Melody Schwab and her husband, John, are not old house people, although they now own two 19th-century built homes. Melody just wanted to make sure her family’s farm was kept in the family after her grandmother died. It took two years, but she bought the Adams farm, the one with the red brick house up on the hill across from Darlington Lake. Then she and her husband ended up buying another historic property — the Duff house at 121 First Street — when it came up for sale. They turned it into an Airbnb short-term rental property that’s drawing people from all over the country to stay in little old Darlington. “We’re not old house aficionados, but now we have a house from 1840 and 1880,” she said.
“You’re like a steward of these properties. You don't just want to fix them up. You want to fix them in a way that they’ll last another 150 years.”
Melody grew up in Tennessee, but spent time at her grandparents’ farm growing up. Her paternal grandparents, Roy and Madge Adams, bought the farm on Elmwood Boulevard in 1951. Roy was a faculty member in the chemistry department at Geneva College, but farmed on the side. He raised some cattle, kept some chicken and a pony. They had a huge garden. Roy and Madge had four sons, the eldest of which is Melody’s father, Mel.
Her grandfather died in 2003, but her grandmother lived at the farm alone until she was 95. She died in 2018.
Melody and John bought the farm in spring 2020 and moved to the area. They’d spent the last several years moving around following John’s job in construction. Melody is an equine veterinarian. They wanted to settle down. So that’s what they did as the COVID-19 pandemic began. They began renovating and updating the old family home and building a new life in a new town.
When they saw the house on First Street go on the market that fall, they went to look at it. The couple has always been interested in real estate as an investment. When Melody and John got married at the Gathering Place several years before, they noticed there were no places to stay locally overnight.
The grand old Victorian house was built in 1880 by Dr. Vance, Melody would later learn. He ran a small doctor’s office out of one of the front rooms. The Duff family purchased the home in 1892. William Boyd Duff and Margaret Maria Hasson Duff raised six children in the home.
Their son, Edwin, and his wife, Florence Dilworth Duff, moved into the home, where Florence lived until her death in 1981. The couple lived in two upstairs bedrooms with their three sons and rented out two of the upstairs bedrooms to short and long-term tenants.
“It’s historically been a house that catered to people needing a place to stay, needing a meal,” Melody said. “They could stay here for a day or a week or whatever they needed. We’re happy to carry on that tradition of hospitality in a way.”
They bought the First Street house with the idea to turn it into an Airbnb. There were only a few problems. The first was that they’d never rented out anything on Airbnb.
That solution seemed easy enough. Throw some pictures of the property up on the website and see how much interest it garnered. They could figure out the rest as they went. Then came the second problem.
Someone booked it almost immediately. The Schwabs bought it in October 2020. The first booking was set for Thanksgiving.
“We panicked because the house was not furnished, not cleaned, not really ready,” Melody said.
It was a mad dash to get it ready in time. In the end the first three bookings canceled because of COVID. That gave them a little extra time to get things just right.
The first stay was for Christmas. A family picked the home in Darlington as a central gathering location, with people flying in from Texas, Tennessee and elsewhere.
After another booking during the holidays, they blocked off the listing in early 2021 to take a deep breath as they painted and renovated some areas and put finishing touches on. That spring the Schwabs put in a new furnace and central air conditioning to make sure guests were comfortable through the summer.
Bookings picked up in March and April and continued through the year. Melody said there were 52 different bookings last year. The property attracted all sorts of visitors. People come to stay for weddings at the Gathering Place, girls weekends and family reunions.
There have even been some ghost hunters. “We’ve had them say there are no spirits in the house,” Melody said.
The five-bedroom two-bath house is fully stocked. It comes with dishes, pots, pans, linens, cable, wifi, an outdoor fire pit, a grill. Maddie Hupp cleans it from top to bottom after every stay.
The success of an Airbnb listing is all about the reviews. The house started off with 5-star reviews. They want to keep it that way.
How to book (or how to look if you’re nebby)