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Nottingham Place: Preserving Hospitality and History



When Kim Mays describes her love of Virginia, she's an enthusiastic steward of the region's history and hospitality. As owners of Nottingham Place – a boutique guest house in Wise, Virginia – she and her husband, Ben, have done their part to preserve and share the places and ideas near and dear to their hearts.

 

"We love our Appalachian heritage," Kim Mays explained. "The people, the traditions, the stories, old-time and bluegrass music." 

 

Kim and Ben are ideal hosts since each has a colorful background and many stories to tell.

 

"Ben's father was a coal miner, and my uncle lost his leg in a mining accident," she explained. "My grandmother kept a pot of boiling water on the stove. When my grandfather came home from working at Derby Mine in Appalachia, he was covered in black coal. In winter, his shirt sleeves would be frozen to his arms. Her hands were red and blistered from washing and warming him. He survived the Derby Mine Disaster when his best friend did not. We know how hard our families and so many others worked to forge lives here."

 

The couple met in the mid-1980s while working and touring with Appalshop's Roadside Theater, based in Whitesburg, Kentucky. Ben worked as the road manager, musician, and storyteller, while Kim's duties included actor, storyteller, singer and more.

 

"Roadside's work is rooted in the stories, folklore and music of Appalachian life," she explained. 

 

Today, Ben is the Technical Director of Theatre and Chair of the Visual and Performing Arts Department at UVa-Wise. He also plays bass with the band Ron Short and the Possum Playboys. 

 

Years ago, Kim was invited to join the resident company of Barter Theater, the State Theatre of Virginia, to portray Janette Carter in their original production, "Keep on the Sunny Side, the Story and Songs of the Carter Family. She also performed the role of Lucy Stanley – the mother of Ralph and Carter – in the Barter production of Man of Constant Sorrow, the Story of the Stanley Brothers.

 

"Performing these plays at the Carter Fold and at Ralph's Hills of Home Festival are personal and career highlights," she said.

 

These people and the state of Virginia have left an indelible mark on this proprietress.

 

"Making a quilt, baking cornbread, raising a barn, keeping chickens, playing a fiddle or autoharp, and singing mountain songs…things done out of necessity, care and love…they may make one Appalachian, but offering it to the world makes one an artist," she explained. "Ben and I are humble and grateful to be surrounded by them!"

 

Many of these people who form the core of Virginia culture – and the "artists-at-heart" who appreciate it all and travel to take it in – are lodgers at her historic property. The home has deep roots in the community.

 

"Nottingham Place was built in 1898 and is known locally as the Roberts House, named after the family who built it," Mays said. "It's one of the largest, oldest and most recognized homes in the town of Wise."

 

She said the Roberts family owned a sawmill, and that past is reflected in a photo left hanging on the wall by the home's previous owners.

 

"The Roberts, sitting atop a huge log," Mays explained. "Ben tells guests, 'that log is somewhere in this house!'"

 

Some things have changed over the years. For instance, the original home had a turret that was removed years ago. The Mays named one of the guest rooms "The Cozy Turret Room" to mark the space where the turret used to be.

 

The 1980s also brought change to the home, as it was used as a special events venue during those years. In the 1990s, devastation came when a fire broke out. That previous owner told the Mays how he had to be rescued from the second-story roof.

 

"The fire was slow burning thanks to the aged wood, and the home was restored with great expense and attention to historic details," Mays explained. "All new wiring, plumbing, heating and A/C are some of the modern amenities we and our guests appreciate."

 

Just as bluegrass music evolves with the times, Nottingham Place offers modern comforts while still staying true to its 19th-century roots. When the Mays fell in love with the property and bought it in 2020, they didn't have plans to turn it into a guest house. They simply loved it because it was an older home with "character."

 

"This one has over 4,800 square feet chock full of character!" she said. She notes the graceful porch, tall windows and ceilings, chandeliers, and winding staircase. Mays said her family lives on the first floor, and the second is for guests. 

 

"Three private bedrooms with three private bathrooms and a living room," she explained. "All areas [on the second floor] are used exclusively for guest lodging. Rooms may be reserved separately, or the entire floor may be reserved for up to six people."

 

Mays said guests generally come from "large metro and urban areas" to experience "rural life and small-town charm."

 

"Nearby are mountain trails for hiking and biking and lakes for fishing and kayaking," she said. Guests are also drawn to her place during Ralph Stanley's Hills From Home Festival, Blue Highway Festival, Wise Fall Fling, and more. 

 

For more information, check out the Nottingham Place in Wise Facebook page or email NottinghamPlaceWise@gmail.com.

 

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