By Zach Armstrong
DINWIDDIE, Va -- Jack Lawson was in the gift shop of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts when his eyes came across a picture book of antiquated Virginia Homes that were deteriorating. As he flipped through the pages, it brought to mind his wife’s parents' property.
“I told my wife (Beverly Lawson) that I couldn't in good conscience let that happen to your parents’ house, so let's do what we need to do to get it back to shape and figure out what we're going to do with it,” said Jack Lawson.
After enough elbow grease and with the help of family and friends, Jack and Beverly fixed up the property into their current residence as well as the “Weldan Pond” Airbnb that offers a chance to find piece of mind by accommodating tenants with two large ponds, hiking trails and comforting cottages.
But long before the land opened traveler’s eyes to the county’s idyllic natural beauty, it was beloved by Dinwiddie locals as the home of the “Homeplace Restaurant” which served authentic country homestyle cooking with family-friendly service.
Beverly’s grandparents, Thomas "Budd" and Effie Wells, purchased the property in 1920 thinking of it as a perfect place to raise their growing family. The farmhouse eventually was the abode of the couple in addition to their six children (Mary, Mildred, Becky, Virginia, Ethel, and John - all born in the house), and three of Thomas' siblings, Ela, O.C., and Horace (Beeba).
Their daughter Ethel moved away when she married William Byrd Daniel in 1951 to raise a family only to return to the property in 1979. Will and Ethel also added a pond to the land and renovated the 1922 barn. Will’s vision for the land: a place for corporate groups, family reunions and church groups to gather as well as a restaurant.
Their first business was a day camp for kids named “Scott’s Retreat” which grew to become an overnight camp that gave many local children in Dinwiddie fond memories. The Daniels also built two 800 sq foot bunkhouses for the overnight camp.
“I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met in the county that have told me memories about my wife teaching them swimming and this and that and the other thing that happened at that camp,” said Jack.
The barn and several acres of land became an events venue a few years later which hosted various gatherings including, at times, carnival rides. After the events space was moved to a nearby picnic pavilion, the Daniels renovated the barn into a family-friendly restaurant that quickly became a big hit in Dinwiddie.
“I don’t there's anybody from Dinwiddie who didn’t eat there at least once, if I say I bought the old homeplace restaurant property, I’ve only met a few people who didn’t know exactly what I was talking about”, said Jack. “The Daniels were just kind, pleasant, honest and just salt of the earth people. They weren't typical business people, they were more interested in whose here”
Will and Ethel went above and beyond to make the “Homeplace Restaurant” the best it could be. Ethel would awaken early every morning to make homemade rolls and pies. Will would often sit at the table with guests to engage in conversation with his ‘never met a stranger’ approach.
The restaurant eventually closed after over 20 years of service and a few years after Will and Ethel passed away. Their son, Tom Daniel, attempted to run the business but the cashflow wasn’t enough to keep up with costs of taking care of it.
As the property went on the market, the conditions of the structures and land worsened. However, it didn’t take long for the son-in-law of Will and Ethel to rediscover his love of the property with his visit to the VMFA.
One night in the late 1970s, Jack (who moved to Richmond from the Chesapeake area) and Beverly (a Dinwiddie native) were in the “Jolly Ox” restaurant located in Richmond. Beverly was with two friends, one of which invited Jack to sit with them. It wasn’t long until the four of them went over to a nearby dance club where Jack asked Beverly to dance only to marry her about a year later.
“We fell in love on that dance floor that very night,” said Jack. “We didn’t profess that love at that point, but we both agreed that it happened right there, it was a powerful moment,”
According to Jack, he fell in love with the property owned by Beverly’s parents from the first time he visited.
Jack and Beverly resided in Richmond until purchasing the property from the family estate. They were inspired to turn the two bunker houses used for the overnight camp into Airbnbs from traveling around and seldom having a bad experience when they stayed in one themselves.
The first cabin that finished renovation was named Daniel’s Cottage which features a comfortable sitting area for four, shared bathroom, shower, vanity, a full sized washer and dryer and a large 268 sq' deck. The double 6' glass doors gives visitors a breathtaking view out into the forest towards the pond which they’ve named Daniel Pond.
The Lawsons later renovated the second bunker house into Wells Cabin which is perched above another pond which they call Upper Weldan Pond and looks down towards Spillway Creek and features the same amenities.
At the “Weldan Pond” Airbnb, visitors find themselves immersed in the beauty of nature and are free to take a hike on its approximately three-mile long trail, relax on a hammock, fish in the ponds, kayak, paddle board (if you brought your own), play games, explore or have a bonfire.
According to Jack, the Airbnb has hosted guests every consecutive week it has been open. Many of the guests will come from larger metropolitan areas such as Washington D.C. to find solace in the peaceful countryside.
“There's just something almost magical about it and we've had tenants reflect that to us. When you come down that driveway and you come through these woods it's as if you went through a timewarp,” said Jack. “I've just found a whole new way of looking at the world, it's very difficult to describe. This is the first place I've ever lived where if i ever travel, i can't wait to get back home, there's something about this place that everybody else who sees it loves,”