Ever since its story began in 1885, exceptional hospitality has been a core feature of The Tranquil House Inn. Through the decades, fires and changes in ownership, location, name and the surrounding environment, the inn seen today at the corner of Queen Elizabeth and Ananias Dare streets in Manteo has undergone vast alterations. However, consistent provision of fine dining and luxury accommodations remains essential to its reputation.
Even in the Victorian era, when the inn served as a boarding house and hotel to Outer Banks visitors, people revered it for bringing uncommon – not to mention unparalleled – decadence to Manteo. The editor-in-chief of the Elizabeth City publication Economist applauded the establishment, saying: For some 15 years the Tranquil House has been striving by careful attention to business, by kindness, by a superb table laden with all the delicacies supplied from forest, sky, marsh and stream, by nice beds and bed rooms that wooed sleep to the most restless bosom [...] until it has become the recognized leader of all the public houses in North Carolina, the rallying centre and life of Roanoke Island.
In our current world where accommodation owners keep a wary eye out for inflammatory reviews left on online platforms, such words of praise would make them swoon.
Notice that the inn went by the name Tranquil House at the time of the quote (1899). Asa and Celia Evans gave the property this name when they purchased it in 1885. Before, people knew the building as Chaddic House, which housed boarders. When the ownership changed, the Evanses continued running a boarding house with the addition of a hotel. The Tranquil House’s location, similar to its name, differs slightly from that of the present-day Tranquil House Inn. The original inn stood across the street in what’s now the pavilion and surrounding Magnolia Marketplace in downtown Manteo.
Guests and boarders of Tranquil House could expect to live comfortably and eat well under the inn's roof. Celia prepared their meals using seasonal vegetables that came from the garden, milk and eggs from their cow and chickens, fish caught fresh from the water and livestock raised on their land. Asa described this type of bounty as, “First class in every particular. Table supplied with every delicacy. Fish, Oysters and Game in abundance in season.”
Its reputation drew people to Tranquil House. In addition to attracting businessmen, government officials and other travelers, Tranquil House welcomed its share of celebrities too. The Wright brothers stayed there during an Outer Banks visit as did eminent inventor Professor Reginald Fessenden when he conducted wireless experiments between Manteo and Hatteras Island.
Manteo’s Hotel Roanoke opened next in 1899. On the corner of Queen Elizabeth and Ananias Dare streets, it, too, was across the street from today’s waterfront inn. Like Tranquil House, it was known to bring creature comforts to travelers hungering for the taste of home cooking and a soft pillow to lay their heads. By 1917, Hotel Roanoke’s founding owners, Nathaniel and Eliza Gould, sold their inn, but they bought Tranquil House from the Evans family. Hotel Roanoke became a boarding house under its new owners, Dick and Delia Evans (yes, of the same Evans family).
One chilling night in February 1952, a smoldering cigarette sparked a fire in Manteo and destroyed Hotel Roanoke. A few years later in 1959, Tranquil House was decommissioned and torn down to make room for the post office, which stayed in that downtown location until 1990.
Finally, in the 1980s the revitalization of Manteo’s downtown revived the Tranquil House name. With the intention of paying homage to the downtown’s two first inns, the town’s commissioners put a premier piece of waterfront property on the market. However, there was a catch: Whoever purchased the property had to develop it into an inn that was architecturally driven after Hotel Roanoke and named for The Tranquil House.
By 1988 this vision came to fruition when property developer Ray Hollowell purchased the land and revived the Tranquil House name. He opened The Tranquil House Inn in the hotel’s current location. Between its name and waterfront setting with decks, wrap-around porches and cupolas, the establishment embodied a complete fusion of the town’s historic establishments.
The inn sold to Don and Lauri Just in 1993, and it's since remained in the family’s hands. For Don and Lauri, the inn was their retirement venture, and their son Donnie took over the position of inn manager shortly after moving to the Outer Banks when he finished college. When Don and Lauri moved away from the Outer Banks in 1996, Donnie entered his current position as the owner and operator of The Tranquil House Inn.
Although they had no prior knowledge about the Tranquil House’s welcoming prestige, the Justs built their philosophy and business on the basis of supplying guests with top-notch hospitality. In 1994 they added 1587, the inn’s onsite restaurant. Like their predecessors, The Tranquil House Inn strived to offer dining that was “first-class in every particular.” Donnie became the restaurant’s manager too. With no prior knowledge of how to run a restaurant, he researched and pored over ways to offer a fine-dining experience that matched The Tranquil House Inn’s aesthetic. When he teamed up with chef Donny King, 1587 became renowned for turning seasonal and local ingredients into gourmet culinary creations – becoming the Outer Banks’ upscale farm-to-table restaurant before the trend revolutionized the dining scene.
“They were just babies,” Teresa Stilton said about the manager and chef, both in their 20s at the time. She’s worked with the Just family since they bought the property. In spite of their youth, Donnie and Donny piloted the inn through what Donnie describes as “the Outer Banks’ Golden Age” – a time from the late '90s to mid-2000s when the Outer Banks boomed with an influx of people buying property and breathing new energy into these islands. The reimagined and upper-tier cuisine growing increasingly popular in the area elevated the dining scene. 1587 profited in the development, and when Southern Living magazine published a feature about them, the restaurant’s popularity skyrocketed.
Time has transitioned the inn through decades, styles and ownership, but its core elements reflect those of its predecessors. First, these businesses have a habit of staying in the family – be it between siblings or across generations. They have also maintained reputations as choice destinations for luxury room and board on the Outer Banks, attracting celebrities from the turn of the century ranging from the Wright brothers to Richard Gere and Diane Lane when they were here filming Nights in Rodanthe, Bill Belichick and Manteo resident Andy Griffith, who paid frequent visits to the restaurant. Beyond the stars, The Tranquil House Inn also draws in foodies eager to experience 1587’s gourmet food and drink that seem so unexpected in small town Manteo – similar to the way Celia Evans' renowned table turned a spotlight on Tranquil House. That caliber of food paired with the accommodation’s hospitality and staff have given the inn a legacy for “being a refuge at the end of the road,” as Donnie describes.
He says, “People have to seek us out. We’re small, but we have a reputation that drives people in.” This harkens back to the inns’ early days when guests were either culture-savvy travelers who’d done their research or folks who stumbled upon it by happy accident. Over the course of these serendipitous coincidences, The Tranquil House Inn and its backstory reflect Manteo’s history and point to the fact that some things never change.
405 Queen Elizabeth Avenue • Manteo