• 72°

Sunday storm claims popular country inn

For the last nine years, Randall Dean and Glenda Smith have beenliving a dream. Sunday, they woke up.

Two years’ hard work and a decade of satisfaction ended at 10:30a.m. Sunday when a severe thunderstorm produced 80 mph winds thatpushed what Randall Dean estimates to be a 40,000-pound oak treeonto the west side of the Smiths’ Four Cedars Country Inn anddestroyed it. The old-timey bed and breakfast was built on his ownproperty, by his own hands with materials from his family’soriginal Lincoln County home place.

“I built that place like the way I grew up,” Randall Dean said.”I wanted to show people what it meant to go back in time. I can gosit on that porch and I’m 5 years old again.”

The Smiths began work on the Country Inn in 1998. The old grey,tin-roofed cabin opened for business later that year, was added asa member of the Mississippi Bed and Breakfast Association and drewvisitors from across the world.

Though the inside was equipped with modern amenities, theCountry Inn could not truly be enjoyed without enduring the muscleaches and splinters Randall Dean knew growing up in the 1940s. Allits utilities were outdoors – an outhouse, wash pot, woodpile andhand-drawn water well from the old home place.

“I’ve drawn many a bucket out of that well,” he said. “That’swhere we got our water to drink.”

Stays in antiquity in the Smiths’ cabin were very popular overthe years, especially during hurricane season, when coastaldwellers fled to the comfort of Lincoln County’s fields.

They’ll have to keep moving north this year. The Country Inn wasexpected to be booked for the summer.

“I had a call Monday, and I told them we were temporarilyclosed,” Glenda Smith said. “I couldn’t bring myself to tell themwe were shut down indefinitely.”

As the huge oak tree – which measures about 4 feet around at thetrunk – leans lazily onto the Country Inn, its tangled upper limbsprotruding into the twisted metal roof are actually all that isholding the house up.

By crouching down and putting his knees into the brown dirt,Randall Dean points out the true extent of the damage. The CountryInn is leaning eastward by six degrees, and the cinder blockssupporting the western wall have dug into the wet earth under thetree’s weight, with some blocks separated from their powdery mortarand slipping east as well.

Though the doors are jammed shut in the slanted frames, thewindows – which Randall Dean said were built in 1882 – have not thefirst crack. Not even the second-floor window directly beneath thestriking point of a huge limb.

But windows alone do not a house make.

Randall Dean plans to support the Country Inn with extra boards,cut the tree from the roof and then salvage what’s left inside.After that, the bed and breakfast will be torn down.

“There’s no way to right it back up and it be safe,” hesaid.

Eventually, the Country Inn will be rebuilt, the Smithsagreed.

“We’ve met so many great people who have stayed over there,”Glenda said. “I just can’t get over folks not knowing things Ithink they would, being from the South. And they always get a kickout of hearing us talk.”

Randall Dean planned to begin removing the fallen tree – and,eventually, the Country Inn – Wednesday. He didn’t know how long itwill before he starts work on the next one.

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.