“If you build it, they will come” is what we heard when we began degutting the old home place. In the back of our minds we envisioned the “They” as a couple of beautiful brown headed kids that
of course had the lovely green eyes of my wife and perhaps my uncanny sense of humor. We saw them growing up in this beautiful valley in the home that their Ma and Pa built. Helping Dad work in the woods and train the horses, and getting their grounding from Mom as she harvested from the garden and taught them about canning and preserving what we grew. That was the vision in our dreams when we began the restoration, but towards the end of the third year when I turned 33 and Sharon inched towards 35, we decided it was time for another idea. Well it wasn’t that we didn’t try. Loved that part. Really, I guess it just wasn’t meant to be, or actually YES, having no children WAS meant to be. We totally believe that one of our purposes in this life was to finish blowing life back into Butterfly Hollow, become the caretakers of this hidden sanctuary and open ourselves and our doorway for strangers from around the world to find.
When we let this little vision out to a few neighbors, family and friends, especially in year three of the restoration when we didn’t even have all the interior walls or flooring installed, we often got that blank, mouth open, gaze that hinted that we were full of … well you know. Couple that with the reality that our 85 acre slice of heaven was tucked down a mile long, one lane, gravel road, that had a cattle guard across it at the entrance, since cows and horses used it too, was located off another one lane chip-tar road, that was in a very rural county, without any real tourism draw except for its beautiful lakes and rivers, and we were a good hour or so from Nashville. Yep, there wasn’t much “Now this is a good business idea kids, how do we invest in ya?” going around when we decided – lets try sharing our home as a Bed and Breakfast.
We did do a bit of research on the hospitality industry that third year and visited many B&B’s and Inns across the state. We took notes, started a notebook of ideas, and wrote a business plan. We also did the same thing for a couple other thoughts that were brewing in our heads too. Our goal was to somehow make our life in the hollow self sustaining. We knew we would one day grow our own veggies and herbs, but we wanted to generate or at least supplement our income from something that came from our land. So we created a notebook on Christmas tree farming and had fairy-tale visions of us taking folks through the woods with horses and buggies to cut their holiday trees. We had another book filled with information, statistics and details on how to start and operate a chestnut orchard. We had files on growing grapes, training horses, starting a winery, producing organic produce and raising cattle. We had a lot of possibilities stewing in the pot, but the moment that pushed us over the edge was when we decided to close in the upstairs loft during the restoration. I saw this room, the one we would later call Wash’s Tree House, as this great space that would have an open balcony that looked down into the living area and fireplace. I could see my guitar in the corner, a beanbag chair or two, dart board on the wall, and oh, a pool table would be cool. Sharon saw it as another guest room, with a wall, a bed, closet, and pillows. The negotiations began and what shakes out is that if we are going to build a wall and make it a bedroom, then we should spend the remaining money we have saved and somehow put a bathroom in there too. I counter with, “If we commit to this, then we will try at least for one year sharing our home as a B&B.” A kiss for an agreement and my Awesome Man-Cave/Pool Room turns into a room ready for pillows and old quilts.
It just so happens that around this time the internet was just beginning to boom. The software company that I was working for at the time wanted a website developed. They were looking for volunteers to help start one up and I jumped on the research wagon. To help teach myself, I decided that my first project would be a personal site. Sharon and I were great note-takers during the farmhouse renovation days and had tracked every penny spent and kept handwritten journals of our progress and this became the content for a site about our adventure in Butterfly Hollow.
This was long before the term “blogger” was used and I had no clue how powerful and wonderful the internet would one day become. At the same time that I develop the website for my company, our little “Story of the Hollow” website that I’ve created goes live. A few short months later and we start getting emails from people around the country that have stumbled upon our journey online. We really just thought that only family and friends would visit our virtual home on the web and had no clue that when someone typed in “homesteading”, “returning to the land”, “growing your own vegetables” or “restoring a farmhouse”, they would tiptoe into our world. When more and more folks asked if they could stop by and visit sometime, or camp on our property or come and pick our brains for ideas on starting their own homestead, it was the confirmation for us that sharing Butterfly Hollow was what we were meant to do.
The first guests arrived in October of 2004 and no, they didn’t know that they were our firsts. Looking back, I still can’t believe that it turned out like it did. We weren’t ready. We still had piles of lumber stacked in places from our restoration. The mobile home that we once lived in was still on the hill. A few falling outbuildings were leaning so far that they weren’t safe to enter. The house was clean and we tried our best to make it a cozy B&B, but it looked something like American Pickers meets Cracker Barrel, as we were struggling with our inside identity at that time. It just goes to prove that the hollow and the magic and experience that happens there comes from something beyond us. The source is something much deeper. When they left and drove down our little pot hole filled country lane, we quickly ran up to the guestrooms, like we would do many many times to come over the next 15 years, and opened the guest book to see what they had to say. A tear drips from Sharon’s eye onto the paper. We look at each other in complete amazement. This is what we are meant to do.
Word of mouth was our favorite media, but over the years somehow they found us. We have so many wonderful stories filled with coincidences, belly laughing humor, heart warming tales and amazing changes that happened to folks after they spent some time in the hollow. During the fifteen years we opened the doors, our little B&B was featured in a couple PBS television specials. It was used as a backdrop for a music video and was introduced in countless newspaper articles, online travel blogs and magazines. It became the first wedding venue and Bed & Breakfast in the state of Tennessee to be powered by sunshine (solar) and by the time we moved on, it had become the #3 Bed and Breakfast in the state on Trip Adviser for three years in a row. But above all the head swelling accolades and nice pats on the back, what warms us the most is knowing that we were lucky enough to be a part of over 400 intimate weddings in our valley and that we developed true friendships with guests from 22 states, 2 Canadian provinces, The United Kingdom, Columbia, Australia, Brazil and as far away as Ukraine. Butterfly Hollow was truly an exchange of love and kindness. We walk on to the next chapter still a bit choked up, but oh so humbled and quite proud.