When I bought the Woods Hole Inn, my attempts to purchase the web address woodsholeinn.com led me to Sam and Marsha Smalley of Folsom, Louisiana. Yes, turns out there was another Woods Hole Inn, down in the bayou near New Orleans.
When I called in 2008, I discovered that the southern Woods Hole Inn had been wiped out by Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the memory of the disaster that ruined the Smalley’s quiet life was still very fresh. Sam Smalley was kind enough to sell me the web address for a reasonable sum plus the promise that he and Marsha would visit as my guest one day.
Well, here we are five years later, and I am pleased to tell you that the Smalleys drove up this week — took them four days — and I was lucky enough to get a minute to hear more of their incredible story.
The Smalley’s bought their property in Folsom, opening a three-room inn in the late 1990’s. Sam ran the place and Marsha kept her day job in real estate. Things were going pretty well for them by 2005 – favorable reviews in Southern Living and plus Sam’s involvement in the local tourist bureau created a strong demand from New Orleans which was a scenic hour drive north across the longest bridge in the world, Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. Sam told me that he used to get bookings all the time that would end with, …and so how far is the drive from Boston? …Well, that’s quite a ways, he would drawl with a smile.
As Hurricane Katrina approached, the Smalleys decided to tough the storm out. One guest who was booked (a woman on dialysis) chose to remain home, thank goodness. Another guest took one look at the swaying pine trees and drove north. By nightfall of the first day of the storm, they were solo on their heavily wooded property.
What followed was the epic and now famous storm that hovered longer than expected and brought down over 40 trees in, on and around their house, cottage and garage. Trees came up with their entire root balls intact, erupting the earth. A tree crushed their garage. A tree in their courtyard destroyed one side of the main house while they hid in the foyer hoping for the best. As the storm cleared, the Smalleys realized they were lucky to be alive, but contacting worried family took another five days. Their beloved property was damaged beyond repair.
As Sam told the sad story of how it all ended, both he and Marsha’s eyes pooled with tears. And yet the Smalley’s have kept their good sense of humor and spirit of generosity. They have six kids, scads of grandkids and they profess to love the northern Woods Hole Inn, talking about coming back for a family reunion and appreciative of the breakfast, the staff, the service.
They brought me the sign that stood at the end of their front driveway, and I will hang this with pride. Connections like this make inn-keeping special: living in hurricane country is scary, but the world is a better place when we share it with people like the Smalleys.