Two Virginia Bed and Breakfast Inns You Can Win

I was really surprised to see an inn I’ve known and loved come up as a contest prize in Virginia! It was started by a fine Navy commander and is just aways from Scottsville and Charlottesville. High Meadows is two historic homes joined at the back porch. The inn is on 20 gorgeous acreage with field, woods and stream and a few years ago a vineyard.

It could all be yours for just $150 and 300 words.


The High Meadows Inn’ price is non-negotiable. It requires a dream, an essay and enough entries — 5,800 to be exact — to pay off existing mortgages so the house and successful bed-and-breakfast business can be conveyed debt-free to a new owner.

The contest continues through Nov. 30. The idea is to transfer the property to the winner near Christmas. Official rules are available at

Here’s what innkeeper Cynthia Bruce says, “I read about the bed-and-breakfast in Maine that was sold as part of an essay contest back in the 1990s, and I thought then that, if I ever sold a business, that’s how I’d do it,” says Cynthia Bruce, sitting on a couch on the covered back porch — known architecturally as a framed, longitudinal passage — that connects the 1832 home built by Peter White with the 1883 home built by Charles Harris. Oral history has it that the Harris family intended to tear down the White house but left it standing when they realized how large their family had become.

“I thought of all the things I could do with the house if I didn’t have a mortgage, all of the changes and improvements that could be made and I thought that would be the way to hand High Meadows to the next person,” she said, “free and clear so they can follow their dreams.”





Using her training as a decorator and her mom’s garden expertise, the Bruces made High Meadows a successful inn. Cynthia Bruce said. “Mom is 74 and I’m going to be 50, and we love what we’re doing, but with small business financing still difficult to get — the High Meadows property is valued at about $741,000 for tax purposes and the business another $300,000 — the idea of the essay contest came back to mind.

The concept is simple: Offer the inn in exchange for a winning composition and a non-refundable entry fee. If not enough entries are received, the fees would be returned. Enough entries means the existing mortgage and debts could be paid and the inn can be transferred to the contest winner free and clear.

That would allow the new owner to take a mortgage on the property and use the funds to make High Meadows into what they dream it to be.

The best example of a successful contest occurred earlier this year for a 210-year-old inn in Maine that charged a $125 fee, received 7,255 entries and provided more than $900,000 for the inn owner’s retirement. Maine State Police and the state’s attorney general investigated numerous complaints from essayists and determined that the contest was legal and fair.

Contests are not common in Virginia, but they are not unheard of. Sometimes they are unsuccessful. A 1999 attempt to give away a Victorian home in Salem did not attract enough entries. Efforts to hand off a Buena Vista restaurant, a Pulaski County home and a Bedford bagel shop also failed.

The chance of failure has not stopped others from taking the financial path less trod.

Claiborne House Bed and Breakfast – Rocky Mount, Virginia


The Claiborne House Bed and Breakfast in Rocky Mount is running a similar contest with a 250-word essay and $150 entry fee, seeking 1,330 submissions.

And in Essex County, Randy Silvers and Carolyn Berry also are holding a contest to give away Rock Spring Farm, the horse farm that Silvers built up over the years. The couple is looking for 5,000 entries of 1,000 words at $200 for each entry.

Most of the contests closely follow the rules established by the Maine contest, including a panel of judges to review the final contestants.

“We started this with the idea that it would really work because my husband is so in love with this farm,” Berry said. “When he moved out here, there was a shell of a barn, no pastures, no fences up, no anything. He did it all himself, putting in the fence poles, nailing the fences, creating the pastures, finishing the barn, all with his hands.” Berry said Silvers couldn’t bear to just sell it. His first wife’s ashes are buried on the property along with beloved pets. The idea of buyers traipsing through the house and the property getting nit-picky and negotiating didn’t appeal to him.

On the other hand, Berry said, the idea of giving it to someone who had a dream for the property, as he once did, suited him. The Rock Spring Farm contest allows a six-month period for submissions based on conversations Berry had with people whose contests failed.

“They said they should have given it six months and so that’s what we’ve done,” she said.

For High Meadows, the four-month contest run could continue past the cut-off date, if necessary, Cynthia Bruce said.

“We’re a very successful bed-and-breakfast and we want to be able to keep bookings for Valentine’s Day forward for whoever takes it over, but the goal is to be able to give the inn away debt-free.”  Although running an inn was the Bruces’ dream, the contest does not require the winner to continue operating it as a B&B.

“It’s about the winner’s dream,” Cynthia Bruce said. “The property can easily sustain a farm or the vineyard can be redone and it could serve in that way. There’s room for cattle or chickens or ducks. It can be a home. It’s all about a vision, a dream. That’s what’s important to us, that someone cares about the property as much as we do.”