A House and Community Renewed
By Carrie McConkey | Photography courtesy of Ashford Acres
Annastasia Peoples was at a crossroads in the spring of 2015.
Two months shy of graduating from Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, the political science major had been law school bound until a case that drew national attention caused her to question her future career. As the clock ticked toward commencement, the native of Cynthiana, Kentucky, went into self-reflection mode and created a list of things that made her happy. The would-be attorney came to a surprising conclusion: she loved party planning.
One year earlier, Annastasia’s sister Sonia Kirkman had experienced stirrings of her own regarding her life’s calling. She had been living in Los Angeles with her husband, Robert, one of the cocreators of The Walking Dead media franchise. They were visiting their mutual hometown in Kentucky when Sonia first noticed a stately Greek Revival–style antebellum home fronted by a lawn dense with mature oak, maple, and walnut trees. She hadn’t noticed the residence before but made a quick turn into the graceful circular driveway after seeing a For Sale sign on the property.
“This would be the perfect bed-and-breakfast,” she thought. “This is a place I would want to stay.” Sonia’s longtime dream of restoring an old home resurfaced as she looked up at the grand house, and the idea of combining it with a much-needed resource for Cynthiana—an elegant and restful place to spend the night—made the concept even more attractive. But when they returned to LA, Robert reminded her of her biggest challenge: how would she manage an inn from over two thousand miles away?
Named for the girls’ great-grandfather, from whom their father and Sonia’s son had inherited their middle names, the Ashford Acres Inn welcomed its first guests.
The answer came when Annastasia called Sonia for advice on her career dilemma, describing her vision to plan special gatherings. “I want to open an event venue in Danville,” said Annastasia. Sonia stopped her, as most elder sisters might, but not because she doubted the choice of vocation. She described the antebellum house to Annastasia and suggested combining their ideas of a bed-and-breakfast and an event venue. Suddenly, the pieces were falling into place.
The aging house, built in 1858, was still on the market when Sonia, Annastasia, and their father, John Hicks, took a tour with the homeowner and the realtor. There was much to be done, including the repair of an ominous crack in the west wall that ran from the foundation to the roofline and was visible inside and out. But neither sister was deterred. John turned to Annastasia and asked, “How does the house feel?” Annastasia replied, “It feels like there has been so much love here.”
Robert and Sonia purchased the property just weeks after Annastasia’s graduation, and intensive work began to reestablish the 157-year-old home’s past glory and prepare for its exciting future. The sisters took great care in accurately restoring as many areas as possible in the 5,600-square-foot house while updating it to meet the codes and safety requirements of modern commercial use. At the forefront of their minds were the comfort of their guests and making visitors and the community feel welcome within the inn’s walls.
The project became a source of pride for the tiny town of Cynthiana (population 6,370). Facebook updates with photos of the restoration kept locals abreast of the progress, and many enjoyed watching the transformation as they craned their necks while driving by on Kentucky Route 36. On December 23, 2016, the bed-and-breakfast, all decked out for Christmas, opened to the public, and those who had been curious about the place for years walked through its doors. Named for the girls’ great-grandfather, from whom their father and Sonia’s son had inherited their middle names, the Ashford Acres Inn welcomed its first guests.
Recalling that night and the fireworks that glittered in the sky above the celebration, she says, “It was probably the most present I’ve ever been in life. Every person around us, and that moment, was love.”
Today, the sixty-four-acre property has been a home away from home for guests from as far away as Canada, Australia, Portugal, and Finland. In an area of Kentucky where hotels are scarce, the inn offers comfortable accommodations and good meals to visitors of Kentucky’s nearby attractions, such as Keeneland racecourse and auction house and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, as well as the surrounding tourist destinations of Lexington, Louisville, and Cincinnati. Up to 150 events are celebrated at Ashford Acres yearly, along with exclusive offerings such as a day-long workshop by guest speaker Lee Cockerell, former executive vice president of operations for the Walt Disney World Resort.
Cynthianans may benefit from the venue more than anyone. Lifelong resident Pat Barnes works in many different capacities at Ashford Acres, along with thirty-seven other part-time employees and four full-time ones. Pat describes how Sonia and Annastasia “want everyone treated the same,” from Hollywood stars seeking an anonymous getaway to local folks celebrating anniversaries, birthdays, or class reunions. Sunrise yoga classes on the veranda and pop-up hamburger cookouts with games on the lawn bring guests together and provide opportunities to catch up. The inn’s Christmas on the Farm event, featuring carriage rides, craft vendors, and a visit from Santa Claus, is a favorite. “It’s become a big thing,” says Pat.
Throughout their business endeavor, Annastasia and Sonia have been committed to their relationship with the community. “I wanted this to be an opportunity for Cynthiana to grow,” Sonia says. “In every decision we make, we try to put everyone else first. Our goal is always to make sure we are doing good things.” Mayor James Smith describes the impact the sisters and their business have had on the city: “The renovation and opening of Ashford Acres have been a tremendous part of Cynthiana’s rebirth as a community. We are all proud of the inn as it symbolizes everything our city wants to become and is becoming.”
Guests comment on the comfort and care that the house exudes. Annastasia says, “It’s rewarding. We’ve continued what we felt when we first stepped into the house.” On June 1, 2019, Annastasia held her own wedding at the inn. Recalling that night and the fireworks that glittered in the sky above the celebration, she says, “It was probably the most present I’ve ever been in life. Every person around us, and that moment, was love.”
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Visit AshfordAcresInn.com to learn more or to book your stay or special event!