It’s been decades now, but every Halloween I think about that restaurant, situated in an original antebellum home on Stage Road. Thing was, it was haunted. Yes, you heard it right – a Haunted House – but boy was she beautiful. A majestic two story brick home, with a huge, two tier porch with white gingerbread detail dating back to the 1800’s. Old rooted trees, lush lawn; white fences. The day I saw her, she was dressed for Christmas with wreaths at each window and framed in twinkling white lights. A vision. Back then we literally knew nothing about the home and just a fraction of its history. But thanks to the Internet and the new owner‘s book – now I can share some of the photos and information I’ve recently uncovered.
It was by no chance that in 1835, Dr. Nickerson Snead and his wife Betsy Scott-Beatie-Sneed built their dream home on Stage Road, then Old Stage Road, then The Great Road, or The Great Wagon Road, now known as Route 11 or Lee Highway. That road’s been traversed for ages – long before the Snead Family ever set foot on this land; the Native Americans in the area called it The Great Warrior Path. Using the area as a trade route in times of peace and a traveling route in times of war. The tribes called it – Passawatami – meaning “This is The Place.” In fact – it was the place for their Fall Festival – or as we celebrate it now – Halloween, Dia de Los Muertos and the Equinox – how appropriate as I pen this tale.
The two story brick masterpiece itself is built on top of the original log cabin, established in the 1700’s by Francis Kincannon. That limestone foundation has seen hundreds of years of history. The original two room cabin served as a Fort – known as Fort Kincannon during the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War. When I read this my jaw dropped. My history is intertwined with a house that was built before our country was founded. Furthermore, during the Civil War. Dr. Snead’s home served as a field hospital; on account of the 1st and 2nd Battle of Saltville occurred just 8 miles away in 1864. The cellar doubled as the morgue for a spell. The less fortunate stored down there until the earth thawed enough to bury the dead. Coincidentally, just down the road is the Old Glade Springs Cemetery where many a solider and the home owners, Mr. and Mrs. Snead reside to this day.
The home is said to be haunted by various spirits. Young children presumed to be Josephine and Douglas Mason both died young in the home. Josephine from an onslaught of disease and Douglas from a kick to head by a horse, where the little boy died on the back steps waiting for the doctor to arrive. There are two devious little prankster in the old log rooms, suspected to be two of the 11 slaves which were part of the estate. But the most famous of them all is Betsy Scott herself, known as the Woman in Blue who is said to walk the corridors and purposely ignore the patrons of the Bed & Breakfast / Restaurant and walk away if ever addressed. It became a problem. The complaints were consistent and the real hostess always apologized and explained no one by that description worked there. Can you imagine if Yelp existed back then? Or maybe it’s Mrs. Mason, who bought the home from the Sneads and upon her death requested her wake to be held in the salon; and so it was. She’s been said to be seen looking into her own coffin from time to time.
So here I am, drinking in the history of this house and look back at my own time there and some odd coincidences started to line up.
The first was very distinct as it was a well heated argument between a mother and her teenage daughter… over a video tape recorder – the battery to be exact. My mom called me furious that I hadn’t charged the battery for the tape recorder before their trip. I did. But the machine stopped working as soon as they headed down into the basement. Mom would recharged the battery – but it still would just drain. This modern technology was pissing her off and being on the opposite coast I was little help to her. Frustrated they purchased new batteries and chargers hoping to catch enough video.
Sadly, none of the batteries ever held a charge while in the home.
I remember the whole house was cold, always cold, even if every fireplace in the joint was blazing. In particular the Long Room on the second floor which was my dads office never got warm. I mean, you could see your breath in there. But we Californias had no idea what was the norm, so there we sat with our mittens. I’m grateful for that memory because I can still hear my dad’s laugh that day, when his teacup from the prior morning was frozen solid.
I remember the Red Room. Situated on the 2nd floor at the heart of the home ; it had its own entrance while still connected to the main house – making it the prefect living quarters while the bustling restaurant downstairs filled the various salons and hallways.
Because of its separate entrance the Red Room was most likely the doctors office and perhaps the operating area; making the little house on the lawn a field office, nurse’s station or the Post Office as Dr. Snead was the Postmaster for three years. When I came across a photo of the home today, it was of the Red Room and the exact corner and door that I entered years ago. The empty corner of the photo replaced in my memory with our Christmas Tree and the hollow room filled with the people I love. It’s funny, looking back. The first time I saw this home it was an enchanting Christmas fairytale and when I see it now it is a Halloween House of Horrors. Strange how life works out – isn’t it?
I remember my cat sitting on the huge window sill of the Red Room looking out at the white barn next door; two brown horses neighing on the snow patched grass. I remember the Christmas lights dancing off the ice on the glass. I remember how tense and terrified my cat was but it didn’t occur to me as to why. I remember seeing the cemetery from the second floor window and the fog clung to each gravestone. At the time I didn’t know the former residences now resided there – but I’ll never forget that view.
I stumbled upon this article and the hairs on my neck rose. Patrons of the restaurant complained about this rude lady dressed in blue, who would blatantly ignored them when addressed. It reminded me of a conversation with my late father; who was having trouble finding a polite hostess, because they were constantly being complained about and in a small town he was running out of options. When I read the accounts on this site, well I just got chills again typing this. Perhaps the complicated employee was the legendary Blue Lady herself, Betsy – the original heiress.
I remember the beautiful dining rooms in the salons, the breathtaking views from each window. The light hitting the porch as the snow glittered around us. I remember sledding down the soft bank out back in huge waiter trays. I remember sitting in the upstairs covered porch and watching the snow fall through the tiny window panes. If little Douglas haunted that spot, he was quiet that night. I remember the Christmas breakfast by the fireplace, the hot coco, the gift giving, the love and the ghost hunting…
But what really gets me is the Christmas Eve I spent in that old haunt. The pending blizzard clearing out the joint; leaving all but me, my folks and good ole’ Billy. When I met Billy that week, it was said he came with the house, a dedicated worker the owners simply kept on, so my Pop did too. We didn’t shake hands, he was awkward and hardly kept your stare; a goofy smile, kind and full of energy. With the whole place to ourselves and nothing to do – Billy took us on a ghost hunt. We explored each room, up in the attic but not the basement, nothing could get me down there after dark – or at high-noon for that matter.
It’s only at this moment, as I’m reading about the history that I recall those memories in the tiny brick house out front. How dreadfully cold it was. How I was wrapped in layers of clothes, scarfs and jackets; while Billy wore just a sweater. How I was shivering and he was giggling. How my breath turned into ice before my eyes and his… his breath didn’t make ice crystals. All these years later, that moment engraved in my mind, I noticed it then but was too scared with my Dad playing tricks on us to say anything. But you can’t trick that.
When I recall that magical Christmas Eve ghost hunt, where we found nary a ghost… but maybe, just maybe…
We were hosted by one.
After all, many a wayward solider met his untimely end in that old house…
* * *
That mansion has seen a lot in 183 years and I’m grateful that for the time it was ours as it was pure magic. In today’s harsh political climate, I take solace knowing two immigrants with a dream lived in a home with roots so deep they precede our nations birth. Two immigrants and their California girl danced in those hallways. Laughed in those rooms. Cozied up by those fireplaces. Us and 183 years of souls. I would lying if that moment in time didn’t shape the woman I am today – and the foundation as to why I become a Reatlor. A house is a home, a home to all that love there.
Thank you for taking the time to read my tale. It is a bittersweet memory I only dare think about on All Hallows Eve.
The following amazing sites are where I gathered the information and photos for this article.
Caudill, Rhonda, L. The History & The Hauntings of The Nickerson Sneed House: Rhonda L. Caudill, 2017. Print.
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