Innkeepers Monica and Daniel Edwards share the origin story of Morehead Manor and what they love about owning a B&B
By Renee Ambroso | Photography by John Michael Simpson
Birds chatter, a buttery sunrise filters through the trees and warmth creeps back into the air as Morehead Hill neighbors wake to an idyllic Tuesday morning in April. Yet, it’s unusually still at Morehead Manor Bed and Breakfast. Innkeeper and co-owner Monica Edwards is typically busy in the kitchen by 9 a.m., whipping up a stack of her zucchini-pecan waffles or a sweet potato and spinach frittata, while her husband and talented baker, Daniel Edwards, pulls something golden brown from the oven. But this morning, the ground floor is quiet.
Georgia and Shambé – 12-year-old siamese cats – lounge on couch cushions in the sitting room, unaware that April 12 marks a milestone for the three-story brick home; Daniel and Monica are celebrating the 25th anniversary of opening their business, which was just named one of our readers’ favorite places to stay in our Best of Durham poll.
The couple often join guests at breakfast in the dining room to sip coffee and find out how dinner plans panned out the previous night. They’ll suggest a bustling new brewery to try, give directions to the Durham Performing Arts Center (a mere few blocks away) or just chat about what the day holds.
Monica wasn’t born here, but after living here for more than 30 years, she has enough insider knowledge and pride in the Bull City that she might as well be a Durhamite. She’s now a self-proclaimed “ambassador” of Durham, having moved to the area from eastern North Carolina to earn her master’s in business administration at North Carolina Central University. There, she met Daniel, a New Jersey native who was studying criminal justice.
Monica and Daniel delight in helping travelers navigate our city for the first time. But even locals book stays to enjoy their hospitality. “When people start making reservations, it’s either for the location or an event, but then they get here and that shifts,” Daniel says. “We have personality, and we become a part of their experience.”
Interacting with visitors is part of the Edwardses’ everyday life and what they love most about their roles, although they’ve had to navigate its ups and downs. “We don’t advertise that we’re [people] of color,” Daniel says. “Sometimes people are taken aback.” Yet, Monica says, they “get a lot of first-time inngoers, especially those who are African American. They express that, because they’ve never had the experience before and don’t know what to expect, they feel more comfortable coming to us.” With unwavering warmth, the Edwardses have formed close bonds with many of their guests.
Staying at the Manor “just feels like coming home,” says Colette Wismer. She and her husband, John Wismer, visit from St. Joseph, Michigan, to see their daughter, Emily Wismer, who works at Liberty Arts. They most recently made the more than 15- hour drive to stay at Morehead for a second time in early summer 2021. “[The Edwardses aren’t] pushy in any way, they don’t invade your space … they’re perfect,” Colette says. “We’ve enjoyed that we can develop what we think of as a friendship.”
The Edwardses learned the nuance of sharing their home with strangers over the past couple of decades. “[We think], ‘How much of me do you need during your stay?’” Daniel says. “We’ve had guests who follow us around from room to room helping us clean, and we’ve had guests say, ‘I don’t want to talk to you.’” Most importantly, the Edwardses know how to make everyone who crosses their threshold feel welcome.
The idea to open a bed-and-breakfast took root in the mid-’90s when Monica was a tax officer at Central Carolina Bank & Trust Company. At the time, Daniel’s job as a patrol officer with the Durham Police Department afforded him a few days off each month to sharpen his skills as an apprentice interior designer. A co-worker gifted them a stay at the Blooming Garden Inn on Holloway Street.
“I thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread,” Monica laughs. “[Blooming Garden] was like an oasis in the city – that was way before people were really into staycations.” She daydreamed of owning a similar getaway amid the growing metropolis of Durham.
Daniel’s interior design mentor knew of a house on Vickers Avenue with more than 8,000 square feet, five guest bedrooms and an equal number of baths, plus space for living quarters on a third floor – just the right size for a B&B. Even though the home wasn’t on the market, the owners agreed to give Daniel a tour and subsequently settled on a price. Things moved fast from there – the Edwardses finalized a business plan by February 1997 and welcomed their first overnight guests less than a year later.
The Colonial Revival-style home – which was built in 1910 for James S. Cobb of The Venable Tobacco Company and later sold to his colleague, Edgar Toms Sr. – hasn’t changed much. Aside from installing standing showers, the Edwardses made largely cosmetic updates when they moved in, like stripping the house of wallpaper, repainting and bringing in new furniture.
“We wanted to have a place where people would feel welcome,” Monica says. At the same time, they hoped to avoid any comparisons to “Grandma’s house” that B&Bs sometimes receive. Morehead has an updated feel thanks to its modern art – among their collection are paintings and a mural by Daniel, and a handful of drawings and sculptures that follow a theme of showcasing human spines and backs.
Morehead Manor also plays host to every kind of celebration imaginable, from weddings and corporate retreats to garden parties and July Fourth barbecues. The 1940s carriage house has garage space and a second level, which tacks on an extra 1,200 square feet for events. The largest modification to the grounds and the property’s latest update was Daniel’s pandemic project: a bocce court that stretches along the side yard.
Daniel works day in and day out to keep up with cleaning and maintaining the large house when he’s not busy as an adjunct professor at N.C. Central and a mental health counselor at the university’s Counseling Center.
Monica, who manages bookings and turns over the rooms, serves as an advisory board member for N.C. Central’s Hospitality and Tourism Administration program. “Ever since we’ve opened, I’ve been very active in regard to the bed-and-breakfast industry,” Monica says. She passed on her gavel after serving as president of the North Carolina Bed and Breakfast Inns association a few years ago.
There’s no separating work from home life when you own a B&B, but the Edwardses don’t mind. “Innkeeping is a lifestyle,” Daniel says. “It’s just something that you take on, and it becomes a part of what you do.”