It’s a low time for High Meadows.
The historic Scottsville bed and breakfast, the center of a failed win-the-inn essay contest in 2015, will be auctioned off on the Albemarle County Courthouse steps in a May 24 trustee’s sale.
The sale comes after the inn’s current owner defaulted on the $737,000 mortgage after unsuccessfully seeking buyers, including with the ill-fated essay contest and a crowd funding effort. Several bona fide real estate deals also failed even as the innkeeper fell behind in property taxes.
To prevent the inn from being seized by the county and sold to pay back taxes, the former inn owner, who financed the current owner’s mortgage, paid off the taxes and the property went into foreclosure.
“I hated to have to do this,” said Peter Sushka, who along with his wife built the 175-year-old federal and state historic building into a successful inn. “We decided there was really no other alternative left but to foreclose.”
The inn’s current owner, Cynthia N. Bruce, could not be reached for comment.
The inn will be auctioned to the highest bidder at 11 a.m. on May 24 at the behest of trustee Forbes R. Reback. Bidders may attend the courthouse auction or phone in bids to (434) 981-2348.
The winning bidder will be required to post a 10 percent deposit on the winning bid to hold the property, according to a legal notice advertising the sale.
Despite the foreclosure and sale, Sushka says he has high hopes that a new owner could revive the 13-acre hilltop property and business.
“I think the right buyer could be very successful. We served over 175,000 guests in our years operating the inn and we’d gross on a good year between two-thirds and three-quarters of a million dollars,” said Sushka who with his wife Jae Abbott Sushka bought, restored and renovated High Meadows in 1985. “That gave us enough money to pay a good staff, keep up the property and make a lot of people happy.”
High Meadows, then known as Fairview, made Peter White’s family happy. They built the original one-and-a-half story brick house built between 1831 and 1832.
“In the 1850s, White was a man of above average means, typical of the small farmer or merchant,” a 1986 nomination of property to the National Register of Historic Places states. “It is possible he was a merchant or professional since he owned a building in the town of Scottsville in the 1850s, had income other than from farming, owned a little land and few slaves.”
The property fell to White’s wife, Elizabeth, upon his death in 1865 or 1866. Elizabeth White owned the property until 1882 when she sold it to Charles B. Harris, whose family moved to Scottsville from Pennsylvania prior to the Civil War to run a mercantile store.
Rather than tear down the older 1832 White house, Harris built a new stucco and brick house next to it and connected the two buildings together to form one home. Rather than connecting the two buildings with a hyphen hall, which would have given the joined buildings an H shape, Harris built a hallway that ran the length of the buildings and connected them seamlessly in a “longitudinal passage.”
It is the only building of its age in Virginia to feature two homes joined in such a way, according to the historic nomination.
Fairview remained in the Harris family until 1920 when L.L. Hayman acquired the property, subdivided it into several parcels and renamed it High Meadows.
“The Melton family acquired the property in 1943 where it remained until purchased in 1985 by [the Sushkas],” the nomination states.
The Sushkas were “D.C. people” when they discovered the aged and dilapidated High Meadows. Peter Sushka was set to retire from U.S. Navy after serving as a submariner and liaison to the British Navy. Jae Sushka was part of the U.S. Department of State and remains in the federal service, working most recently in Afghanistan where the Sushkas have built a 374-student school in a rural, mountainous province 100 miles or so outside of Kabul.
They saw the Scottsville property. They saw its potential as a country inn. They fell in love.
“It was decrepit. There was no plumbing or electricity,” Peter Sushka recalled. “But there weren’t many country inns in the area at the time and we thought we had a niche.”
The Sushkas saw a chance for a vineyard on the property and planted vines of Pinot noir at the advice of renowned local winemaker Gabriele Rausse. They installed the plumbing and electricity and renovated each room one by one.
They later added a restaurant, which received excellent reviews. The added a few outbuildings and increased the number of rooms for rent. When his wife was sent to serve overseas, he welcomed some financial partners into the business and started a kitchen internship with Johnson-Wales University culinary school in the Tidewater area.
“It was magical,” Sushka said. “We had a lot of weddings and we even had two babies born in the inn.”
In 2007, Sushka’s partners decided to leave the business. His wife was still serving in the state department and he found the inn too much for one person. He leased the property and business to Cynthia and Nancy Bruce.
The mother-daughter management team, with Cynthia Bruce’s two children, made some repairs, redecorated, closed the restaurant and turned the home into a respected bed and breakfast. In 2010, they bought the inn from Sushka in an owner-financed mortgage arrangement.
In 2015, Cynthia Bruce told The Daily Progress that a looming balloon mortgage payment and the difficulty of getting small business loans even after the recession led to reality’s harsh intrusion.
She tried a crowd funding effort on Gofundme.com. Then she remembered the magical story of a 210-year-old inn in Maine that in 1993 was offered in exchange for a well-written essay and a fee. The owner received 7,255 entries which provided more than $900,000 for the owner’s retirement.
In fact, the innkeeper who ran the contest had won the Maine inn in a similar contest.
It seemed a simple solution. In 2015, the Bruces offered the inn in exchange for a winning composition and a non-refundable entry fee. Enough entries meant the existing mortgage and debts could be paid and the inn could be transferred to the contest winner free and clear.
That didn’t happen for High Meadows. Fewer than the 5,800 entries needed for the contest were received, the contest was called and Bruce began the process of refunding money, a process that went awry.
On social media, many people who said they entered the contest said they never received a refund. The website came down. The telephone was turned off.
In 2016, while real estate agents worked to arrange a sale, Nancy Bruce moved back to Florida to be near family. Cynthia Bruce ran the inn through the spring graduation season for local high schools and the University of Virginia, Sushka said.
And then she closed the inn.
Buying a property at auction is a numbers game. Bid too low and you lose. Bid the wrong amount and the mortgage holder may outbid you to keep the property. Bid too high and it’s harder to raise money to fix up a property and restart a business.
Here are the High Meadows Inn numbers:
The inn features five guest rooms and five bathrooms in the main house, and two guest rooms and two bathrooms in the cottage. It has one commercial kitchen, a couple of dining rooms and owner’s quarters.
For 2017, Albemarle County assessed the High Meadows Inn at $695,300 for tax purposes. That’s the same as 2016’s assessment and about $55,000 less than 2015’s assessed value of $741,100.
The property was sold in 2010 for $785,000. The mortgage principal advertised in the trustee’s sale notice is $737,000. The property has been marketed by real estate agents for between $650,000 and $725,000 and is currently on the market for $550,000 through real estate agent Peter Scherman.
The trustee’s sale announcement states that the property will be sold with all furnishings in place. Anyone interested in touring the property prior to the auction can contact real estate agent Debi Denton at (434) 960-6753.
“It’s a beautiful property. It really hurts to do this, but it’s something you have to get over and do what you have to do,” Sushka said.
Sushka said the main concern is to find High Meadows a good homeowner.
“It was put up for sale a couple of years ago and there were four or five seriously interested buyers, but you get to a point in negotiations when a bank says you need this or that for the financials and it just didn’t work,” he said.
The property can be used as a single-family home. “It can be made into an inn again,” Sushka said. “The people who buy it at auction could get it for a price where they could make repairs and make it a going concern again. I’d love to see that happen.”
Bryan McKenzie is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7271, firstname.lastname@example.org or @BK_McKenzie on Twitter.
This is a photo of the Cottage (today...leaves are falling fast!),
and the professional photo from late spring
This is a photo of the entry hall, looking in as you open the front door. To the left is the door to the Cottage Room, to the right is the door to the Cottage Suite (with the deck)
Photos of the interior of the Cottage Suite:
Here are a few photos of the Cottage Room:
These bottom two are obviously NOT the professional shots...but you can see the bathroom, and the new flooring, bed and table/chairs.
That pretty much sums up the cottage...definitely potential and space for owners quarters, if the winner is so inclined.
These next pictures are of the basement hallway, in between the kitchen and the rooms my children use:
These stairs are the ones that go to the main level, and you can see into the kitchen from this photo. The doorknob is just pretty, it goes into the full bathroom on this level. The wooden closet doors on the left cover a whole wall of shelving we use for towel and linen storage.
I like the floors...white stones in the bathroom with painted brick wall, and brick floor in the hall.
The next photos are of the rooms down on the lower level that we turned into our personal space for living room/dining room. You can get a feel for the spaciousness, and the window placement. That's a great gas stove insert! Directly across from it (not pictured) is the door that connects the kitchen.
The photo below shows the small room adjacent to the room above, and which also has a door out to the brick patio. This 'window' you see is covered with a board divider, and is seen from the other side above my son's bed (with the red/white coverlet below).
I got brave and took pics of my teens' rooms...don't judge me...it's their mess.
Top photo as a guest room many, many years ago - nice and neat. Bottom is my 13 year old daughter's vision of pink.We painted the paneling - it's not fancy woodwork, just literally beadboard panelling, added in the 80's to cover rough plaster walls. There is an in-the-room handsink. The floor is painted concrete - we like that, but basically you could put down anything you want over this surface. This is at the front of the house, with a door connecting to the full bath (that also has the door from the hall with the pretty knob...two doors into one bathroom), as you are reading the floorplan...the room on the bottom right of the picture below.
Below is my son's room (the bottom left room in the photo above) - it's a painted concrete floor as well. Nothing fancy, the windows let in nice light. It is at the front of the house, directly below the Peony room.
The last photo of where we 'live'...
This is called the 'Office' on the floor plan, it's on the main level, and we have a tv in an alcove here (not pictured, on the right), there is a full bathroom to the right also.
Behind the curtain, there is a doorway we boarded up (but could easily be taken down) that leads to the massage room - which has a separate entrance from the back porch. Before we closed it off, that part of this room held the bed for this room, which has been a guest room, and was also where my mother lived when we first came.
SO...these are some of the spaces you HAVEN'T seen on the website, as they are generally off limits to guests. I hope it's obvious there are SO MANY configurations for pretty much whatever the new owners needs are! Lastly, the laundry room, kitchen....
And the large chicken coop/tool shed.
Now go, write your essay, and ENTER!!! Good luck!