Did you know if you go on Airbnb’s website and type in Huntington, West Virginia, over 50 choices pop up? What’s Airbnb you ask? It’s a website that offers short-and-long term lodging in privately owned homes, apartments or condos as an alternative to staying in a hotel. Often, they are in residential settings, but here they range from a home in Barboursville, to a carriage house on Ritter Park, to loft apartments in historic downtown buildings to a log home some have described as a hunting lodge — and lots more in between. Prices range from $23 to $250 per night depending on the size of the rental. Some serve breakfast and also function as a traditional bed and breakfast. If not, guests usually have the opportunity to cook for themselves. Some even allow dogs. It’s like being at home but in another city.
One of the attractions for Airbnb guests is the ambiance of living in one of Huntington’s neighborhoods. Hosts can, and often do, recommend local restaurants and attractions to their guests. Reviews posted on the homes here most always extol the friendliness of the hosts. Therefore, their reviews give potential guests plenty of guidance in selecting the property they prefer. Airbnb owners also have the satisfaction of knowing that guests have been fully vetted by the site. And, both guests and hosts are rated by the site. Potential guests cannot contact the owners directly, at first. Only after a booking is made through the site can you contact the host.
When Dan and Kellie Gooding bought their 1915 home facing Ritter Park, their plan was to renovate its carriage house for family, friends and Dan’s clients when they came to town. After hearing from a friend about their experience with Airbnb, they decided to list Park Lawn, as they call the carriage house, on the site as well. Since doing so in September 2017, they’ve had 20 stays, including some guests who have returned two or more times. They’ve hosted a former quarterback from West Point who came to take a special course at Marshall and a screenwriter and his partner from San Diego. A man from Manchester, England, spent two months at Park Lawn while serving as a guest soccer coach at Marshall. And, a correspondent for The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, spent a month there doing research for his upcoming book on the opioid crisis.
Stephen Zoeller listed his historic bed & breakfast in Heritage Station with Airbnb for additional exposure. “It was an experiment because it’s a little different than most Airbnbs,” Zoeller says. “We’re really a bed & breakfast, but we’ve gotten a great response from Airbnb.” He gets about 25 percent of his guests from it. He decided that a lot of people, especially younger travelers, were booking their stays that way. The Chessie Room, above the bank that legend says was robbed by the infamous James-Younger Gang in 1875, appeals to folks who appreciate antiques, railroad memorabilia and a claw-foot bathtub, who also want to be downtown.
A few blocks farther west, Mike Lewis has two loft apartments listed on Airbnb. A Kenova native, he now lives in California but along with his brother here, recently bought two buildings on Fourth Avenue and renovated them into apartments with modern amenities despite the historic nature of the buildings. Most are rented on a long-term basis, but someone suggested they furnish a studio and add it to the Airbnb site. That’s exactly what they did. “It’s worked out really well,” he says. “Our first guest came in September and she was there until December. She’s planning on coming back and staying again.” Following the success of the studio apartment, they furnished a larger one and added it to Airbnb. Both have done very well. Traveling nurses seem to have gravitated to the studio apartment, although they also see lots of guests who are coming for Marshall games or for the Christmas holidays.
In East Pea Ridge near Barboursville, a family home has joined the ranks of Airbnb listings. When their mother passed away in 2017, the Lansdale children decided they wanted to keep the home in the family. Their plan was to convert the old house, built almost a century ago and sitting on six acres, into a bed and breakfast inn. Listing it with Airbnb was their way of getting the word out. The home now proudly bears the family name — the Lansdale Home — and is run by the former Mary Lansdale, and her husband, Hank Lenz. The couple live in the home but offer four of the rooms for guests. Two rooms, one of which is a two-room suite, have their own bath, and two other rooms share a bath. While these are usually rented individually, a family could rent them all. With each lodging comes a delightful breakfast of eggs, bacon, juice, homemade granola and coffee. “We placed it on Airbnb last August and we’ve done better with it than we ever thought,” says Hank.
Each of the owners echoed that sentiment. So, if you’ve moved away and are planning a trip back to Huntington, check out the variety of Airbnb listings. I’ll bet you’ll find your own home away from home among those 50-some offerings.
CARTER TAYLOR SEATON is a freelance writer living in Huntington. She is the author of two novels and the nonfiction book, Hippie Homesteaders. She received the 2014 Literary Merit Award from the West Virginia Library Association, the Marshall University College of Liberal Arts Distinguished Alumni Award in 2015 and the Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts in 2016. Her biography of Ken Hechler, The Rebel in the Red Jeep, was published in May 2017.