KING COLUMN: A wonderful weekend spent in a purple mansion

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, April 9, 2024

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By Bill King
Pastor of Lanier Baptist Church

Last weekend was a colorful one for Jean and me. We spent two nights in a purple mansion in Laurel, Mississippi, and rode in a pink stretch limo as we toured the “Home Town” of HGTV’s Ben and Erin Napier. We had not been anywhere since my surgery back in December, so I’ve been itching to get out of the house. I didn’t want to travel too far, so Laurel fit the Bill (King). We have passed through Laurel many times through the years, especially during my years of studying at New Orleans Baptist Seminary. Honestly, we had never given a second thought to spending any time there until the Napiers put the small city on the map with their television show. 

Wisteria Bed and Breakfast, our abode for the weekend, is located on Fifth Avenue, in the historic district of Laurel. The beautiful old mansion is easy to spot. It is the only one on the street, or probably in the town, for that matter, that is purple. Okay, not that kind of purple. It does not look like an LSU frat house, but its color is more of a lavender or pinkish-purple, but still, you can’t miss it … and you will not want to. The house was built in 1901 by a timber baron named Silas B. Gardiner. Gardiner moved to the area from Clinton, Iowa. He was one of the owners of Eastman Gardiner Company, which became Laurel’s largest and most successful lumber company. The original house was white with a wraparound porch. Both the white paint and the porch are gone now, but the house is still beautiful. The house was purchased by the Schneider family in 1972. They transformed it into a bed and breakfast in 2004. 

We were greeted first by the beautiful cats on the lawn and porch. I have seen the feral chickens of Hawaii, the wild mustangs of Wyoming, and now the feral cats of Laurel. We have feral armadillos and possums in Alabama. The welcome by the cats was not quite as warm as the one by Mr. Earl, our host. I almost shared a front-porch swing with one cat, but as I sat down, he voted against me! 

Mr. Earl is a most gracious host and a wealth of information about his house, the city, and Ben and Erin, who were once his neighbors. 

Coffee is served each morning at 6:30, followed by a hot breakfast at 8:30. Mr. Earl is also the chef. He cooks a scrumptious breakfast and sets a beautiful table. We had great fellowship around the table with guests from Texas, DeSota County Mississippi, and Vernon, Alabama. Mr. Earl didn’t eat with us, but visited while we ate and tended to our every need. 

Jean and I tried to get him to go home with us, but he decided to stay there.  

We toured the city in a pink stretch Hummer limo. Our chauffeur was also our narrator. He pointed out every house that Home Town has restored there and told us who lived there. I think he also knew everybody in town, except a few tourists! 

Ben and Erin were out of town, but their life-size cutouts greeted us inside Mississippi’s oldest art museum. 

We did see Ben’s woodshop and their gift shops. Well, yeah, we bought something. Even though I’ve built umpteen-hundred cutting boards, I didn’t have one with Ben’s Scotsman trademark stamped on it, but I do now!

It sure felt good to be “On the road again!” If you haven’t been to Laurel, it’s worth the drive, but my white car sure looked bland there!