Meet the other — and otherworldly —
Adams family, namesake
of High Point’s Historic Adams Inn
By Cynthia Adams
Photographs by Amy Freeman
Part Christmas story, part ghost story, this tale centers on a magnificent High Point home that is nearly a century old. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Adams Inn is a place so spooky that real live ghostbusters once paid a visit and filmed the spectral activity in the attic. Mena Parrish, the longtime resident manager, says paranormal investigators videotaped a vortex in the attic space where spirits of children reportedly frolic.
But more important than a few harmless ghosts, the inn’s real story is a love letter to preservationists. The gloriously appointed mansion shines during the holidays. Visits with Santa (even Scrooge) and open carriage rides make for a scene only Norman Rockwell could imagine. Decked out in all manner of beautiful bits and bobs, the inn sparkles, twinkles and dazzles . . . and delights visitors far more than its naughty ghosts scare them.
It might have been razed. Set in a desirable district with commercial creep, the former home of one of the state’s hosiery titans no doubt caught the eye of developers ready to jump in with bags of cash for just such a property.
But not this one. This one survived the wrecking ball.
Now the Adams Inn enjoys a vital fourth act. Its namesake, John Hampton Adams, a pioneer in High Point’s textile industry, couldn’t have guessed its fate when it was completed in 1918.
How could he have foreseen that its rooms would one day entertain hundreds of guests — and occasional spectral visitors who go bump in the night?
Elizabeth House, adjacent to the inn, is home to Mena Parrish. The properties offer an elegant glimpse into High Point’s past, even a few ghosts of Christmases past.
First, a bit of history.
A century ago, the city was a furniture mecca, drawing manufacturers. Adams had relocated to High Point from South Carolina in partnership with James Henry Millis. They created Adams Millis Corporation, among the largest hosiery manufacturers. Blocks away from the Adams address was a new five-story Bank of Commerce building — considered a skyscraper at the time. The local newspaper once carried an account of how a “human spider” scaled the bank, thrilling onlookers.
The Italian Renaissance Revival home “Hamp” Adams built was a standout that eventually became a landmark.
Designed by architect Charles Hartmann, (who also designed Greensboro’s Jefferson Standard Building) the home featured a pastel stuccoed exterior and distinctive tiled roof. Inside there was plenty of eye candy: a grand staircase, an impressive entry hall, and all the marble and interior finishes and flourishes of the era: soaring ceilings, high-sheen floors and ornate fireplaces. There were other special touches, including a library, music room and light-bathed sunroom, as well as a spacious kitchen and other comforts of the day. The residence included servants’ quarters, numerous bathrooms and a two-bay garage.
It also featured a secret door and vault for stashing silver and valuables, bearing the Adams name on the vault door.
Adams remained there for 13 years along with his wife, Elizabeth, and daughters Elizabeth and Nell. In 1931, the Adamses moved to a new Tudor home called Adamsleigh in Greensboro’s Sedgefield neighborhood.
Adamsleigh was considered the Gate City’s grandest home. Its private and expansive grounds included a pond, gardens and a caretaker’s cottage. “Adamsleigh is four to five times bigger,” says Parrish, adding that the family remained at the estate until Hampton’s death in 1939.
Meanwhile, back in High Point, the mansion at 1108 North Main entered a curious chapter. According to Parrish, it was rented by an Adams-Millis employee, but the Adams heirs donated it to the High Point YMCA. For many years, the grande dame served as the Y headquarters — a peculiarly challenging fit for an organization whose mission is centered on youth.
When the YMCA relocated in 1961, the house, acquired by mortician Harold C. Davis, entered a curious third act. Davis received a funeral service license in 1948. At age 25, he founded the Harold C. Davis Funeral Home two years later.
As a funeral home, the mansion housed both the living and the dead, with Davis’s private residence inside the mortuary. This was not an uncommon practice for morticians. As Kim Waters, daughter of a mortician explains, it was practical.
Waters grew up above a mortuary in a grand antebellum home. (Few friends came for play dates.) Funeral homes often operated local ambulance services, pressing both hearses and morticians into double duty. Waters was schooled to answer the phone appropriately, depending upon the need. In emergencies, her father slapped a siren atop the hearse, and off he’d go to an accident scene.
The Davis children also grew up in rooms above the mortuary. According to Parrish, “they lived upstairs in what is now the inn’s Kincaid suite.”
After Davis shed his own mortal coil in 1997 at age 72, the funeral home relocated and the grand house languished. Empty for two years, preservationists worried about its fate.
In 2000, Act Four began, with the mansion’s acquisition and a much-needed rejuvenation. The Adams family home was repurposed as a historic inn, catering to guests who booked repeatedly during furniture and fabric markets, and special events.
But even when there’s no occupancy, the inn is occupied. Just ask Parrish and the staff, who made a comfortable peace with the other guests — from the other side.
Some of the ghosts are pranksters; others are perpetual children who only wish to play in the former attic playroom.
Some are restless cigar aficionados, just like “Hamp” Adams.
y 2001, the transformation of the former residence/YMCA headquarters/funeral home into a 31-room inn had been completed. The JH Adams Inn, according to the new owners and innkeepers, incorporated the Hampton home as its heart.
A.B. Henly and Robert Blakely, who initially bought and refurbished the Adams home, sold it to Don Angell. At his father’s death, son Gray Angell and his wife, Cristina, became the current owners. “Gray was not in the hotel business before purchasing the inn,” says Parrish. It has become a much-loved legacy property for the Angells. They made improvements and additions, further expanding the property by acquiring the Elizabeth House, also on Main Street and adjacent to the inn. The revival of the mansion thrilled High Point as well as the next generation Grays. Come Christmas, the staff spends days decking the halls and prepping for an open house event that includes a Santa Claus on, site and carriage rides — all for free. An eerily appropriate Scrooge even appears in a nod to the popular Christmas ghost tale!
The ghosts of Christmases past at the inn are an assorted lot. Conjecture is they include former residents, even the original owner himself.
The inn’s ghostly activity inspired its own chapter in Ghosts of the Triad: Tales from the Haunted Heart of the Piedmont, by Michael Renegar and
Mena Parrish explains that she was once invited to buy the inn while she was the manager, living offsite with her husband, Dee, and two daughters in a century-old home two blocks away.
One early evening six years ago, Parrish received a panicked call from an inn employee working the front desk. He told her that the lobby was filled with smoke. “No fire. It didn’t smell of smoke. It was more like an odorless fog.” When she arrived mere minutes later, it had vanished. The smoke had evaporated.
The (sober and reliable) employee was baffled, but Parrish didn’t doubt his version of events. Later, psychics and sensitives said this sort of foglike apparition was commonplace when spirits gathered.
Parrish was eventually coaxed to take permanent residence at the inn, given her long hours. “Often I didn’t go outside all day long,” she says.
For four years, Parrish and her family lived in the original maid’s quarters before moving to Elizabeth House. Here she had her first brush with the paranormal during a routine evening. She describes a ghostly visit “from a gentleman that I think worked for the Adamses.” Parrish was sound asleep in bed, awakened by insistent poking of her cheek.
It wasn’t a gentle jab but a forcible one. She demonstrates with a forefinger. Parrish muses that “a gentleman who worked for the Adams family passed away in my room.”
Standing in her former apartment, Parrish relates another experience. “My husband had an encounter. The oven timer went on — he would cut it off, go back to bed and it would go off again.” The stove hadn’t been used that evening, nor had they ever used the timer.
Accounts of the inn’s resident ghosts and sightings grew routine. Staff and guests reported harmless encounters with friendly ghosts.
“A lady working in the kitchen said a man walked through the cooler and into the walls,” says Parrish. According to description, “he looked a lot like Mr. Adams.”
One family lived at the inn for two years, taking upstairs accommodation in original Adams family bedrooms.
Their young daughter came to breakfast and announced, “‘A bald-headed man was standing at the foot of my bed last night,’” says Parrish. “And she pointed to the portrait of Mr. Adams and said, ‘He was in my room!’”
The inn’s repeat visitors have reported nothing unusual. Except for one peculiar complaint.
“We’ve had people complain that this is supposed to be a nonsmoking inn,” says Parrish. “We’d send someone up to investigate and nobody was smoking. But Mr. Adams, the rumor goes, would stand there upstairs and have a smoke.”
From time to time, inn staff noted noises emanating from the attic, adjacent to the main living quarters of the Adams family.
Finally, a few years ago, paranormal investigators conducted their own research, using infrared cameras and video equipment in the attic. Detecting “a vortex,” the sensitives recorded what appeared to be children playing. The attic was where the Adams children once played, and Parrish cannot account for its other uses.
oday, the mansion has the aura of a well-loved, polished and posh landmark property. The Parrish family remains in spacious quarters upstairs at Elizabeth House. Downstairs, Elizabeth House holds special events and private dinners.
Parrish is a hardworking, contented fixture at the inn, which became a huge aspect of her life over the past decade. She is a self-taught designer, who ran a busy design business “before I fell into hotel management.” Her mother is a clothing designer. And she is a self-described “Christmas freak.”
“I did a lot of home designs at Christmas and always decorated my house early.” Her lighthearted personality banishes any thought of ghosts — Parrish decorates with vigor, joined by a team of helpers. She enlists three or four people, “including the inn chef’s wife, Amanda, who also loves to decorate. The sous-chef, Mary, also loves to decorate.” The team festoons the inn immediately after Thanksgiving. “It takes three days . . . I used to have four Christmas trees!”
They don’t stop until all of the property, including the courtyard and exteriors, are bedecked with cheer. “We decorate the Elizabeth House too.”
As for her private quarters at Elizabeth House, Parrish starts even sooner, adorning her rooms a week after Halloween or early November. An entire room of the Parrish apartment is dedicated to gift-wrapping and decorations. She smiles gleefully while talking about the process of making things merry. Parrish extends the season as long as possible.
“It takes me a long time to take it down because I don’t want to take it down . . . I leave it up until the Epiphany!”
In the family’s inviting private quarters, Parrish uses traditional greenery along with lively splashes of red and green. She combines cozy displays of special family memorabilia. Dishes of colorful gumdrops along with stockings hung with care on the mantel combine for seasonal charm.
She is expert at creating a homey sense of comfort. Parrish marvels at how well it works. “I love it here,” she says.
The family rescues, Jack Russell and Pomeranian mix dogs, putter through the Parrish home, which is decorated with antiques dressed in a traditional mix of stripes and prints. Even the dogs’ beds are coordinated. “I have dog beds everywhere,” Parrish admits with a grin.
On the last day of the annual holiday decorating marathon, the final flourish, swags of fresh greenery, go up at Adams Inn and Elizabeth House. All visible exteriors are festooned.
Everybody seems to respect the holidays, Parrish jokes, and the only spirits to be found are in the bar downstairs at the inn. For teetotalers, the inn serves a proper English tea Monday through Friday, called “tea and teddy bears.”
“On the first Saturday in December, Santa comes to the inn and the High Point Uptown Stroll takes place,” Parrish says, an event that features carolers, performances and vendors, even a petting zoo.
“We’ll have milk and cookies, hot chocolate and carriage rides. Scrooge usually comes and makes an appearance, too.”
Despite the ghostly goings-on at the inn, the staff feels nothing so much as holiday cheer and good fortune. “We’ve never been rained out for the holiday open house!” Parrish says, adding they once had a welcome snow occur. “Between 2,500 and 5,000 come to the inn!”
Last year, thousands waited to greet Santa or take a carriage ride. “There are lines down the street!”
Visitors want to be inspired by the Christmas cheer, and just come to enjoy the inn, Parrish says. She displays a Santa collection throughout, keeping a few in her own quarters. The collection, formerly owned by her friend Mary Wood, includes rare ones that even sport real mink.
By December 24, Parrish turns to her own guests, preparing a large family event that she cooks and caters herself. She is of Italian descent, and pulls out all the stops.
“So we do a big Italian Christmas Eve, with four kinds of pasta, meatballs, and eggplant Parmigiana, with what Italians call ‘gravy,’” slang for sauce. She hosts 25 family members for dinner, gathering downstairs in dining area of the Elizabeth house, taking rare advantage of having full run of the place.
“I can’t imagine not being here,” says Parrish, who genuinely loves living next door to the inn. She praises the Angell family as wonderful stewards, adding, “And I get to put a coat on to go to work!” It is mere steps from her apartment to the office in the former sunroom of the Adams house, but a healthy separation from work.
Her husband, Dee, has finally adjusted to relaxing Saturday mornings versus his old habit of grabbing a leaf blower for daylong yard work. Sometimes, the couple escapes to their High Rock Lake home, for a “close and easy” getaway.
It happens that this golden afternoon is their wedding anniversary. Dee pops in as Parrish discusses original features of the inn. Giving her a quick peck on the cheek, he darts back to work. The two may start their celebration with a toast at Cristina Gray’s, the inn’s restaurant and bar.
This December will mark two years’ residency in their newest quarters inside Elizabeth House, where the Parrishes report being happy. Not all spirits are unhappy, they insist.
Something remains at the Adams House Inn of those who once lived, worked or rested here, infusing a fine old mansion with the finer warmth of a family home.
Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor to O.Henry magazine. The Adams family live with the pleasant spirits of the original owners of their Latham Park home. h