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.
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.