Mobile’s Kate Shepard House—Timeless Romance
by Kathie Farnell
A flower-filled lot in Mobile, Alabama’s midtown neighborhood cradles a Victorian mansion where visitors can experience the gentility of the Old South. The Kate Shepard House, a stately Queen Anne-style home replete with porches, balconies and turrets, was built in 1897 from a kit—the house’s components were assembled on-site–and went on to a distinguished career as both the Shepard family home and a private school run by Miss Kate Shepard. Outliving its original family by some years, the building fell upon hard times before it was rescued and renovated. Today, as the Kate Shepard House Bed and Breakfast, it has become the Port City’s best-loved destination for romantic travelers.
Innkeepers Bill and Wendy James call the home “a dream come true.” Both Louisiana natives, they searched the South for the perfect site for a bed and breakfast. When they bought the Kate Shepard House, they got more than they bargained for: in the attic, they found a treasure trove of family documents dating back to the Civil War, a cache which made its television debut on the HGTV series “If Walls Could Talk.” In addition to the memorabilia, the house retained its original stained-glass windows, light fixtures, and butler’s pantry.
Today, the three guest rooms all have sitting areas, luxury linens, and wireless Internet connections. Sherry, port and sweets, along with coffee and tea, are available nonstop in the elegant dining room. The Kate Shepard House is pet-friendly and comes equipped with a friendly pet–an extremely furry Chow named Koa Bear who pads thoughtfully through the house.
And there’s another unusual amenity–in addition to putting guests in touch with the spirit of the Old South, the house may put you in touch with the spirit of its former owner. People, including me, have smelled pipe tobacco where there was no pipe, electronics have been observed to switch on and off at random, and a television cameraman found his lights failing every time he started filming. It’s quirky rather than scary; when our room’s radio came on, I just ignored it.
Meanwhile, the house’s live occupants always look forward to breakfast, which on our stay included egg soufflé with Conecuh sausage (Alabama’s go-to sausage from nearby Conecuh County) and the fabulous Triple Berry Spoon Biscuits, baked in butter and jam.
What to do after breakfast? If you insist on budging from the porch, head down to the Mobile Carnival Museum on Government Street to get the inside story on how Mardi Gras began–and no, it wasn’t in New Orleans. The settlement that later became Mobile first celebrated in 1703, and today Mardi Gras is a huge part of Mobile’s early-spring social scene. Volunteer guide Bill Flagge, who has been with the Carnival Museum since it opened in 1950, toured us through a mansion full of ornate Mardi Gras regalia– everything from the bejeweled trains and gowns of Carnival royalty to Vernadean, the dragon which has enlivened parades since 1948.
Mobile’s attractions go beyond the historic; a few blocks down the street from the Carnival Museum, the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center gives kids and adults alike the chance to go hands-on with permanent interactive scientific exhibits and a mind-blowing roster of special events such as the current “Giant Insects” exhibit, which showcases great big robotic bugs along with an insect zoo and IMAX films.
On a more sedate note, couples thinking of tying the knot in Mobile will want to check out the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion on Spring Hill Avenue. This iconic antebellum home, atmospheric live oaks and all, is the site for Mobile’s most romantic outdoor weddings and receptions. Spring here brings azaleas, at their peak during the last two weeks in March and first two weeks in April, but the Mansion can also host festivities indoors when it’s too cold–or too hot–for the front lawn or side garden.
Mobile, Alabama, located on the shores of Mobile Bay, is served by major airlines via Mobile Regional Airport. For more information on visiting Mobile, check the website at www.mobile.org.
For information and reservations at the Kate Shepard House Bed and Breakfast, check the website at www.kateshepardhouse.com.
Photos by Jack Purser Jr.