Generations of History

Lois Jane's Riverview Inn in Southport. Photo by Bethany Turner

Lois Jane’s Riverview Inn in Southport. Photo by Bethany Turner

An antique anomaly resides at 106 West Bay Street in Southport. Unlike many homes in the city—and across the nation—Lois Jane’s Riverview Inn is still owned by the family of the man who built it. But it wasn’t always a bed and breakfast.

The house was constructed in 1892 by Meezie Childs’ great-grandfather. The home was passed down to her grandmother, Miss Mary, and when her grandfather passed away, Meezie’s parents moved into the home with Miss Mary. “He died before I was born, so [my brother, Davey, and I] always lived here with her,” Meezie, a member of the Southport Board of Aldermen, explains.  “When she died, my mother inherited it, and likewise we inherited it from her.”

entrance

Photo by Bethany Turner

Childs recalls a life with parents who were very involved not only with their children but with their city. “My father was an attorney; he was also on the Board of Aldermen for a while,” Meezie, whose family owned a summer home on Oak Island, tells. “My mother was very active—my mother and my brother were very athletic. My father and I were not so, but we did everything they did. We all water skied, we all played golf. My brother and mother just excelled at it. My mother had Hole in One for ladies at the golf course. She taught lots of people to water ski. Whatever the family did, we all did—we just didn’t do it as well.”

Meezie remembers the waterfront as it appeared when she was a child: ripe with business. “The yacht basin is different,” she begins. “When I was a little girl there were shrimp boats and docks all out here, and the shrimping business was very big. The waterfront really did have a lot of commercial use going on, and the yacht basin was pretty much—there was one restaurant—just docks and fish houses. So that’s changed considerably, and there are more homes down there now.”

Main entrance. Photo by Bethany Turner

Main entrance. Photo by Bethany Turner

As we sit in the den of Lois Jane’s, Meezie notes that a lot of her parents’ friends were involved in the shrimping business. When the boats would go to Florida for the winter, her family would often visit their neighbors down there. “But that’s all dried up basically,” she concedes. “It was a big business here for a long time. If you don’t grow, you would be drying up I think. Tourism is the thing that’s driving the economy, now.”

With the exit of the shrimp boats, Southport is a still and peaceful community. “Lots of people have come here and bought houses and renovated them, improving them, which is a good thing,” Meezie says of the gradual growth she’s witnessed. “People, I think, have done a good job with their restorations.”

Formal sitting room, featuring Victorian furniture from the current owner's great aunt. Photo by Bethany Turner

Formal sitting room, featuring Victorian furniture from the current owner’s great aunt. Photo by Bethany Turner

Along Howe Street and in the outlying avenues, more shops and restaurants have filled buildings. And Meezie remembers when the post office was once a schoolhouse. “Every white person went to the same school, all 12 grades,” she says. “I grew up with people older and younger than me going to school there. It was fun growing up here. We didn’t have to eat in the cafeteria; we could walk to a place called Oliver’s Grill, and it was through Franklin Park—in the neighborhood of where Baked with Love is. We could walk from the schoolhouse to that place and get hamburgers for lunch and walk back.”

In 1954, Meezie’s grandmother built the Riverside Motel, which sets directly beside the water. Just a few months later, Hurricane Hazel hit the North Carolina coast. Luckily, they’d used cinder block in the motel’s construction. It still runs today, managed by the inn.

The piano in the den belonged to Miss Mary, the owner's grandmother. Bridal portraits of the owner, Meezie Childs, and her mother, Lois Jane, rest upon the instrument. Photo by Bethany Turner

The piano in the den belonged to Miss Mary, the owner’s grandmother. Bridal portraits of the owner, Meezie Childs, and her mother, Lois Jane, rest upon the instrument. Photo by Bethany Turner

“There was no warning—not the kind of warnings there are now about hurricanes coming—and we stayed right here,” Meezie states. “They took the furniture out of the motel—why I don’t know because I’m sure we didn’t save it—and floated it across the street on mattresses because the water was up to the steps of the house. By the end of the day, the shrimp boats were in the street.”

When Meezie’s parents ventured to their summer home to check its status after the storm, they found there was no house at all. “My dad inherited a pair of cuff links from his uncle—they were platinum and diamond. My mom found them on a tree stump. Isn’t that strange?” Meezie wonders. “That was a horrible storm. I think there were only three houses left on the beach after that storm. Of course, it wasn’t built up like it is now, either. But there are stories about people who were over there and survived staying there. We stayed right here, but I don’t remember being scared or worried about it. I don’t remember my parents being worried about it. I guess we didn’t realize it was a category 4 hurricane. We didn’t have electricity for a while; the Red Cross came in and fed us at the school. We were very lucky not to have suffered major damage here.”

View from the front balcony. Photo by Bethany Turner

View from the front balcony. Photo by Bethany Turner

Upon inheritance, there was no question that Meezie and Davey wanted to keep their family home, which had already outlasted three generations and one of the most destructive storms in North Carolina’s history.

“I don’t know quite how it came, but we started taking down wallpaper,” Meezie begins. “My mother must have wallpapered all the walls 10 times, so it was just gobs of wallpaper. One of my sons started taking it off, and my brother said, ‘You know, this is really stupid. We need to take this thing down to the studs and re-do the wiring and insulation.'”

So, in the early ’90s, restoration on their family home began. They saved much of the original molding and Davey built new molding, too. “We didn’t make too many changes in the house,” Meezie affirms. “Upstairs we opened up the hallway so you can get out on the porch. When I was a little girl I had to go through my grandmother’s room to get to my room, so we closed that off and added a hallway and a bath up there. The only thing we did in the kitchen was we added the bay window, and we reconfigured some things.”

This bedroom, available for lodging, is known as "Meezie's Room," because it's where she stayed as a little girl. Photo by Bethany Turner

This bedroom, available for lodging, is known as “Meezie’s Room,” because it’s where she stayed as a little girl. Photo by Bethany Turner

And then, somehow between repainting and reupholstering, the duo decided their home would become a bed and breakfast. “Neither one of us had ever been to a bed and breakfast,” Meezie muses. “Davey has now—he went in the last year or so. Things were kind of iffy there for a while. There was maybe one more bed and breakfast, and then the Brunswick Inn opened. The one that was here closed, and then the Branns opened the Bell-Clemmons House. The more the merrier, actually. We get along well and refer to each other.”

The hard pine floors are original to the home, and much of the furniture is what the family already had on hand. “My great-grandfather had two children that survived: my grandmother, Mary, and her sister, Lois. My grandmother remained here and Lois became an executive with the TV association in Raleigh. She met and married a man named Baxter Durham. He was a state auditor and his family was prominent in Raleigh. He had a sister and brother; his sister never married. She liked some finer things, so she bought all of that Victorian furniture that we inherited.”

Meezie Childs in her old bedroom. Photo by Bethany Turner

Meezie Childs in her old bedroom. Photo by Bethany Turner

A carved settee and two chairs that belonged to Ellen create a formal sitting area immediately to the left of the entrance. Further back, a more casual den houses Miss Mary’s piano, upon which rests bridal portraits of Meezie and her mother. “My grandmother was musical,” Meezie tells. “We had it restored, though it’s not played very often, but sometimes we’ll have a party here and someone will play it.”

The dining room, painted a proud, dark red, commands attention and provides a canvas for Meezie’s personal art: floral arrangements. “I went to design school in Savannah,” she says. “I once had a florist shop with Mary Ann Russ, a realtor here. She got out and then I did; it was hard to resist buying the most expensive flowers on the truck. I soon learned that I wasn’t going to be able to eat those flowers.”

Each of the rooms of the inn are named for the family member who lived in them: one for Miss Mary, Davey, Meezie and Lois Jane—Meezie’s mother. Miss Mary’s room offers private access to a balcony that affords views of the water and both the Bald Head and Oak Island lighthouses.

Dining room. Photo by Bethany Turner

Dining room. Photo by Bethany Turner

In the backyard, there is a separate apartment-style guest house, affectionately called Skip’s Suite. “My grandparents took in a young boy when he was 10 years old, so he grew up with my mother but they never adopted him,” Meezie explains. “When he got married, they made this house an apartment for them.”

Innkeepers once stayed in the downstairs portion of the suite; today the innkeeper lives next door and guests can rent either the upstairs or downstairs section.

The suite was a favorite of Lasse Hallström, director of “Safe Haven,” who stayed both there and in Davey’s room during production of the film, while the movie’s writers rested in other rooms of the inn. Often, the stars would join them on Lois Jane’s patio to discuss the day’s work. “Lasse was very nice and personable,” Meezie assures. “He was a vegan—so we have lots of vegan recipes now.”

The living area of one-half of Skip's Suite. Photo by Bethany Turner

The living area of one-half of Skip’s Suite. Photo by Bethany Turner

Meezie, who resides in another house in downtown Southport, comes by the inn every day and tries to keep the house full of fresh flowers. “Our primary goal in making this a bed and breakfast was just to keep the house—and to pay the taxes,” she says with a gentle chuckle. “There are just good memories in this house.”

For more info on Lois Jane’s Riverview Inn, visit www.LoisJanes.com or call (910) 457-6701.

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