You have planned the perfect event. The decor is so “you”; the tables will be stunning and the flowers breathtaking; the caterers have outdone themselves creatively; the weather will cooperate (of course it will). Your guests will be coming in from far and wide to celebrate with you — and be stuck in a standard chain hotel on Route 1 that smells like Lysol. It’s not exactly in keeping with your dream ambiance, and an elegant solution is near at hand.
A short ride down Route 206 is the 18th-century Inn at Glencairn, brimming with history and hospitality. Innkeeper Lydia Oakes thrives on welcoming travelers from far-flung places as well as guests from nearby to this B&B that is worlds away from the ordinary. A certified chef as well as hospitality specialist, Oakes embraced an encore career “doing what I like to do, focusing on people, food, and travel.”
Oakes grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City. “My mom was stay-at-home all her life, raising four children born in five years,” Oakes says. “My father was a systems engineer for IBM. Ours was a very religious family so I went to what was then called the Ozark Bible College for two years. Growing up in a home with a homemaker mother with a decent-sized brood, I developed the love of taking care of people and cooking for them early on. My overall work ethic was instilled early as well. My first job was at 15. After college and marriage I became a certified medical transcriptionist and began my business in 1994.”
Oakes’ love of travel was spurred by her husband when they went to Scotland on their honeymoon. In fact, it was on one of their trips that they passed through Washington State and fell in love with the area. Her transcription business was portable, so they moved to the Pacific northwest in 2002.
After a few years, as technology advanced and companies began taking their business offshore, Oakes, by then divorced, found herself needing to regroup. To supplement her income, she took a second job at a local hotel and had her first taste of the hospitality industry.
“Once my daughter entered college, I began to listen more to my friends who had loved my cooking and who urged me to go back to school to refine my skills. I enrolled in the Art Institute of Seattle, which was commutable from my home, and began a year and a half-long certificate program in ‘The Art of Cooking,’” Oakes says.
“I knew I was not cut out for restaurant work because it was too high pressure and I was not in my 20s,” she says. As a student, she helped a local B&B owner run her establishment while recuperating from a broken leg. “During the months I helped out, I learned what to do and what not to do. An aha moment came when I realized I could put my hospitality experience together with my newly refined culinary skills and travel, too. I thought with my background I could offer to cover for innkeepers who need some R&R of their own. I liked the idea of traveling around to fill in for a few weeks at a time.”
Gradually Oakes built up a cadre of clients and her travels took her from the Pacific Northwest to Pennsylvania to the wine country of California. “Each engagement taught me something and helped me refine my approach to hosting travelers. I love getting the chance to meet new people and be there as chef and concierge.”
The Inn at Glencairn, with its five carefully appointed rooms, is the perfect combination for Oakes’ skills. “We can offer completely personal service, and I can give myself rein to come up with innovative recipes. And we are perfectly sized to be able to customize events. I can arrange something just for two or plan something that rents out the entire inn. Our picturesque barn lends itself to any occasion.”
The home itself has a long, fascinating history. Owner Janet Cochoff Pressel is a former stock analyst from New York who, along with her husband, Michael, purchased Glencairn as a private residence in 1999. After living in Glencairn for nearly five years, they realized the house truly came to life when they were entertaining. The idea to convert the historic home into a bed and breakfast took hold. Upon the birth of their daughter, Janet retired from her career on Wall Street to focus her efforts full time on the Inn starting in 2004.
The Opdykes, a Dutch family from New York, were the first recorded settlers on the site of Glencairn in 1697. The present stone wing of the manor house was likely built in the early 1700s. The property was in the Opdyke family until 1762, when it was sold to Daniel Hunt. The sale to the Hunts marked the transition of Glencairn from Dutch to English proprietorship. During this period, the center hall frame was built and serves as an excellent example of Georgian architecture.
In 1776, while the British army was quartered in Princeton, Glencairn was believed to have been confiscated as British quarters and even served as a Hessian hospital during the Revolutionary War. It was during this period that the family believes the requisite friendly spirits took up residence. “I have enjoyed some unexplained pranks,” Oakes says with a smile. It seems some 18th-century wag loves to fiddle with the light switches.
The house passed through several hands until the 1940s, when it was sold to the Perot family. The old home went through several incarnations and at one point was divided into three apartments and was even vacant for several years.
The house was eventually purchased by Alex Greenwood and brothers Clifford and Stephen Zink with the goal of returning Glencairn to its 18th century splendor as documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey. During this time the original barn gave up the ghost and a red frame barn from the same period was relocated from Dutch Neck to replace it. A real family barn-raising helped bring the property back to life. (It was that undertaking that gave birth to Greenwood’s New Jersey Barn Company.)
For the next 20 years Glencairn was again a private residence, and in 2005 it began a new chapter as a bed and breakfast following the renovation led by the Pressels and Ford3 Architects, the Princeton firm now based in Pennington.
In 2015 Pressels was in the market for a new innkeeper and Oakes happened to see her advertisement. “I had never traveled or lived on the east coast and thought that this would be a great opportunity to experience yet another new place.” She has been with Glencairn ever since. “I am considered an independent contractor, so I have a certain amount of flexibility. It’s my responsibility to handle the administrative end of the business and oversee the housekeepers and other folks who help with the upkeep. Of course, the kitchen is my domain as well. Because I live here the property is technically still considered a home.”
The property is not an event venue, but there are special packages for guests. “We have complimentary wine and other beverages, along with home-made cookies,” Oakes says. “We also offer special add-ons that give that little extra.” For example, the “A Whole Lot of Romance” features a half-bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne and four jumbo hand-dipped chocolate strawberries. The “Artisanal Cheese Plate for Two” features extra aged gouda, manchego, brie, and a blue crab spread with baked sourdough and toasted seed crackers. Jumbo strawberries and red seedless grapes complete this plate.
The Inn has a 5-star rating on Trip Advisor, and Oakes’ cuisine always gets mentioned in the reviews. “I get bored making the same food all the time, so I rarely make the same thing twice. I use Pinterest and cookbooks as my inspiration. I do have a handful of repeats that have been favorites of guests over these six years of innkeeping, and I can accommodate dietary challenges like gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, vegetarian, etc.
“Lately I’ve gotten into breakfast bowls. I came up with my version of a huevos rancheros by making a delicious mix of black, red, and garbanzo beans, some jalapeno and tomatoes as a base, then top it with a fried egg and all the toppings you normally see around the outside of the bowl: sour cream, cheddar cheese, salsa, green onion, fresh tomatoes, corn chips. People go nuts for that dish. I’ve also developed my own version of Eggs Benedict and call it Eggs Glencairn: Toasted croissant, super greens, poached egg, a light hollandaise sauce made from scratch that is lemony and more like a dressing than a sauce. It makes a beautiful presentation and again, people love that one, too.”
Oakes smiles. “I also love eggs and the variety of ways they can be served. I play with different veggies on the side or mixed in. I’ve made every flavor of pancakes and French toast (stuffed, casserole style, traditional). I make my honey butter and fruited butters from scratch. I smile in the kitchen when I hear a nice conversation between strangers happening around my table. Nothing makes me happier.”
There is no mistaking the distinctive architecture of the Inn at Glencairn; the warm stone of the original single room house is quintessential to the area. The original structure became the kitchen when the mid-18th-century expansion was built and houses the huge fireplace typical of the era. The room now serves as a cozy communal sitting room. Stepping into the foyer of the home, guests immediately admire the wide-plank original floor. All the rooms are decorated with antiques or precise reproductions and the walls are done in period colors, complemented by traditional and modern art.
The grounds also reflect the history of the property. The rich stone of the original house is reflected in the old smoke house. A patio at the rear of the house offers guests a view of the woods beyond the barn. “While my main duties focus on the inside of the house, I do indulge in a little gardening,” Oakes says. “The barn is for the owner’s use, and we have hosted some weddings. However, we are keen to be respectful of our neighbors’ privacy. We have ample parking, so cars are not an issue.”
The inn is a member of the Princeton Chamber of Commerce, which refers regional business, as does nearby Bristol-Myers Squibb. “We get overflow guests from Jasna Polana, the golf club on the former Johnson estate just up the road,” Oakes says. “In the fall we have numerous families come through the area looking at the nearby colleges and private schools. And of course, we have alumni here for reunions as well as families visiting students. We often have guests who are the snowbirds. We are a convenient stop on their drive, and we see people on their way down and their way back. We also offer a quiet retreat for friends and family who are in town for funerals.”
Room rates range from $189 per day to $199. The rooms are all en-suite. The Baldwin Suite is a cozy two-rooms situated above the original stone section of the manor with its own private entrance. Featuring original lead glass windows with views of both the mature trees in the front lawn and gardens, red frame barn, and outbuildings behind the manor house, it features a queen-sized sleigh bed in one room and two twin sized beds with Hitchcock headboards in a separate room. It is perfect for a family of four. Other rooms can accommodate a cot upon request. Oakes proudly states, “We do not do congestion pricing. During Princeton reunions we do request a two-night stay, but that is our only restriction.”
Her daughter is through college and now happily married with a child of her own. She has stayed in Seattle, working in marketing and PR at Trupanion, a pet insurance company. Oakes moved to Princeton to pursue her love of travel, people, and cooking. Being central to providing the best experience guests can have on their own journey combines the best of all three. “I have the privilege of making our home be our guests’ home for the duration of their stay. I love sharing information on places to go and things to see with people new to the area. Making the inn a memorable part of their travels is why I’m here.”
Inn at Glencairn, 3301 Lawrenceville Road (Route 206), Lawrence. 609-497-1737. www.innatglencairn.com
While its bar and restaurant closed at the end of 2017, the Peacock Inn still offers the only luxury hotel within walking distance of downtown Princeton. Its 16 rooms range from the “preferred queen” — just over 200 square feet starting from around $300 per night — to the “jacuzzi suite” — more than 600 square feet with a king bed and a fold-out queen bed with nightly rates over $700. Among the unique features of each guest room is artwork by noted New Jersey artist Ben Shahn from the collection of the inn’s owner, Barry Sussman.
Peacock Inn, 20 Bayard Lane, Princeton. 609-924-1707. www.peacockinn.com
While the Chauncey Hotel & Conference Center — on the Educational Testing Service campus on Rosedale Road — has many of the trappings of a Route 1 hotel, including 100 standard guest rooms and corporate meeting facilities, it also features the Laurie House. The former hunt club has seven bed and breakfast-style rooms.
The center is named for Henry Chauncey, the founder of ETS. Laurie House was once his home, where he lived with his wife, Laurie Worcester Chauncey, and children from 1955 to 1970. The house was later converted to a guest house and in 1976 was named Laurie House.
Chauncey Hotel & Conference Center, 660 Rosedale Road, Princeton. 609-921-3600. www.acc-chaunceyconferencecenter.com
Easily the most affordable option out of earshot of Route 1 and a stone’s throw from downtown Princeton is the Erdman Center on the campus of Princeton Theological Seminary. Its 59 guest rooms are available for as little as $55 per night.
Erdman Center, Princeton Theological Center, 20 Library Place, Princeton. 609-497-7990. www.ptsem.edu