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‘318 on the River’ features downtown charm, luxury and a river view

When Joe and Betsy Hester bought their home on West Main Street in Washington in February of 2017, the plan was to make it a weekend place to get away from it all and enjoy the river, downtown Washington and visits from their adult children and grandchildren. It has plenty of gathering space downstairs with an open kitchen/living/dining room area, a traditional front porch and a back deck; upstairs, an apartment with its own entrance also featuring its own kitchen, dining and living areas with two spacious bedrooms, a small deck with a view of the First United Methodist Church spire and another overlooking West Main Street, Havens Wharf, Havens Grist Mill property and the western sweep of Stewart Parkway on the waterfront — their new home was set up perfectly for family gatherings.

Two guest bedrooms offer comfort and its own private full bath.

But life, and busy lives, had other plans.

“They don’t come as often as they’d like to,” Betsy Hester said. “They have busy lives, they live in Raleigh, so it stayed empty the majority of the time. It was my children who said, ‘Mom, why don’t you Airbnb it?’”

It didn’t take long for the idea to germinate, and the retired English teacher set off on a new career as a Super Host with Airbnb. Since, “318 on the River” has been booked the majority of weekends by those looking for a little bit of luxury planted right in the middle of downtown, all the quaintness and charm of small Southern town — complete with a river. Since COVID-19, however, Hester has purposefully slowed those rentals down, providing a bit a time between renters.

The role of Super Host is one Hester takes seriously. If the boutique pillows emblazoned with “Welcome” and “Be Our Guest” aren’t enough of a greeting, then the complimentary bottle of wine set up with glasses on the kitchen’s granite counter might signal a warm reception. Placed at the foot of each queen-size bed is a basket of toiletries, and other must-haves, ranging from bug spray and a flashlight to a universal charger and fresh ground coffee.

Featuring an open kitchen/living/dining room area, this West Main Street upstairs apartment is one of 21 Airbnbs located in the City of Washington. Peppered with locally sourced antiques and original artwork, visitors have left reviews raving about location, hospitality and the great view of the waterfront.

Antiques sourced locally and original artwork pepper the rooms, adding to the charm of an already historic home.

“Almost all the furniture came from antiques shops downtown, and the mattresses came from Big Bargain (Furniture). I tried to do all my shopping here,” Hester said.

It took more than furnishings to create the 5-star Airbnb rental. The upstairs apartment had been rented for many years priors to the Hesters’ 2017 purchase, and renovations encompassed just about everything except the wide plank floors.

“We just love the space up here. It’s bright and airy — it feels good up here,” Hester said.

Pasts guests agree, according to the Airbnb website:

“Our second stay, such a refreshing, restful experience. The treats and extras simply exude hospitality and a warm welcome. The comfort is unquestionably nice, and our hosts were ultra-accommodating! We’ll certainly be visiting again soon.  — Wes, October 2019.”

“We came to find Betsy and Joe’s place after my failing to make timely reservations in Greenville for the ECU family fall weekend and I am so glad for my mistake! Their upstairs apartment is just amazing — beautifully decorated but also decked out for fall. We loved having morning coffee on the porch and watching the boats on the water. There were so many thoughtful touches and amenities — more than any other Airbnb we have stayed in to date. We seriously contemplated skipping the tailgate and football game just to stay in Washington and enjoy this beautiful little town. — Michelle, September 2019.”

A guestbook filled with accolades from past renters sits atop an antique desk in the entrance of the upstairs apartment.

For Hester, becoming an Airbnb host has been work, but it’s also been a lot of fun.

“It’s so much fun to meet people. We’ve met some of the most wonderful people, and now we have return visitors. One couple from the western side of the state have been back three times,” Hester said. “Another couple came back and (the apartment) was booked, but they stopped by anyway, just to say hello.”

Introducing visitors to Washington — whether they’re in town for a wedding, for an East Carolina University event or for business — is a practice Hester has passed on from her own first, second and many other visits to the town from their permanent home in Rocky Mount.

In addition to a deck with a view of the waterfront spanning the front of the house, a small deck at the rear of the apartment features a view of one of the town’s most notable church spires — First United Methodist Church on West Second Street.

“We’ve been coming here for 40 years, because Joe was president of PTRF (Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, now Sound Rivers) for a number of years, so we always came for the oyster roast. We’d come for Cycle NC and stay at Pamlico House. Every year, we would come and I would say, ‘Joe, please, let’s buy a place in Washington,’ and one year we came down for the oyster roast, and there was a sign in this yard,” Hester said. “We love the river, we love to kayak and paddle boards and ride bikes. We just have always loved Washington.”