Have yourself a merry little Victorian holiday at Birmingham’s 1898 mansion B&Bs
Guests and passersby who venture into the Magic City’s only B&Bs are greeted with glorious bursts of holiday color. The gracious old homes, which date to 1898 and are on the National Register of Historic Places, pay tribute to Christmas with festive red, green and gold trimmings. Greenery and holly berries, along with touches of red and gold ribbon, adorn many doorways and bannisters throughout the homes.
The ornate iron fence of the Hassinger Daniels Mansion – decked with garland, pine cones and shiny red bells – clues visitors to delights within. Curious folks often stop to gaze at these beautiful Queen Anne Victorian mansions seated among shops and award-winning restaurants in Birmingham’s historic Five Points South neighborhood.
“It’s like a real-life dollhouse. A lot of times, people aren’t looking for us because we’re off the beaten path. Most bed and breakfasts are in rural areas,” said assistant innkeeper Kathleen McAlister, who assists proprietor and owner Sheila Chaffin, former executive director of Campus Planning at UAB.
B&B guests seek proximity to Birmingham’s five hospitals, concert venues, restaurants or for rest during a road trip. McAllister has served guests from Canada, China, Norway, Switzerland and Africa.
“It’s homey and you feel comfy, which is especially welcome before stressful events such as a doctor’s appointment,” McAlister said of Hassinger Daniel’s 10 bedrooms, four of which are two-bed suites.
“We get a lot of football traffic, and some people stay before a job interview at UAB,” McAlister said. “Some people are very interested in the architecture of churches here, and some are interested in seeing the Civil Rights Institute.” One favorite recurring guest stays several times a year to host a civil rights tour.
The mansion was designed by Thomas Walter, grandson of the architect for the U.S. Capitol dome, for William Hassinger, president of Southern Iron and Steel Co. He and his wife, Virginia, lived in the mansion until they moved to Hassinger Castle in Birmingham’s Redmont Park. Years later, the 12,000-square-foot mansion was a dual optician office and residence. The Chaffins are the third owners in 121 years.
The Chaffins toiled through a four-year restoration, including electrical wiring and plumbing, that oversaw the addition of 14 bathrooms. A photo album attests to the home’s earlier disrepair.
The restored mansion is a treat for the eyes. Guests enter the mahogany “doorway back in time” when they see the boysenberry red foyer with soaring 20 foot ceilings adorned with sparkling crystal chandeliers. The stairway to two upper floors, wreathed in holiday greenery, is lit by 16 heraldry themed stained-glass windows original to the mansion. True to the home’s vintage, there are no elevators.
The spacious, sun-drenched parlor is steeped in late 1800s design. At the large windows overlooking Highland Avenue, a wooden “hippogriff” – a winged horse-like figure with an eagle’s face, hand-carved by Ira Chaffin – is decorated with a huge gold bow, its outstretched wings seemingly in welcome. Two carved mahogany settees drenched in velvet invite one to admire the angel-topped tree, where 15 dolls and a nutcracker pay homage to the holidays.
Sheila Chaffin, ever mindful of the home’s Victorian heritage, curated the antique furniture throughout the home.
“Sheila scours the South and the Birmingham metro area for antiques,” McAlister said. “She goes all over to estate sales and auctions.” An iron gazebo in the backyard, dotted with Parisian-like touches of gold, came from Tuscaloosa.
All bedrooms have a theme and their own character:
- Blue Serenity – Sleeps three guests.
- Camelot – Contains carved carousel horses by renowned sculptor Ira Chaffin.
- Enchanting Turret – Provides a four-post king-size bed and a queen-size bed inside the turret.
- Garden View – Has a kitchenette and a clawfoot tub.
- Hera’s Loft – Has a daybed and a couch.
- Peacock Room – A magnificent stuffed peacock presides above the bed.
- Seraphim – Features cherubs and an ornamental fireplace.
- Southern Belle – The two-bedroom suite has fashionable decor and a balcony.
- Victorian Chamber – Features a queen-size Tudor bed, antiques, ornamental fireplace and pendulous chandelier.
- Vulcan Vista – Allows views of the “Iron Man” from a dormer window or clawfoot tub.
McAlister likes to provide “good old-fashioned Southern hospitality.” Raised in Birmingham, she has worked for Chaffin off and on for 10 years, starting as a student at UAB.
“I enjoy chatting with guests at breakfast – it’s like starting the day with a tea party,” McAlister said. The calming elegance of the pale blue dining room, its formal table set with gold and green antique china and glassware, makes breakfast a special occasion.
“Meeting people from all over the world and getting to be their Birmingham tour guide is a really neat experience,” she said. “You never know who you’ll meet. I remember once, we had two guests from Auburn who turned out to know each other. Neither knew the other one was here, and one woman heard her friend talking in another room and realized the world is, in fact, quite small.’”
McAlister delights in helping guests, whether she is placing home-baked cookies in the parlor or helping select a restaurant.
“We’re a small operation with two inns. But there are lots of odds and ends to running a bed and breakfast,” McAlister said, with a chuckle. “You may spend one day walking around with a ladder and installing light bulbs. The next day, you’re a plumber.”
The mansions have seen many proposals, weddings and formal teas. Offerings of personalized service, comfort, lovely décor and easy walking distance to about 40 restaurants and shops earn the B&Bs high ratings on Trip Advisor.
A recent guest wrote about their stay at Hassinger Daniels B&B: “A once-in-a-lifetime experience. This place is like sleeping in, or staying in, a castle. The stairs were restored perfectly, and the stained glass was awesome to look at.”
Relax at Cobb Lane
Cobb Lane B&B’s gracious veranda beckons guests to stay awhile. It’s easy to imagine guests lounging in wicker chairs, indulging in people-watching while sipping a mint julep or sweet iced tea.
Like its sister mansion, Cobb Lane is warm and welcoming. Built by Birmingham’s then-tax collector, the 4,500-square-foot house has seven guest rooms.
The deep wine-colored walls of the entry rooms are both elegant and relaxing. In the parlor, 10 Christmas Village houses illuminate a corner. The elegant dining room, framed in Christmas ornaments and holiday greenery, displays a silver tea service on a large china hutch and a gracious table set with red antique glasses and china. An 1860s-era carved mahogany chair is on display.
The house has several themed bedrooms, such as Bird of Paradise, Camellia, Country French Suite and Periwinkle. True to its name, the Romantic Rose room is draped in satin-smooth wallpaper, its seating area and table featuring delicate pink blooms. The downstairs Zebra Room, decorated in modern black and white furnishings, offers privacy and easy parking access.
A former Cobb Lane guest wrote, “When it comes to breakfast, Sheila puts the second B in B&B. Sit, enjoy the meal and the conversation. The surroundings have history, mystery and magic.”
Reserve your stay
Rooms: Priced at $99 to $159 per night, plus tax.
Amenities: Free Wi-Fi and free parking; daily maid service. Free, hot breakfast is served in the formal dining room with fresh flowers and candles. Enjoy complimentary beverages and cookies in the parlor.
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)