By Denise DePaolo
Images by Elizabeth Lucille Photography
Seven years ago, Dustin and Laura Floyd were living a disconnected suburban existence. They didn’t know their neighbors. Their commute was 45 minutes each way. It soon became painfully obvious it wasn’t the life they were mean to live, so when they first peeked into the dirty windows of a hulking, abandoned Victorian in Deadwood’s Presidential District, they saw potential. Not for the gracious inn that exists today, but for a home, a project, and for the chance to do something meaningful.
The 4,000 square foot Queen Anne-style house had been foreclosed, and sat vacant for three years. The heating system was shot. All of the pipes had burst. Instead of running for the surrounding hills, Dustin and Laura said, “How could we not do this?” After waiting out some other potential buyers, they took possession and began the daunting task of restoration. When asked how long it took, Dustin laughed and said, “Six down, 14 to go.”
The 1899 Inn was built by Henry Benjamin Wardman, a self-made hardware magnate of the gold rush era. His original home was a much smaller one, and was moved to the back of the lot to make room for the palatial structure standing at the fore today. Wardman began construction in 1898, after selling his shares to his business partner, George Ayres. When it was completed the next year, he moved in with his second wife, two small children, and new mother-in-law. At the time, the 12-room home was one of the largest in Deadwood, and because of a highly-detailed 1899 newspaper article, the Floyds know how each space was used, and even how it was decorated.
The couple’s original intention was to restore the home and enjoy the space. But, Dustin says, people started joking that they’d either have to have kids or open an inn. Both seemed like a lot of work, so they began admitting guests through Airbnb. After a couple of years, however, they were approached by the city of Deadwood and told to stop. Along with the advent of gaming, Deadwood had ushered in a strict set of lodging laws, which didn’t have a lot of wiggle room. If they wanted to keep having guests, they had to become a fully licensed bed and breakfast. So that is what they did.
“We started four years ago and it has grown every year since,” explained Dustin. “At first, it was kind of a hobby. We’d have two or three rooms rented during the busy season and that was it. We were both working full time jobs. It wasn’t bad, but two years ago, Laura started doing it full time. Now she has two or three staff at any given time, and it can be difficult to keep up.”
It was important to the Floyds that the inn honor the history of the house, without being a prisoner to it. The foyer is home to a working nineteenth century organ acquired from a benefit auction for Lead’s Homestake Opera House. A large, curved staircase greets visitors to the right, crafted from the same fir as most of the home’s woodwork and flooring. Also there to say hello is one of the Floyd’s three black cats, which are highly popular with guests. Straight ahead is a dining room, and to the left of the entryway is the first parlor, which is what most visitors to the house would have seen when the Wardmans lived there. While it feels perfectly natural for the pocket doors between rooms to be open now, Victorians were big fans of compartmentalizing their living spaces.
The parlor is furnished comfortably, with cozy couches in a subdued floral upholstery, and fleur de lis accents in the curtains to echo those in the original stained glass. Curious about the recurrence of the famous French symbol in the windows, as it was not part of Wardman’s heritage, the Floyds asked a stained glass scholar’s opinion. She ventured to guess that they were obtained at the 1899 World’s Fair in St. Louis, which Wardman would have attended to get ideas for his grand new home. The fleur de lis was the maker’s mark for craftsmen in St. Louis.
The next room is what would have been the private parlor, reserved for the Wardman family and close friends. The original coal-burning fireplace has been converted to gas, which was chosen over wood, due to its small size. The dark leather couches are indicative of the effort to keep things comfortable, and not go overboard on the historic aspects.
“Sometimes I’m surprised that I live here,” added Laura. “I come in and walk around and see how beautiful it is and all the fantastic antiques. I’m surprised it’s my house and I get to live somewhere so beautiful. It’s home, too, but sometimes it has the feel of being a showpiece. You have to find comfy spaces.”
“We didn’t want to be real Victorian frou frou with stuff,” Dustin added. “We’ve been to bed and breakfasts where they do that, and it’s a little disturbing. Creepy dolls, mauves and pastels, uncomfortable furniture, it feels old fashioned, but fake.”
Where the Floyds have chosen to employ a bit of history is where the guests will enjoy it most – in their room. The back room on the first floor was once Mr. Wardman’s study. Now, it’s one of the most popular guest rooms, aptly called “The Old Library.” The bedroom set was built in the 1880s, and brought to Deadwood by wagon by Henry Frawley, one of the town’s early lawyers.
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