One of the oldest small businesses in Southport

Story by KASS FINCHER, Southport Magazine

Possibly one of the oldest small businesses in Southport is the Brunswick Inn on Bay Street. Its history is storied and rich, surviving many different owners, hurricanes and renovations, to still be viable today as one of our town’s most popular lodging destinations.

The inn was first built in the early 1800s as the summer mansion for Governor Benjamin Smith, for whom the town of Smithville (now Southport) was named. After his death, another governor – Edward B. Dudley – lived there in the summer as well until 1848. At that time it was sold and converted into a hotel. In the mid-1800s, it was occupied by Dr. Walter Curtis, who oversaw the quarantine station and maintained his offices there in the daylight basement for 30 years. In the late 1800s it was renovated and reopened as the Hotel Brunswick, with nightly music and dancing in the ballroom.

In 1901, the hotel earned one of two permits for a tavern on site. The other tavern was in the Pavilion on the waterfront. The days of “dry Southport” were over. A restaurant was added in the front of the hotel.

In the 1940s the hotel was purchased by Eldridge and Sarah Arrington, who along with their daughter Stuart Callari’s family later, maintained it as a private residence for 50 years. The current owners – Jim and Judy Clary – purchased it in 1997, renovated and furnished it over several years, and reopened it as the Brunswick Inn Bed and Breakfast in 2009.

Judy recalls those early years. “We used to go and stay at B&B’s all over North Carolina and we enjoyed the experience. When we bought this we didn’t know what we were going to do with it. We wanted to open an antique shop in the basement. When we moved in we didn’t have furniture. We had to furnish it completely. We would come on the weekends and work on cleaning the house and furnishing it. The only B&B at the time was Lois Jane’s so she would ask us to take her overflow. We didn’t charge much but it showed us how the business works. It was fun and interesting, meeting people from all over.”

They made the decision to open the inn, so they got permits from the city and the Board of Aldermen. When they opened for business, the inn offered three guest rooms and over 4800 square feet on the two main floors. Their website describes the interior. “The mansion has been carefully updated, respecting the historical integrity of this magnificent piece of architecture. The original heart pine floors, run plaster ceiling moldings, Southport bow trim, unique rotunda, louvered cathedral-shaped pocket doors, observatory and nine working fireplaces all remain intact.”

Despite its loving care over the years, the inn has faced its share of challenges from Mother Nature. The hurricanes came and went, and many townspeople would gather in the inn’s basement with its two-foot deep walls to ride out the storms. Hurricane Hazel tore the roof off the inn in 1954.

But it was always rebuilt and damages repaired. Today the inn operates year-round, with perhaps a two-month down time in late December and January, to give the owners a chance to catch their breath and prepare for the spring season.

Guests come and go, with many repeat visitors coming back frequently. “We’ve had people come 13 years in a row and stay with us,” Judy relates. “They look forward to the same breakfast, so I always do praline french toast on Sundays. We don’t have a sign, don’t want one; we get our guests through word of mouth, Facebook and the website.”

Some of those guests have been memorable. Judy mentions one of their more famous visitors. “Charles Bronson stayed about a week with his wife and secretary to visit a friend in the area.

Charlie would get up about noon and stay up late. He was usually the bad guy in the movies, but he was very quiet and shy here. When any lady came in the room, he would stand up.”

She adds another memorable visit. “A couple came from Nashville – she was a psychologist and he was in the music business. They stayed a week, which is kind of unusual. They would be up all night, never came to breakfast. One morning she came down wearing black velvet and he came down in a speedo and cowboy boots.”

Judy and Jim laugh about those they don’t want to come back. “We have the top six list who will never come here again. They were just people who didn’t care about anybody else. You just never know who’s going to walk in the door.”

And you never know who’s going to lock those doors. The Clarys have a prankster ghost – Tony – who will sometimes throw the deadlocks when they leave the house. Tony was an Italian harpist who played at the inn in the 1800s, went on a sailing trip and drowned when the boat sank. “Everybody likes Tony,” Judy says. “No one has ever seen him. At night you will hear him walk four steps on the carpet in the rotunda or he’ll walk down the stairs four steps.”

“Tony doesn’t like a lot of commotion. When they filmed a pirate movie here, there were a bunch of kids in the house. After they left, I heard a crash. When I went to bed that night, the picture was off the hook and smashed on the floor. He throws a fit when there’s too much going on.”

After that incident, Jim says Judy had a tough love conversation with Tony. “She started talking to him about what he better do and not do. She said this is the deal, or I’ll have you exorcised. He’s a prankster, he was only 19 when he died. He plays with jewelry, messes with lady’s underwear.”

Apparently word got out about the inn’s prankster, bringing an interesting guest to the house. “This guy came because of the ghost” Judy says. “He drove up in a powder blue 50s-era hearse. He was a ghostbuster. He had a special camera and got Jim to go with him to the cemetery. They saw five orbs – spirits, I’m told. He also found a few in the house.”

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, the evidence is there. The Clarys say that to run a B&B, you have to be a people person. And in their house, you need to be accommodating to spirits as well as guests.

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Brunswick Inn featured on

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