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Sweetwater Branch Inn

Our Story

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places located in Gainesville’s historic district, the Sweetwater Branch Inn is an eclectic blend of Victorian charm and Southern hospitality. Devoted to guests who are seeking the exceptional, our romantic Florida inn is well known for its comfort, beauty, and hospitality.

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Sweetwater Branch Inn

Our History

Featured on the popular PBS television series, “Inn Country USA,” Sweetwater is a Victorian complex of two carefully restored Victorian-era mansions (the McKenzie House and the Cushman-Colson House), charming guest cottages, a modern reception hall, and beautifully sculptured gardens. At every turn, one can see a true testament to the finest in preserved Victorian Florida. Historic conservation is an important aspect of the goals of Sweetwater Inn’s owners. In addition, sharing the beauty and comfort that are a hallmark of Sweetwater’s reputation is a high priority.

The historic McKenzie House, circa 1895, is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. This magnificent three-story Queen Anne style Victorian home is known as one of the most elaborate Victorian buildings in Gainesville’s history. It has intricate Eastlake details and a fanciful restored massing. Of special note are the three-story octagonal turrets on the west face, and the wrap-around veranda which culminate in an octagonal gazebo.

Perry Colson purchased the home in 1903 and sold it to William Turner Pound, the first husband of Mary Phifer. In the 1920’s Mary Phifer married Reid Hill McKenzie. She lived in the McKenzie house until she was 83 years old. This is the location of five beautifully appointed Sweetwater Inn guest rooms.

The Cushman-Colson house, a Victorian, circa 1885, was one of the original Gainesville homes that lined old Alachua Avenue which is now University Avenue. The house is named after the Cushman family who lived in the house until 1905 and the family of Dr. James Colson, who lived there for 20 years. It has since been the home of several influential Gainesville families and reflects the tastes of the affluent at the turn of the century. The Cushman-Colson House hosts seven beautiful and unique Sweetwater Inn guest rooms.

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The Holbrook Family

The McKenzie Home

While the homes have a history of their own, the Holbrook family, the owners and current Innkeepers, have a history with them as well. It all began with a knock at the door . . .

My mother, Giovanna Holbrook, frequently drove by the home in which you now find yourself. The McKenzie Home. It wasn’t long before she came to love it. Being the visionary that Giovanna is, she saw past the massive work the structure needed to fix its curled paint and deteriorating condition. Instead she saw the glimmers of what the McKenzie Home could become again.

One day Giovanna stopped at the McKenzie Home and knocked on Mary McKenzie’s door. Giovanna informed Mary that she was interested in purchasing her home if it were ever to go up for sale. In 1978, Juan and Giovanna Holbrook purchased the McKenzie Home. After an initial and extensive restoration process, the home was brought back to its former glory and placed on the National Registry of Historic Homes. During those early days, my parents had difficulty keeping the house rented, so my mother decided to move herself and my 14-year-old sister, Andrea, into the McKenzie Home in 1982. The McKenzie home remained their private residence until 1998.
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Opening Sweetwater

Looking Back

At the youthful age of 15, I – Cornelia Holbrook – began to dream of the day when I would open an inn. During my teen years, gardening and cooking became my favorite after-school activities. Later, while attending the University of Florida, I worked with Chef Elmo at the once-famous Sovereign Restaurant. This is where I began the process of educating myself about food preparation and kitchen management. After college, my first job was with the Carriage Way Bed & Breakfast in St. Augustine, Florida.

Afterwards, I spent a number of years working for my mother in the travel industry Even while traveling the world extensively, I never lost sight of my dream of opening what was to become the Sweetwater Branch Inn. While working in Kenya, I received an exciting call from my mother. She told me that she had purchased the Cushman-Colson House – literally next door to the McKenzie Home. In 1992, with the help of contractor Fredrick Wetterqvist, architect Jay Reeves, and many others, I embarked on the monumental task of restoring the Cushman-Colson House.

In 1993, I opened the Sweetwater Branch Inn using the Cushman-Colson Home’s 7 guestrooms. Two years later, Sweetwater Branch Inn opened the McKenzie Hall; a distinctly popular gathering place in Gainesville. In 1998, my mother moved out of the McKenzie Home and I added 5 additional guest rooms to the Sweetwater Branch Inn.

Today the Sweetwater Branch Inn’s two acre property 1s home to 12 distinct guestrooms and a variety of lovely cottages – all shaded by beautiful southern hammocks. As of July 2016, the McKenzie Hall and Home has hosted as many as 4,000 weddings and celebrations. In 2015 I decided to open The Sweet Tea Restaurant with my friend Lester Smilowitz as a way to invite the community to engage with Sweetwater Branch Inn’s historic beauty.

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Preserving history

Thankful for the support

When my mom and dad acquired the McKenzie Home in the 1970s many historic homes were considered defunct and for this reason were being torn down. Since then, members of the community have acted to ensure this historic district would survive. By supporting this business and other businesses located in or on historic properties, YOU are helping to preserve history for future generations and directly contributing to the revival of Downtown Gainesville.

A truly heartfelt thank you from me, my family, and especially the Sweetwater team.


The Sweetwater Branch Inn combines the best of Victorian charm and modern amenities.

Things to do

Do you need inspiration for things to do in Gainesville, FL? Our area is filled with exciting activities and attractions you’re going to love.


Nestled in historic downtown Gainesville in North Central Florida, our lovely inn is the perfect place for charming weddings, gorgeous receptions, and classy rehearsal dinners.

Meetings & Events

Sweetwater Branch Inn offers over 25 years of combined planning experience to help you create the perfect, seamless and effortless event.