Historic inn becomes site for meetings

Havre de Grace complex is `events-driven,' owners say

October 22, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

More and more frequently, corporations are seeking a respite from the office and turning to the tranquillity of towns such as Havre de Grace for meetings and retreats.

And John and Susan Muldoon believe they have just the place for those corporations - an expansive Victorian built in 1886 by Murray Vandiver, a former mayor of Havre de Grace and a former state treasurer.

The Muldoons purchased the 120-year-old nine-bedroom house in 2002. Although it had previously been run as a more traditional bed-and-breakfast, the Muldoons now refer to the four-building property as a boutique lodging and event complex.

"Although the Vandiver can be a sleepy, romantic getaway, it's more events-driven," said John Muldoon. "We cater to corporate groups, private parties and weddings."

The mansion was the home of the Vandiver family until the late 1960s, when it left the hands of the Vandiver descendants and was converted into apartments.

Alan and Pat Fair purchased the property in 1985 and renovated it into a bed-and-breakfast they named Vandiver Inn.

The Muldoons then were working other full-time jobs. He was in business development and marketing, and she was a fundraising consultant for nonprofit groups.

Contemplating a job in hospitality, Susan and John Muldoon were looking into jobs in restaurants and considering places to raise their young son, Jack. When they were offered a job managing the property for the Fairs in October 2001, they decided to try it.

"We loved the house," said the John Muldoon, 41. "We loved the town, and the business allowed my wife to cultivate her biggest talent - cooking."

After allowing the Muldoons to spend about six months manning the helm, the Fairs offered to sell the business to them. In March 2002, they accepted the Fairs' offer to became the sole owners of the property.

The sale included the lease of two guest houses - the Murphy and the Kent - which have an additional eight guest rooms.

And recently the Muldoons purchased a fourth property they named the Lyons Meeting House, which is used as a conference facility.

It includes a small kitchen, library, porches, a 24-port "hard-wired" high-speed data hub, high-speed wireless Internet and a large plasma screen with PC compatibility for presentations.

Also, the brick porch around the pavilion has been expanded and French doors and side curtains have been added that can drop down around the exterior of the outdoor pavilion and the mansion's large front porches.

But it's the basics that bring people to the Union Street property.

Gene and Barbara Siciliano's daughter, Jennifer, was married at the inn. The Bel Air couple said it was an experience they won't soon forget.

Although their daughter now lives in Arlington, Va., she grew up in Havre de Grace and wanted to be married there. From the moment the bride-to-be and her fiance, Matthew Rice, saw the Vandiver they knew it was the right place for them.

"My daughter thought it was perfect," said Barbara Siciliano. "It was just what she wanted - a family-oriented place to relax and enjoy the wedding."

Gene Siciliano said they rented the house for the weekend of the wedding and shared a special time with their family.

"Our family lives all over the place," he said. "It was nice to get up in the morning and all have breakfast together and then gather on the porch and chat. It was relaxing and cozy."

The Muldoons play host to about 50 weddings and more than 115 events in a year.

"We do a lot of typical things that a bed-and-breakfast might offer for weddings, but we have one thing no one else does," said John Muldoon. "We have a gourmet chef."

A self-taught cook, Susan, 40, prepares all the meals for the weddings and other events.

"Watching her cook for a wedding is like watching Jackson Pollock paint," he said. "It's just incredible."

Her menus include such entrees as seared ahi tuna on a bed of wasabi mashed potatoes or pork tenderloin medallions stuffed with an apricot and cranberry chutney.

"Every menu is custom-made for our guests," said John. "She makes unusual things, like once she did an amazing Armenian and Moroccan buffet. She can make just about anything someone wants to eat."

The Sicilianos said they heard about the food before the wedding because Susan Muldoon has developed a reputation for making tasty concoctions.

Room prices range from about $109 to $149. Included is a gourmet breakfast that might include chef's choice entrees such as banana and amaretto pancakes.

Guest suites vary in size from small single rooms to larger spaces, including a honeymoon suite.

Information: 800-245-1655 or www.vandiverinn.com.

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