Articulate November 2017

The Sweetwater Branch Inn: Hospitality Rooted in Inspiration

Written By: Rhina Garcia

“I remember being there, helping my parents restore it and I could see what these old buildings could be,” Holbrook said. “I started having a love for these old houses.”

As Cornelia Holbrook walks through the main office at the Sweetwater Branch Inn, she greets her employees with a large smile and the same embracing hospitality that she serves to her guests. As she moves her way through the different offices, she stops to say hello to every person that comes her way. Whether it’s her gardener or groundskeeper, or a guest who’s ready to indulge in the freshly-made breakfast and coffee, Holbrook makes it her mission to ensure that no one person is left without a genuine and hospitable experience.

That’s your typical day at the Sweetwater Branch Inn.

“I love that this can be a place where people call home,” Holbrook said.

With 20 guest rooms and a beautiful landscape for visitors to enjoy, the Sweetwater Branch Inn encompasses the spirit of a historical backdrop and unities guests with a truly unique Gainesville experience.

Peach and cream cheese stuffed French toast, one of the many delicious breakfasts served at the Sweetwater Branch Inn.

Holbrook’s story began as a young girl influenced by her parents’ love for preservation. She would spend afternoons with her mother, driving around Gainesville and relishing in the beauty of the historic homes that were scattered throughout. In 1978, the Holbrook family purchased the McKenzie House, beginning a process of restoration and preservation that stayed with a young Holbrook throughout the years.

“I remember being there, helping my parents restore it and I could see what these old buildings could be,” Holbrook said. “I started having a love for these old houses.”

This continued throughout most of her life. At the age of 15, Holbrook began to dream of the day when she would open her own inn. She spent hours perfecting her gardening and cooking skills, learning about food preparation and kitchen management. Years later, she spent her time working alongside her mother’s travel agency, doing eco tours and learning about conservation efforts.

“I love making beautiful things,” she stated.

Although she spent a considerable amount of time traveling the world and seeing new sights, her dream of owning an inn never faltered. Holbrook states that she always held that aspiration close to her and one day when she was working in Kenya, she received a call that would completely change her world. Her mother had purchased another historical home with hopes that she would restore it to its previous vibrancy.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to create a place where people really feel connected to Gainesville,’” Holbrook said.

And so began an intensive restoration process, in which Holbrook sought the help of contractors and architects within the local community. The Sweetwater Branch Inn officially opened in 1993, slowly expanding throughout the years. In 2015, the inn launched the Sweet Tea Restaurant, which specializes in “New Century Southern Cuisine.” Two years earlier, the Sweetwater very naturally branched into catering, launching the Sweetwater Catering Co.

“We host weddings here but we also do weddings off-site along with catering,” Holbrook said. “We can bring lunch and dinner to any group larger than 10 people.”

Part of Sweetwater’s appeal lies within its location. Located in Downtown Gainesville, the inn is perfectly placed within the heart of Gainesville’s cultural hub. Guests are in close proximity to Innovations Square, the Hippodrome theater and many local restaurants. Business travelers are minutes away from the University of Florida and the UF Health Shands Hospital.

Being a business traveler for many years, Holbrook recounts the days when she would feel uninspired due to unchanging hotel room designs.

“I would wake up and think ‘where am I?’ Holbrook said. “The four walls all looked the same.”

These experiences led to her inspiration for each room’s unique design. At the Sweetwater Branch Inn, no two rooms are alike, with meticulous details rooted in the design and accommodations guaranteed to make sure that every guest has exactly what they need.

Each room is equipped with high-speed internet and large flat screen TV’s. In contrast, guests will sleep on fine mattresses and 100% cotton 400-count sheets. Unique headboards and walk-in showers in a retro-style black and white tile bathroom. The anachronistic setting of the rooms encompasses what a place like Gainesville attempts to build for its guests; an innovative community nestled into a historical and distinct environment.

The Annie room in the Nora Belle cottage.

“This place is perfect for the business traveler that’s tired of waking up and not really knowing where they are,” Holbrook said.

Whether you’re looking for a place to hold your wedding, a romantic getaway for two or if you’re simply in town for a business meeting, there’s no experience that embraces guests like the Sweetwater Branch Inn. Labeling this as her “life’s work,” Holbrook holds a deep connection to every element at the inn and seeks to fulfill a connection with every one of her guests.

“My family and employees, this community and these buildings are a trinity of what’s important to me now as a business owner. And above that, we as a team at Sweetwater have created an extraordinarily, wonderful and authentically Gainesville experience. Whether it be through our food or overnight!” Holbrook said.

Continuing her daily routine, Holbrook walks around the inn and goes into each of the rooms to ensure that they are nothing less than perfect for its future lodgers. With each room owning a unique name, she steps into one of her favorites, the Julia Room, named after her daughter. The warmth and hospitality is present with every detail at the inn, giving guests a real connection to its impassioned owner, something that is hard to find elsewhere.

“In this disposable world, not all things are disposable,” Holbrook said. “These old buildings are relevant and vibrant and a part of this community, and I am glad to be a part of a little piece of that.”

Guests can enjoy the outdoors with a beautiful fountain located in the Sweetwater Garden.


RHINA GARCIA is a senior journalism major at the University of Florida who is known for three things: loving coffee, being Hispanic and laughing at her own jokes. Harboring a love for all things entertainment, she hopes to one day work in the music industry as a publicist.

Photography Provided by SweetWater Branch Inn

Leave a Comment