By MEGAN JOHNSON
The southernmost tip of Solomons Island — as Route 2 curves into Charles Street, the end of the line before striking the Patuxent River — might be best known for the Tiki Bar, a local hang-out attracting thousands during its opening weekend each spring.
But right around the corner is a stately Queen Anne-style beauty: a building that stands in sharp contrast to the wild scenes that may play out nearby on summer nights.
The Solomons Victorian Inn, owned by Judith and Robert English since September 2014, has a history stretching back to the origins of Solomons Island — back when the Davis family, prominent builders of sailing yachts turned award-winning racing vessels, constructed the main home close to the Patuxent in 1906.
The Englishes arrived in Solomons by way of New York, where they’d relocated with their three children for business in 1997. Originally from London, the couple “searched the East Coast” — from Connecticut to points south — for a bed and breakfast to take over before discovering the Victorian Inn, already a successfully-run B&B for 40 years. It was their concession to semi-retirement after years in bustling Manhattan, though the pair now stay quite busy as innkeepers.
“[Solomons] was so beautiful and the house was in such a fantastic location,” said Judith, reminiscing with Robert about their first visit to the community. Discussing Southern Maryland’s unpredictable weather, the couple arrived in the midst of a hailstorm and had to seek refuge — what little there was, anyway — behind their car.
Did it seem like an omen?
“It did,” they laughed. But they pressed on, still eager to add their own flourishes to the story of this historic place.
As the home changed hands between generations of the Davises and, later, passed to the Lore family before becoming a bed and breakfast under former ownership, additions were made with care paid to retaining some of the house’s original features. Many rooms feature specialty stained glass, artfully reflecting the afternoon sunlight; a wrap-around porch has been closed in with floor-to-ceiling windows perfect for enjoying water views over breakfast.
Visitors have arrived at the Victorian Inn from Canada, Europe, Hawaii. A family from Guatemala has already made reservations for September. Robert noted the many reasons guests arrive: visiting local family; in town for business at nearby Naval Air Station Patuxent River or Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant; just in town to enjoy a romantic weekend. Visitors love the ability to walk to riverside restaurants and shops.
“We just love to meet people,” said Robert, discussing the many stories he and his wife have heard in Solomons. The pair love to travel but these days, he noted, “the traveling comes to us.”
The inn itself features a corridor of rooms in the main house, including an attic-turned-suite on the third floor with stunning river views. Several rooms — Orithia, Narada — are named for original homeowner Davis’ boats, including the Manitou: once owned and restored by President John F. Kennedy. (Framed vintage photos along the hallway highlight that nautical history.)
Rooms are independently heated and cooled, and don’t worry: you won’t have to dodge strangers for the shower in the morning. Each room has its own en suite bathroom with some even featuring luxurious soaker tubs.
Out back, just off a path lined enticingly with wisteria in the warmer months, are two rooms with independent entrances that are much newer — constructed in 1997 — than the main house. Sweeping glimpses of the harbor are the main attraction in each area of the house, an asset enhanced by the many windows allowing natural light to pour in. This definitely isn’t your grandmother’s dark, cramped Victorian.
And what about the breakfast? Judith and Robert offer a full-service meal prepared in their renovated kitchen, separate from the other rooms in which guests can wander and relax. The three courses may include items like traditional English scones, fresh fruit, stuffed French toast and French-style Quiche Lorraine.
Though now far from their London roots, Robert and Judith have some of their British antiques on display — particularly on the enclosed porch, where guests ask if the vintage radio in a corner is real. (It is.) Though they still have extended family in England, their children — and, now, grandchildren — have remained in America, and the U.S. is home.
Plus, when they all gather in Solomons? Space is never an issue.
Bobby and Sharon Fastnaught spent four years building their dream home in Charlotte Hall: a brick Victorian set back in the woods, secluded yet still close to town. Though Sharon has always loved painted frame-style Victorians, a trip to Edenton, N.C., proved life-changing: stunning examples of brick Victorian homes became inspiration for their own. They moved into their own Brictoria in 1991.The separate cottage — with two bedrooms, a full kitchen, living room and full bath — was first constructed for Sharon’s parents, who moved to Southern Maryland from St. Louis, Mo., and resided there until they passed. The fully-equipped space stood empty for years until, Sharon recalls, the couple considered opening a bed and breakfast. They loved staying at them while traveling; why not start their own?
The result — Brictoria Cottage — is a tidy, well-appointed and peaceful retreat off Oaks Road: a place you have to know is there to, well, know it’s there. Welcoming guests since 2006, Sharon — a self-professed “cleanaholic” — takes great care to keep the place tidy and welcoming for couples and families seeking to get away from it all.
“Obviously it’s not for people looking for the party life,” she joked. A glance at the deep woods surrounding the eight-acre property attests to that. But the “peace, quiet and privacy” are what draw guests in, Sharon said; many are “pleasantly surprised” by the space, which offers a private entrance, after arrival.
Visitors book Brictoria Cottage while in town for weddings, funerals or other family occasions. Others drive down from northern Maryland — Baltimore, Silver Spring — on weekend trips to explore Southern Maryland’s history at locations like the Dr. Mudd House Museum or chow down on the fruits of the Chesapeake. “They want the crab experience,” Sharon said.
Originally from St. Louis, Sharon moved to Maryland in her twenties, working on Capitol Hill before moving to public affairs for the Office of Personnel Management for 26 years. Running the cottage with Bobby now gives her a chance to stay local without feeling isolated.
“It keeps us on our toes in terms of maintaining things. I’m retired now, not mixing it up with too many people,” Sharon said. “It’s like having company or preparing for a party — the excitement and anticipation.”
Brictoria Cottage is a private, fully-furnished home featuring a queen-sized bed on the first floor, plus an additional loft accessed by pull-down ladder with a twin bed. Room for four adults or two adults and two children, Sharon recommends. Thanks to her Halloween birthday, witches’ hats and haunted houses are a common theme in both the cottage and the Fastnaughts’ main residence; they appear in much of the decor at Brictoria.
The space has been rented as a preparation suite for wedding parties, then served as a honeymoon retreat for the newlyweds after the ceremony. The Fastnaughts have also welcomed guests from England and Sweden in town for BMX races and played host to those visiting relatives at the nearby Charlotte Hall Veterans Home.
“People come from all over, really,” Sharon said, noting that approximately half the guests are from Maryland while others arrive from more exotic locales. “I feel like it’s a unique offering. … We’ve had some delightful people come. They’re surprised I just turn the keys over.
“I tell people: I’m not going to bother you,” she joked, adding that breakfast is brought directly to the cottage rather than served in a formal dining area. People ask about service times, but Sharon and Bobby prefer to be flexible to guests’ needs.
The couple enjoys opening their home and hearing visitors’ stories. Because the cottage isn’t booked constantly, it doesn’t feel like “work” — rather like hosting new friends.
“We’ll probably do it until we’re too old to do it,” laughed Sharon.