past month the inn was bestowed with Trip Advisor’s 2013 Traveler’s Choice Award as the 4th best B&B in the country, and 16th in the world, a recognition solely based on guest reviews.
Conrad Decker, a wealthy German financier, built the home in 1893. A friend of Henry Flagler, Decker wanted a private residence that he and his family could use as they pleased. The home was eventually put on the market, and after temporarily serving as Flagler College’s boy’s dormitory in the ’60s and ’70s, the home was purchased by Russ and Nina Thomas, consequently transforming into a B&B.
Though the locks have changed with the owners, and air-conditioning, as well as Wi-Fi, has been added, the memories and stories from over the years are what keep this home very much alive. Cyndi Humphrey, the current innkeeper, is the most recent addition to the tale.
Today, the seven-room inn helps in commemorating birthdays, anniversaries, surprise proposals, honeymoons, weddings and weekend getaways throughout the year. “There are lives that have been touched here,” said Humphrey. “Our intent is to create a memory, whatever that memory may be. And the house does that, the house is the context.”
In less than four years The Cedar House Inn has presided over 300 weddings. In just a matter of minutes the parlor is transformed into a chapel. Captivating the intimate audience as they watch from the burgundy velvet chairs turned pews, the bride enters from the staircase in the rear. Natural sunlight beams into the room from the Tiffany stained-glass windows facing east and champagne and cake are served in the dining room. A carriage ride through downtown then ensues.
Born and raised in Florida, Humphrey, former director of catering at the Ritz-Carlton in Palm Beach, was looking for three essential elements in owning a B&B- a city that drew people in, a turnkey operation and an onsite owner’s residence. “Whatever St. Augustine’s magic is, it literally grasped me. I knew I would find a B&B here, even if I had to build it,” she said.
It was with the town’s local inn expert, Darlene Jay Armstrong, that Humphrey first saw The Cedar House Inn. She was introduced to Jack and Mia Martin, the then owners, in the parlor. Sticking out her hand she said, “I’ll pay you whatever you’re asking.” It was only three months later that the deal closed and the inn was in new hands. “I changed my mailing address to Cedar House before the bank gave me the loan. It was like what my husband used to say ‘standing in the future to create what would be his true power,’ or in other words, fake it to you make it.”
A team effort, Humphrey was quick to acknowledge the help of longtime employee Gina Barron. “She is a very, very special woman,” she said. “She is as much the heartbeat of The Cedar House as anything else is. There is a sass about Gina that makes her unforgettable- she is as passionate about maintaining this home as I am in owning it. In a city where it is just as much about reputation as it is about family, Gina, her boyfriend Ivan, her daughter Kimberly and her sister Yvette are apart of this family. “This is a collective voice,” Humphrey said.
For 120 years this home has been loved, and that love is never more apparent than when there occasionally comes a knock on the door from a very important part of this homes history. As Humphrey described it, there came a knock on the door one day not too long ago. When she answered, she met eyes with a beautiful, well-appointed and well-dressed woman in her mid ’70s. “I’d like to show the home” she said, standing alongside two giggling women. She introduced herself as Lucy Evans and said, “I grew up here.” It was her 75 birthday and she was in town having lunch at the Casa Monica. “She was the missing piece to the puzzle,” Humphrey said. “It was a pinch me experience.”
Humphrey describes herself and Barron as happy, active participants, there to embellish and put breakfast on the table. “There is energy in this house, and you can see it when people walk through the door.” she said. “People are drawn towards it in a way, and I think it’s because the home has been loved all these years. This venture was my 10-year exit strategy, but try getting it out of my hands, this is my home.”