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Mobile's Historic Kate Shepard House
Bill & Wendy James are the (French) Toast of the Town
Traveling along the Gulf Coast takes on a special meaning when you find accommodations at a historic bed-and breakfast that also offers a gourmet morning meal.
“We realize that our guests are looking for more than a comfortable bed for the night,” says Wendy James, who co-owns Mobile’s Kate Shepard House Bed and Breakfast with her husband Bill. This grand mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “We are known for our special breakfasts that offer dishes that are not the run-of-the mill, such as pecan praline French toast, Southern Scotch eggs – prepared in honor of my British heritage – and Shepard eggs, my special concoction of a croissant pressed into a muffin tin, covered with sausage, topped with an egg, then baked until golden brown.”
No doubt about it, Wendy is a gourmet cook who finds pleasure in garnering compliments from the guests of her 112-year-old Victorian mansion located in the Old Dauphin Way Historic District. Built in 1897, from plans ordered by Charles Martin Shepard from a catalog issued by architect George Franklin Barber, the major components of the structure were manufactured in Knoxville, Tenn., and shipped to Mobile on 13 railroad cars. The structure was named the Kate Shepard House in honor of Charles’s daughter, who operated a well-known private boarding and day school in the home for children of Mobile’s most prominent families from 1910 until 1952.
“Kate left a treasure trove of memorabilia that we found in the attic after we purchased the home in 2002,” Wendy says. “We even found old school books that we now have on display. Our library is a repository of the Shepard family history, including many family letters. It is interesting to note that Kate’s great-uncle, John J. McRae, was Governor of Mississippi from 1854 until 1857 and that Colin J. McRae, Chief Financial Officer of the Confederate States of America, was also her great-uncle.”
“I was immediately attracted to the exterior of our home that pays homage to the Queen Anne style, and the fine interior details,” Bill says. It is natural that Bill would feel strongly about the house, since he is an architect who worked on award-winning projects in Hawaii for 15 years before moving to Mobile. “It’s hard to imagine a home of that period having more curb appeal. I especially liked the fact that the inside is much as it was when it was constructed, with even the intricate stained-glass windows in the stairway and living room still remaining.”
While the couple has made some modifications to the upstairs to create a bathroom for each of the two guest bedrooms, the downstairs remains true to the original plan. “One of the main things we wanted for our guests was a private bedroom downstairs with an adjoining bathroom,” he continues. “Our quarters are over the kitchen in the rear of the house, thus providing our guests with complete privacy.”
When asked why a visit to Mobile would be worthwhile, Bill was quick to point out that it is one of the most historic cities along the Gulf Coast. “We even lay claim to our Mardi Gras celebration being older than New Orleans’s,” he says with a smile.
Founded as the capital of colonial French Louisiana in 1702, Mobile remained a part of New France for more than 60 years. Today there are many places to visit in the city on the Gulf of Mexico, including museums, historic homes that are open to the public, even a battleship and submarine open for public tours.
Wendy points out that fresh seafood and good dining are also attractions to the area. There are many nearby restaurants, from reasonable Mom-and-Pop operations such as the Dew Drop Inn on Old Shell Road to The Pillars, a fine dining establishment on Government Street.
While guests may inquire where to dine for lunch or dinner, no one would ever ask for a suggestion of where to get a great breakfast.
“I think a large delicious breakfast is an absolute must for a first-class bed-and-breakfast,” she explains. “Our guests rave about waking up to the smell of my breakfast cooking, and they often comment on how special they feel as they sit at our elegant dining room table and are graciously served a full breakfast.”