With a story steeped in history, an elegant bed and breakfast in the heart of Choto offers guests a restful experience with a gourmet flair.
Family trips to my grandparents’ homes were a regular part of my upbringing. On my mother’s side, Myrtle Joy Rice was a single woman who taught high school English, practical by anyone’s standards, but she would become my best friend and mentor on our special days. I would tell her how much I wanted to prepare dinner for the entire family, and with her help, we would plan it all to the smallest detail. She would then take me to Giles Grocery Store and wait in the car while I took the menu and shopping list into the store.
I would choose a giant shopping cart and fill it with everything I needed to prepare my dinner. I think she let me go in alone as a way to make me feel grown up. Her friends would help me as I made my way around the store. I never knew if she talked to them about it, but the process was magical to me. It always seemed so ironic that she would appear at the checkout precisely as they had finished ringing up my choices. She never questioned what it cost or attempted to second-guess my ingredients. She allowed me to experience what would later become one of my true joys in life.
When we arrived home, she would bring out two Coca-Colas in those small six-and-a-half-ounce contour glass bottles, and we would pour them over ice, sipping and talking about the next steps. I would carefully lay out all of the ingredients and begin to prepare the meal. As the cooking progressed, I would break to take out the fine china, crystal, and linens to set the table. Things didn’t always go smoothly—I once put something into the disposal that caused it to jam and smoke so much that the fire alarm went off and firemen came rushing into the apartment—but these are memories I will always hold dear.
My other grandmother, Katharine White, was much more of the refined Southern belle. My love of flowers came from spending afternoons in her rose garden. We would prune the roses, bring the cut flowers inside, and arrange them in vases. My grandfather was the judge in the small town of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and they frequently entertained. She would allow me to help as she set up the house to receive guests. Creating a beautiful and relaxing atmosphere for conversations was always important to her, along with ensuring the dining room table was well-appointed.
As I prepare for guests to arrive at the Boyd Harvey House each week, I find those experiences from my childhood come to my mind often. As a young one, they were formative. As an adult, they are constant reminders of how important it can be to truly prepare for guests, and beckon me to heed the call to create not just a meal, but a moment in time that will never be forgotten. I have my grandmothers to thank for that.
Adoring History from Afar
Learning the history of older homes has always been a passion of mine. And although I love history on a larger scale, what appeals to me most is local history and the exquisite environments that can only be experienced in older homes. The depth of character that an older home provides, coupled with its history leaves you imagining the stories they could tell if their walls could talk. It’s invigorating and soul-enhancing to explore them.
In one of my first jobs, I would drive along the back roads of eastern Tennessee, exploring the small towns. I adored the stories told by locals over lunch, and as I drove by the historic homes, I imagined what it would be like to live in them. But they were just musings, and when I moved to Knoxville from Asheville in 1992, owning a historic home, much less a historic bed and breakfast, wasn’t even in my wildest dreams.
Having just graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I secured a job in pharmaceutical sales. Like many young career women, I got married, had two wonderful boys—who are now 20 and 22—and settled down to live my life, one that would eventually prove to be full of surprises.
Around 18 years ago, on a snowy day just before Christmas, my sons and I were on our way home from visiting friends when I decided to take a different route. Just down Harvey Road, there was a sharp curve that slowed me down, and as I looked up, I was awestruck by a stunning older home, beautifully decorated for Christmas. The wonder of the snow atop the trees and rooftop brought memories flooding back of all those historic homes I had admired over the years.
There was just something about this home—and the entire Choto area, really—that intrigued me. And while the moment eventually passed, I was left with this feeling that it wouldn’t be gone forever. Something told me I would see this house again, the next time on grander scale. This house and I had intertwined destinies and no doubt it would eventually make sense as to how.
Falling in Love with the Boyd Harvey House
In 2018, the boys were about to enter college, and I was ready to downsize and simplify life. I began looking for lofts in the downtown area of Knoxville, but I just couldn’t find the right fit. As I searched for smaller homes in the Choto area, my frustration grew, so I adjusted the settings on my Zillow search and, lo-and-behold, there it was.
I remember exclaiming out loud, “What in the world!” The memory of the snowy day 18 years before flooded my mind. I learned that the home was built in the 1800’s and I arranged for a tour, fell in love, and ended up buying the home shortly after.
Anyone who has purchased an older home can relate to wanting to do a few things to spruce up the place. It started as what I would call ‘light renovations,’ but the more I did, the more I fell in love with the property. This was of course pre-pandemic and things came together easily and it wasn’t hard to find people willing to work.
My initial goal was to eliminate anything that wasn’t historical and bring even more life to the things that were, starting with little things at first such as light fixtures and paint, then tile work and more.
I wouldn’t call it a money pit—and to this day I really think it was a great investment—but it was eventually time to see some return. I still didn’t see myself running a bed and breakfast; instead, I gutted the space above the garage that was already an apartment and created what we now call the Boyd Harvey Carriage House. It had previously been listed on Airbnb, and I had an adequate amount of furniture to make a very nice space so I updated the listing, ready for a guest.
With the carriage house complete, I turned my full attention to the main historic home. Collin, my oldest, was already at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and Carter, my younger son, lived in the renovated carriage house while the renovations to the main home were completed. By the fall of 2019, most of the renovations for the entire property were complete, and Carter and I lived in the main house while accepting reservations for guests to stay in the carriage house. It was fulfilling to see that people wanted to come and stay and that they had an interest in the history of the property. I happily obliged anyone who asked to tell them more.
Indulging in its Storied Past
After the Revolutionary War, Pennsylvania native Thomas Boyd who served as a captain in the American Revolution under George Washington, got a land grant to use in Tennessee. He built a log cabin on the Boyd Harvey property in the 1780s. We don’t know for sure, but it’s estimated that Boyd owned more than 1,000 acres.
His son, also Thomas, built part of the main house and members of the Boyd family remained in ownership of the property until 1917 when they sold the house and portion of the acreage to Maryville College. The Harvey family bought and lived on the land from 1920 through 1973.
In 1985, the Howe family—who had purchased the home and immediately began work on it—submitted that year for the house to be named on the National Register of Historic Places.
In January of 2020, I began researching how people were using nationally-registered historic homes and learned that a large number were in fact bed-and-breakfasts. A few months later the pandemic hit and Carter was heading off to college. Trying to be as revenue generating as possible, I was thankful for the bookings in the carriage house, but also knew that I needed to increase my occupancy rate.
Demand for more overnight stays increased during the pandemic. People did not want to stay in hotels; they wanted space and outdoor areas where they could socialize. I honestly never imagined that I would have an opportunity to own my own business, but the vision became clear during the pandemic.
Well-Suited for Bed-and-Breakfast Life
The architecture of the almost 200 year-old Boyd Harvey House provides the perfect design for it to operate as a small traditional bed-and-breakfast. The front part of the house and a detached summer kitchen were built in 1835 by Thomas and Anna Boyd. The first-floor foyer, flanked by two parlors, contains the main staircase and its original hand-carved railing. The second floor originally contained two bedrooms—one above each of the lower two parlors—but it is now home to a beautiful owner’s suite, the downtown loft that I could never find.
The summer kitchen was connected to the main portion of the Federal-style farmhouse in the mid-1800’s and the rear one and upper one-half story wing was formed. This second floor area now houses the guest suite and has two private staircases. It is completely separate from the owner’s suite because the entire home was constructed of handmade brick including the interior wall that separates the guest suite from the owner’s suite.
Outside, a whimsical garden sits ready for intimate dinners, a variety of porches—some screened and others open—offer ample space to breath in the fresh air for meals or quiet afternoon reads, a sizable fire pit keeps the evenings alive, and a luxurious pool and hot tub combo out back make summers at the Boyd Harvey House feel effortless and resort-like for those who come to stay. Finally, there’s the Tri-Star Barn, one of my favorite spaces on the property. Here, guests find a rustic bar, comfortable seating, and antique finds that I’ve collected along my journey. They love this space, and I adore its character.
History Up Close
I will always be thankful for how the Boyd Harvey House unlocked my passion for entertaining, one that has always been there, part of both sides of my family. There are pieces in the house that came from each of my grandmothers—the artwork, the rug in the foyer, the barrister bookcase filled with novels that nearly every generation had touched—all constant reminders of their love and the early memories we shared that would foreshadow my future life in hospitality.
Through the Boyd Harvey House is a constant stream of people with so very many stories to tell. They come to have family reunions, collaborate with colleagues, celebrate milestones, disconnect from a harsh technology-driven world, or reconnect with their loved ones. And as a result I find myself more fulfilled than ever preparing the property for their stay and connecting with local businesses to provide my guests the very best experience possible. My hope is you will join Nathan and me and become part of the Boyd Harvey House story.