When describing her 206-year-old brownstone in historic Newtown, pa., Jane Williams stresses the fact that George Washinton did notm sleep there. But, she will also tell you, he did buy a pair of boots there back when the three-story structure was a tannery.
Those who belong to the newly created Bed & Breakfast League and who also happen to be traveling through Mrs. Williams's neighborhood are more fortunate than George was. For $22 a night double occupany or $16 single, Jane and Tom Williams will provide a private room, continental breakfast, and a native's insight on what to see in Newtown, Washington's Crossing, or nearby Philadelphia.
The Williamses, like many of the other hosts in the Bed & Breafast League, have opened their house to guests because they believe the cozy, honey type of accommodation so popular with visitors to Britain should be available in the US. Besides being economical, staying at a bed-and-breakfast house can mean new friendships and personal contact with a region's culture that is often missed when staying at hotels or motels.
Charlotte Taylor, wh ile motoring alone in England and Scotland last year, was so enchanted with the bed-and-breakfast places she visited that she founded the Bed & Breakfast League shortly after returning to the US. By placing small ads in national magazines, she soon attracted over 5,000 inquiries from people interested in joining the league as hosts, guests, or both.
Currently the league directory lists 136 host homes in and around New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Seattle, Washington, and chicago. Those wanting to join the league, and thereby be eligible to stay at the homes listed in the directory, are required to complete an application and pay a yearly fee of $45. The accommodations, which range in style from sprawling suburban homes to city apartments to a log house in the country, cost $12-$20 a night single and $16-$28 double.
Mrs. Taylor, who works out of an office in Princeton, N.J., looks on the league as much more than a new travel option -- she sees it as a way of helping Americans get to know them country and, especially, each other.
"Although overseas guests are welcome, I wanted the focus to be primarily on Americans travelling in their own country," she says. "From the responses, I've found that there is a tremendous amount of pride in the country -- people want to show people their homes and their areas."
Hosts with children, she says, feel that it will be a benefit to their families to have contact with people staying in their homes. For retired people and those whose children have grown and left home, it is a way to put empty rooms and extra time into good use.
"People don't regard it as renting a room," says Merri Pate who, as the league's representative in Florida, interviews people who want to join as hosts. "Everyone I've spoken with regards it as a way of sharing the ambiance of their home. They don't want to do it for the money -- you just don't make enough to get into it for that reason."
Virginia Gay, the Boston representative who is also a league hostess, has found much the same attitude. "I asked one couple what they would do if they had an unpleasant guest. And they said, "We can't imagine that anyone who would want to do this could possibly be unpleasant.'"
Guests staying in Mrs. Gay's home in a wooded suburb about 40 minutes south of Boston would be treated to a lovely sprawling house surrounded by pine trees, rolling hills, and colorful birds that come up to the feeder just outside the living room window. Inside, the house gives the feel of old New England with its wide pine floors and beamed ceilings. The sunny guest bedroom has such homey comforts as a puffy down comforter and guidebooks and articles about Boston sightseeing on the nightstand.
"And we're happy to show people places that aren't on the tour books," says Mrs. Gay. "My husband knows all sorts of odd bits of Boston history -- particularly about the State House. If someone wants a tour of Boston, he'll jump in the car at the drop of a hat."
Although Bed & Breakfast League hosts are only required to furnish a continental breakfast, Mrs. Gay says people, in some instances, will provide much more than that. "Many hosts like to fix a generous breakfast, particularly the husbands -- every host husband I've talked to say he insists on being the breakfast cook. Some hosts will prepare lunch and dinner at an extra charge -- it usually depends on the chemistry that developes between guest and host."
In Mrs. Gay's house, as in some of the other host houses, guests are welcome to use the living room, dining room, and kitchen as well. Other hosts, particularly those in Florida, offer access to swimming pools and nearby beaches.
Travelers staying with Jeanne Gurnee, whose home in northern New Jersey is a short bus ride away from New York City, has an 1880 carriage house that guests would have all to themselves. "They can be as autonomous as they wish -- or they can be a part of the family," she says.
For those who prefer an urban setting, the league directory also has city listings, including a few in the poshest areas of Manhattan where hotel rooms can easily exceed $100 a night.
Quite a different type of stay is available with Marilyn and Richard Nagler who built their mountain home in Evergreen, Colorado out of logs about five years ago. The Naglers have three acres on which they raise rabbits and chickens, and are next to Mountain Park which offers hiking, backpacking, and horseback riding. In opposite directions they are a half hour away from Denver and from wilderness and ski areas. Mrs. Nagler, who runs a day-care service, says she is happy to care for children if their parents want to take go off by themselves.
"We see this as a way for us to have a vacation experience without actually going anywhere," says Mrs. Nagler. "We'll meet as many new people as if we were traveling ourselves."
Information on how to become a league guest or host is available by writing to Bed & Breakfast League, 20 Nassau Street, Princeton, N.J. 08540.