Reviews Slideshow

REVIEW: Sweetwater Branch Inn, Gainesville

SweetwaterBranchInn_17Do you believe in love at first sight? Believe it or not, I felt it when I drove up to the Sweetwater Branch Inn.

Two impressive Victorian mansions sit side by side facing a busy street near downtown Gainesville and the University of Florida.

And that is just the beginning. Behind the homes I found a large garden where I followed brick paths by flowers, trees and bubbling fountains to a porch swing and a gazebo – an idyllic spot to escape from it all.

Sweetwater Branch Inn

The winding staircase at the McKenzie House.

But the star of the show – or perhaps the co-star along with the garden – is the McKenzie House, a Queen Anne Victorian mansion built in 1895 with a wrap-around veranda and an octagonal turret on one end. It has five guest rooms.

To stay in the turret, choose Isadora’s Suite on the third floor, where all the sitting room windows are stained glass and you’ll relax on a custom-made window seat. The wrought iron bed is topped by a romantic lace corona.

Luisa’s, also on the third floor, offers a 6-foot Jacuzzi tub – the inn’s largest – in a private bathroom across from the room. Over the bed in Luisa’s room are custom-made stained-glass windows.

McKenzie Hall, a 2,300-square-foot room at the back of the house, hosts wedding receptions and other parties for up to 200 people. It opens onto the McKenzie Gardens.

I stayed in the Cushman-Colson House, built in 1885, which has seven delightful guest rooms. Even though I arrived at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night, hours after the office closed, I had no trouble getting in. The staff had emailed me a code to access the back door of the house.

A welcome note and instructions were posted by the door with my name, and immediately inside I found another note and my room key. Easy-peasy, in contrast to my experience at the Anchor Inn, in Boca Grande, where I was locked out.

Sweetwater Branch Inn

The Cushman-Colson House.

I had reserved the Cornelia Room, named for Sweetwater owner Cornelia Holbrook. Her parents, Giovanna and Juan Holbrook, bought the McKenzie House in 1978 and then, in 1992, Cornelia and her mother added the Cushman-Colson House.

Since I had chosen the most inexpensive accommodation at the Sweetwater Branch Inn, as I usually do, I was pleasantly surprised by the size and comfort of my room.

The Cornelia Room sleeps three, with a queen-sized bed in an attractive dark brown wood, with drawers on the end, and a twin sleigh bed. A colorful quilt decorates the wall and a rug with red flowers covers the wood floor. An oak and brick fireplace and two large windows add to the warm feel of the room.

The Cornelia and two other rooms in the Cushman-Colson House are available for $144 a night on weekdays (minus $15 for AAA members). Prices at the Sweetwater run as high as $229 a night on the weekends.

The prices are quite reasonable considering the superior quality of the property compared with the many other bed-and-breakfasts where I have stayed. Rarely will you find a B&B with as much to offer as the Sweetwater Branch Inn.

SweetwaterBranchInn_11Accommodations & Amenities

SweetwaterBranchInn_13In addition to its two Victorian homes, the Sweetwater offers guests accommodation in a half-dozen different historic cottages and the Carriage House, a large one-bedroom apartment above the office.

Five of the cottages line a street just beyond the McKenzie Gardens and the sixth, the Honeymoon Cottage, boasts a special location in the garden. Ideal for newlyweds seeking privacy, that 1885 cottage, which I toured, features a Jacuzzi tub in the living room, a fireplace that separates the living room and the bedroom, and a rather cramped kitchen. Personally, I would prefer a suite in the McKenzie House (but then, I’m not a honeymooner).

Behind the Honeymoon Cottage is a 30-foot saltwater pool with a spa on one end.

On-Site Restaurant

A restaurant is another unexpected amenity you’ll find at the Sweetwater, one shared by few Florida B&Bs – among them Apalachicola River Inn, Sundy House and Florida House Inn. And I do suggest you try the Sweet Tea while staying at the Sweetwater.

Sweetwater Branch InnThe restaurant opened for lunch in August 2015 on the ground floor of the McKenzie House, serving Southern cooking, or “New Century Southern Cuisine.”

I lunched on the McKenzie’s wraparound porch, feasting on collard greens, grits, a huge chicken pot pie and refreshing hibiscus iced tea. And – to go, since I was stuffed – double chocolate fudge cake, which my whole family later raved about.

A Breakfast Quibble

I must not neglect to mention breakfast, almost always a highlight at a B&B.

At the Sweetwater, the morning meal is a combination of help yourself and made-to-order, available from 7:30 to 9 a.m. – an ideal time, not too early and not too late.

A long breakfast bar was set up with bread, English muffins, cut fruit, juice and coffee so guests could toast or take what they liked. They could even squeeze their own juice.

Sweetwater Branch Inn

Teapot collection in the Cushman-Colson dining room.

A friendly employee was on duty cooking eggs and crepes as guests appeared.

My only quibble is that I missed having breakfast with the innkeeper. That’s usually when I find out the most about the history of a B&B and get an insider’s take on local attractions and restaurants.

Time spent with guests – no matter how short – is time well spent. That one-on-one connection keeps us coming back, and separates bed-and-breakfasts from hotels, which are just a place to sleep.

Fortuitously, I ran into the innkeeper and owner, Cornelia Holbrook, during lunch at the Sweet Tea, just before I left. She was gracious and eager to please, and I was happy to report that I had enjoyed my overnight stay from beginning to end.

I hope you will visit the Sweetwater, which I have added to my short list of all-time B&B favorites. If you do, please post comments about your visit on Facebook so others will benefit.

Happy B&Bing!


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(Note: I accepted no compensation in exchange for writing this review, and did not reveal my intentions to the innkeeper.)

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