When innkeepers Cindy and Joe Montaldo purchased what is now known as the Magnolia Plantation, the main building was a kind of "Animal House" hippie hangout, a near derelict in the neighborhood of Gainesville's historic homes. That was in 1990.
A century earlier the newly built mansion was the pride and joy of Dudley and Melinza Williams, a local lumberman who built in the French Second Empire style, complete with mansard roof, four-story frontal tower, red and green slate roof, double parlors and 10 fireplaces. A unique style for Gainesville, if not the entire Southeast.
His masterpiece was bought by another enterprising local in the lumber business, Emmett Baird, who owned and operated a sawmill and the Standard Crate Co. But local legend has it that he made his fortune by discovering the buried treasure of infamous pirates Black Caesar and Billy Bowlegs Rogers.
There were rumors that he hid what he didn't use before his death in the 1920s, but don't check into the Magnolia Plantation and secretly start searching for it. When the Montaldos bought the decaying Baird Mansion they tore the place apart, not seeking gold doubloons and pearls of great price, but modernizing and upgrading the property.
They moved into the third floor and redid five rooms for guests, decorating them with period pieces. Each room has a gas fireplace and private bath with claw-footed tub. In addition, the tireless Montaldos worked the magic of restoration and rehabilitation on the Carriage House and a half dozen free-standing cottages, each with kitchen and private bath. The Carriage House, my favorite, has a queen-size bed in the single bedroom, fireplace and a marvelous balcony overlooking the carefully tended gardens on the 2-acre grounds.
Beth's Courtyard also has one bedroom with a queen, kitchen, fireplace and large bathroom with walk-in shower. Key Lime Cottage is the largest, with two or three bedrooms -- with two queens and two twins -- living room, front and back open porches. It's perfect for two couples.
The Sugar Plum Cottage has one or two bedrooms, fireplace, one or two bathrooms, one with Jacuzzi, kitchen and a porch perched over the gardens. Miss Huey's Cottage, Jessica's Courtyard and the Secret Garden evening social hour with complimentary wine and snacks is the perfect place to brag a bit about all you've done that day or to discuss evening eating plans.
The local dining scene has never looked (or tasted) better. From bistro to big city steakhouse and artful sushi-sashimi presentations.
Porter's Dining on the Avenue (1 W. University Ave.) serving the primest of prime rib, has added a lively pub. And the Alaskan wild fish purists have established a beachhead at Pole Bender's (5 SE Second Ave.).
Amelia's at Suncenter (235 S. Main St.) continues its mastery of all things marsala, and Emiliano's (7 SE First Ave.) continues to make converts noon and night to its variations on Cuban, Puerto Rican and other Caribbean culinary traditions.
For new wave there's Steve's Cafe Americain (12 W. University Ave.), the Paramount Grill (12 SW First Ave.) and Mildred's Big City Food (3445 W. University Ave.). And of course there is still the pioneer in downtown adaptive restoration and classic cuisine, the Sovereign. (12 SE Second Ave.)Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun