January 18, 2021
January 18, 2021
I wanted to get away for a few days in December. My husband and I decided that a cabin in the woods would be the ideal trip, so to the Internet we went to find the perfect cabin. The problem was...we waited too long for most places. The good news was...we did end up finding a cabin only 2.5 hours from us. Where am I going with this? Our trip was for four lovely nights in a remote area of Mississippi that neither of us was familiar with. No big deal. Against my better judgment and past experiences with AirBnB, I booked this cabin. With everything in line, we took off for Bay Springs, MS.
Our drive there was easy. Coming from New Orleans, we drove through some nice “hilly” areas and enjoyed the short road trip. When we arrived, the entire vacation started to fall apart. The furniture was old and looked dirty, and even included a piece of gum in one of the sofa cushions. The bed linens, I felt positive, were obtained from a garage sale, possibly from 1992. And I’m talking about a rural MS garage sale, not a St. Charles Avenue one. As night fell, there was nothing left to do but get into the garage sale linens and read or go to sleep, so I read. I continued to read or surf the web until about 5 am due to each tiny move I made squeaking the bed at an absurd pitch. Plus, by this sleep-deprived point I felt sure I would come away with bed bugs. I decided in this timeframe that I would not be sleeping a second night in that cabin. I remembered the man I booked the cabin with mentioning a place called “Laurel” and some TV show being filmed there, so in my hallucinations at 3 am, I found an alternative. It was a bed and breakfast called Grandiflora that I decided would be where my last 3 nights would be spent. If they had any vacancy, of course. God willing, Alec answered my call around 8 am, told me I could check in early, and we bid that small piece of discomfort adieu forever.
As we drove into Laurel, MS, a calm set over me. I could tell that this town and I were about to get along really well. The quaintness and the cleanliness stuck out as we drove through the streets of Laurel to get to the Grandiflora. As we pulled up to this beautiful, white mansion, I knew I had “done good” this time around. The note on the door told me to call Hugh, who turned out to be the owner of the home. He showed us around the downstairs, our room, and we settled in. Our room was the Thomas room, and it was just perfect. It had a king size bed, a large bathroom with a nice size shower (with a head on either side!) and plenty of room to open our suitcases. I thought I had died and gone to heaven, especially after that cabin debacle.
Hugh told us to make ourselves at home, so we poked around at the other rooms, which each had its own charm and purpose. It was a bit rainy and drab the first day we got there, so we got to relax and bum around most of the day. The next day, though, Hugh gave us an incredible history lesson about the town and his house. I will get to the town part a bit later because it is fascinating.
Over the course of 3 nights and 3 mornings with these folks, Grandiflora felt like a home to me. A place that I could go back over and over. The main reason is because it was Hugh’s and his wife’s family home for over 40 years, so it was, in fact, a home first. It was built in the late 1800s by a man named John Lindsey. He invented an extremely important vehicle called the Lindsey wagon, and that wagon provided year-round ability to haul timber and logs. Before that, the snow, ice or mud prevented this from happening. Hugh found the house in pretty bad shape when he was a single young doctor, and decided a project was just what he needed. Luckily, his future wife was on board and they furnished this home so beautifully. This B&B has been one of my favorite places I’ve ever stayed, hands down. So, book a couple of nights there and experience the sweetness of this place.
I’ll tell you the gist of how Laurel came to be, from what I understand. It was founded as a timber town. Its main industry involved cutting down and selling timber. John Lindsey (mentioned above) revolutionized timber trade by making it a year-round business. How? He invented a wagon that could defy the snow and mud and roll right through it so timber could be sold all over. This is amazing, to me at least. Another industry that was born in Laurel was masonite. William Mason found a way to make inexpensive hardboard from the wood paste at the mills. His company is now international. Two more industries Laurel is famous for: oil, which needs not much explanation, and the resurgence of craftsman style homes. Read on for the scoop of the homes.
Full disclosure: I do not watch a lot of TV, so some might say I have been living under a rock because I didn’t know this particular fact about Laurel. There is a TV show called Home Town on HGTV that features a couple who renovate old homes, mainly craftsman style, in Laurel, MS. Who knew? They have a couple of other businesses as well. Ben, from my understanding, has a business called The Scotsman Co, and he and Erin own a retail shop called Laurel Mercantile. A store owner that we visited told us that they have helped bring no less than 50 new businesses to Laurel. That is nothing short of spectacular. We did see Ben walking his large Pyrenees dog one of the days, but I was not about to bother the man for a picture. Who am I kidding? When I parked my car and went back out, he wasn’t there. I tried.
Walking around the town of Laurel on a Sunday (our first day) was one of the most magnificent feelings I’ve gotten in a while. There was literally no one on the streets. I had free reign to take pictures of city blocks, signs, selfies without feeling like a weirdo. It is still a town where Sundays are coveted family days and days of rest. The shop windows were filled with Christmas decorations and nativity scenes. And, did I mention, it is so clean! At least in the city center. The weekday we walked around when stores were open and there was a holiday bustle in the air was equally as charming. Store owners were as delightful as could be. They stopped and talked to us about anything and everything, and there was a big sense of pride for “Ben and Erin,” the two HGTV stars from THEIR hometown.
When you stay at a bed and breakfast, breakfast is included. The spread consisted of coffee that even I approved of. Coffee is a big deal to me. It’s what motivates me out of bed everyday. I love sitting with coffee in the morning and taking some time to really wake up. Aside from coffee, we were served orange juice and water. The food was outstanding: scrambled eggs, biscuits, muffins, fruit. It was plentiful and the taste was so good. It left me full for the mornings so I could get my hike or shopping on!
Aside from Sunday, the town bustles with out-to-eaters. The day we arrived, we had to travel a bit outside of the city center because most of the restaurants were closed. For my husband it was a blessing in disguise because Hugh had told us that most of the Mexican restaurants were open on a Sunday. We chose the one with the best ratings, named Reyes (no website), and we were not disappointed. I had a beer, he had a margarita, and the salsa was on point. Our main dishes, nachos and some concoction that I cannot recall, were delicious. So much food for very little budget. The other days we ate in town, and had we had more days, we would’ve been even more well fed. Lee’s was a fantastic option for soup and sandwich. It was counter service, quick, and the food tasted like it had quality. Although we didn’t eat at Pearl’s Diner, it came highly recommended. It is a southern-style, soul food restaurant and we hear it delivers every time. If I can be honest, we did go in but they didn’t have the fried okra so we left. That was the big selling point for me and they didn’t have it that day. Fried okra is my kryptonite.
Dinner was a no-brainer each night. We went to the two most highly recommended restaurants in Laurel: Mimmo’s and The Loft. I’ll start with Mimmo’s. It’s Italian fare and a local Mississippi chain. The atmosphere was different than I expected. When I think of eating Italian food, I think of a small, dark restaurant with white linens and dressed up waitstaff. This place was a big, open space. No linens, no dressed up waitstaff. The food was decent, but 2 things: I’m not used to this style of Italian food; I don’t really love Italian food. Maybe I wasn’t the right person to go here. The Loft was nice. We met another couple staying at our B&B and they planned on going there for dinner as well, so we decided to go together. The experience was perfect. The food was good, and the company was better. We enjoyed it a lot.
J Parker in downtown Laurel
One last thing we did before heading home from Laurel was a visit to the Lauren Rogers Museum, which is conveniently located next to the Grandiflora. Free to the public, it’s worth an hour or so of your time (although you could spend longer) to see some of the works there. They have the largest collection of Native baskets, plus some beautiful pieces hanging in the various galleries. Upon entering, you feel like you’re stepping back in time. Because Laurel was a timber town originally, what was the main library is all wood. I felt like I was in the library of The Music Man, and so wanted to burst into the song “Marian the Librarian.” Although it was a short visit, I knew I would be back to see it again.
Laurel is a dreamy little town. I felt more refreshed after visiting there than I have in a long time. People are genuinely kind. The vibe is positive. The residents have a true pride for their city. It’s a great combination. This is a place I would put on the top of my list to visit. It will not disappoint.