Oak Hall Bed and Breakfast opens to guests in Vicksburg’s Fostoria neighborhood
When Don and Elizabeth Nelson would drive from their home in Texas to visit family in Georgia, they would stop in Vicksburg as a resting place, and, at that time, they had no idea what the city would have in store for them.
The Nelsons have lived in what Elizabeth described as “architecturally beautiful” places, including Savannah, Georgia and historic districts in Florida and Texas. However, Elizabeth said the first time they ventured from the interstate into the neighborhoods of Vicksburg, they were stunned by the beauty Vicksburg had to offer.
“We were just blown away with the architecture in Vicksburg,” she said.
Four years ago, the Nelsons fell in love with a house on Drummond Street — The Stained Glass Manor, otherwise known as the Fannie Willis Johnson Home. They bought the house with no plan of what it would become.
“We were not sure, when we bought the house, what we were going to do,” Elizabeth said. “We knew we fell in love with that house. We wanted to save it. We wanted to fix it up and share it with friends and family.”
They had renovated homes in the historic district before, although this was the first on the National Register of Historic Places. They had also been doing Airbnb for several years and had long-term rental properties. However, it didn’t take long for them to realize this home was going to be different from any other they had done before.
“We received so much positive feedback from neighbors as we had events and gatherings,” she said. “People would come through who had never been in the house, and they’ve lived [in Vicksburg] their entire lives. It just dawned on us that the house is something special and unique. We wanted to figure out a way to share it with others while being able to enjoy it ourselves.”
They started with renting out the carriage house behind the main house on Airbnb. This was where the original owner of the home, a local philanthropist, Fannie Willis Johnson, lived while she housed protestant widows in the main house for about 30 years. Along with renting the carriage house, the Nelsons began to host small events such as weddings, bridal showers and engagement parties.
Just a few weeks ago, a few rooms of the main house opened to guests as Oak Hall Bed and Breakfast. Elizabeth said she had planned on a soft opening, hosting just a few guests every once in a while, while she finished restoring the rest of the home to the bed and breakfast it was at various times over the years. But that planned soft opening turned into the house’s two rental rooms being completely booked since the space became available.
“The benefit we’ve had is just meeting all of these awesome people and sharing the neighborhood with them,” Elizabeth said. “Some people are just so surprised with how awesome the area is, and you get to share the house and a lot about Vicksburg with them.”
Nelson said she wanted to keep the home in its original form and architecture while making it feel like home to their guests with a modern touch. She said it is entirely possible to keep and respect the history of a home while bringing in modern amenities, and that there is no pressure to buy expensive vintage pieces in order to do justice to the home.
“We want people to feel comfortable like they’re not going to break things,” Nelson said. “We want them to feel at home.”
A unique element of Oak Hall is that the Bed and Breakfast won’t serve a traditional full breakfast. Instead, they will share some of Vicksburg with guests by using a local caterer that delivers breakfast boxes to the room. If the guest would rather dine out, the Nelsons share their favorite local restaurants that Vicksburg has to offer.
Not all of the guests at Oak Hall Bed and Breakfast are strangers to the charm of Vicksburg. One of the first guests to stay in the main house was a couple coming to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. Elizabeth said they wanted to stay in the place where they got married, and the bed and breakfast was it.
“They had booked the carriage house at first, but then she said if I got the rooms in the main house ready, they’d really like to stay in one of those because that was her bridal suite,” she said. “That was a lot of fun, and she wants to bring the whole family back for another trip.”
The house has already had several old friends return to visit it again. The Holland sisters, daughters of former Mayor Holland, came back to the house to donate furniture and old photographs of their time living in the house in the ’60s.
Lectures by a Jackson historian have been given in the home about the history of the house. Its most notable features are what it was previously named after: The stained glass windows. Lois Millet, a well-known stained glass artist, did three projects in Mississippi, including what is commonly known as Stained Glass Manor.
“For me, the [stained glass windows] are everything,” Elizabeth said. “I don’t have a lot of artwork on the walls, because the windows are the artwork. The artist and the homeowner clearly felt they were important to have 32 of them in the house. Every day, I look at them and just can’t believe they’re here, and we get to enjoy them every day.”
Elizabeth said she hopes, with the opening of her bed and breakfast, more people will come and experience Vicksburg and all she loves about it.
“I think the more things there are to do that are unique and different, the better off Vicksburg will be,” she said. “People are always looking for things to do, and this is just one more offering.”
Elaborating, she said she cares about involving the community and sharing her home and hosts events to make it happen. On Oct. 30, the Nelsons will participate in and host Porch Fest, a family-friendly block party where porches become stages for live music and plenty of food is served.
“We had to postpone in 2020 due to COVID, but we are happy to announce we’ll be hosting again this year, so save the date for a fun-filled day of local music, art, food, architecture and community,” Elizabeth said.
The Oak Hall Bed and Breakfast will open entirely in the fall with a grand opening. The Nelsons said they also hope to have tours of the home on a consistent basis. Currently, tours are available by appointment only.
“We fell in love with Vicksburg the first time we came through the neighborhood,” she said. “We are just excited to open our home and share with people from all over the world and to show them how cool this area is.”