8 minute read


by Morgan Cole

Cornelia r obinson e dwards and her brother , G erald r obinson , take pride in the fact that their newly opened Celestine Bed & Breakfast situated in the heart of Pensacola’s historic North Hill district elicits a certain reaction from guests. “We have curated an environment where people feel a sense of place and belonging just like they would at home. People tell us they feel connected to Celestine Bed & Breakfast,” Cornelia Robinson Edwards said.

There’s a good reason the place feels so inviting: family reinforces every wall inside the Celestine Bed & Breakfast—both literally and figuratively. Lovingly named after the owners’ great-grandmother and the matriarch of a family proud of its roots and heritage, each room inside the Celestine Bed & Breakfast honors a family legacy steeped in excellence, love and hospitality.

To Cornelia, hospitality is far more than an industry, it’s a character trait. A trait that her great-grandmother, Celestine Tolliver Harrison, was known for lovingly embracing so well. Born in Pensacola in 1908, Celestine had a big heart and she loved opening her home to guests. Her home was always open with hot dinner on the table for anyone who wanted it.

“Growing up as an only child, Celestine always knew she wanted to have a big family. She and our great-grandfather, Vandybilt Harrison, had five children. Their home was always filled with love and laughter. Celestine would welcome visitors from near and far. She loved to entertain friends, family and strangers. Food was plentiful and hospitality was extended to anyone lucky enough to walk through the front door. The front door was always unlocked and you never knew who would walk in. I guess you could say I was immersed in Southern hospitality from the time I was born,” Cornelia explained.

When Cornelia, her brother, Gerald Robinson II, and her husband, Bronson Edwards, began renovating the 19th century home at 514 N. Baylen Street, there was no question as to what they would name the new B&B. “From the moment we decided to turn this home into a bed and breakfast, there was no other choice for a name,” Cornelia said.

The B&B also pays tribute to Celestine’s husband, Vanderbilt, their five children–Jean, Lois, James, Mary and Horace–and every generation before and after, Cornelia’s husband Bronson, explained.

From the antique upright piano that immediately greets you at the front door to the black and white hand-sketched drawings on the custom wallpaper, each and every room in the B&B has a story to tell. Each of the bedrooms inside the B&B are named after Celestine’s children and personalized accordingly. The cursive signature that serves as the B&B’s logo depicts Celestine’s actual signature, which Cornelia creatively sourced from the back of an old school report card.

One of the defining features inside the B&B (as well as everyone’s favorite) is the custom wallpaper along the stairwell, which was carefully curated by Cornelia over the course of nearly a year and a half. Serving as a storytelling aid to transport guests back to another time, each of the intricate black and white images depict personal milestones and old Pensacola landmarks that anyone who has lived in the area long enough is sure to remember.

In addition to hand-drawn illustrations of family photos, the wallpaper also features an image of the current B&B, the clock that sits outside the current Artel Gallery (formerly the courthouse), old photographs of fish being caught off the bridge and clippings from the Pensacola News Journal reporting the Sacred Heart Hospital’s opening day and 1960s sit-ins opposing segregation.

A few steps over into the eat-in kitchen, a vibrant flamingo wallpaper welcomes you into the cozy breakfast nook, where her greatgrandmother’s original dining room table is elegantly situated with her grandmother’s fine China teacups on top.

Cornelia and Gerald birthed the concept for the B&B together and not a single detail was overlooked during the process of bringing the old home back to life. They purchased the property more than two-anda-half years ago, opened it for guests in December of 2022 and have spent every waking moment in between renovating what Cornelia described as a Victorian home that had been stripped of character.

“We did a full overhaul on this home, which included demolishing certain spaces, adding new plumbing, HVAC, electrical wiring and installing safety and fire suppression systems. From there, we spent a great deal of time working with local and regional designers on the furniture selection and other interior designs decisions,” Cornelia said. Inside, contemporary design elements skillfully merge the old and new, giving it an exciting and purposeful breath of life. “Touches of both family and Pensacola history were integral in the design process. We wanted the space to honor the past and look forward to the future through our design,” Cornelia explained.

The vibe of the B&B is lively, yet elegant. As you walk through the front doors of the home, you immediately notice some tasteful yet unconventional design choices, described by Cornelia “as intentional but also in many ways, unexpected.”

“Our guests appreciate how we’ve managed to intertwine the old with the new. Many of our finishings are luxurious, but we like to say that we’ve redefined southern elegance because we’ve designed the place in a way that is approachable, while also somewhat laid back. It feels like a dream home away from home,” Cornelia said.

The brother-sister real estate duo actually have built a habit of honoring their family, with several smaller properties in downtown Pensacola also named after loved ones the Sherman house (grandfather), the Connie house (grandmother Cornelia’s nickname), the Leonard house (uncle), the History house (a great uncle’s name) and several more.

The name of Cornelia and Gerald's company is actually an address, 117 Barcelona, which was the first known record of their family’s home ownership in Pensacola. No home exists there today. Although the Celestine serves as their first foray into the hospitality industry, Cornelia and her husband Bronson have enthusiastically taken on the role of experience curators, providing each of their guests with uniquely tailored experiences.

“The idea to open the bed and breakfast came to life just before the pandemic. We actually had no intention of opening a bed and breakfast, but it all sort of began with my desire to create travel experiences. My love and experience with both travel and property renovations was the perfect combination to help bring Celestine Bed & Breakfast to life,” Cornelia explained.

Cornelia and Bronson are the first to greet you at the front door with a glass of wine upon arrival, tell you about the stories behind the antique furniture that was expertly restored, preserved or reupholstered during the renovation, or serve up a bounty of Cornelia’s addictive homemade buttermilk biscuits or her tasty French toast with hand-whipped cream and berry compote or Southern-style shrimp and grits.

In the mornings, the smell of Cornelia’s breakfast quickly draws guests out of their rooms and around the table, sharing stories over coffee, replicating a meal shared the way Celestine intended it to be. What sets the Celestine apart from other B&Bs, Bronson said, are the details. They worked with family members and local antique dealers to procure each of the carefully thought out pieces featured inside the home.

In the downstairs Vandybilt room, are tall bookshelves lined with books from the old Washington and Pine Forest High Schools, Cornelia’s degree from Spelman College (who she is named after) and Sherman’s diploma from Booker T. Washington High School (he later went on to become the principal and deputy school superintendent).

On another shelf, sits a glass jar with the letter “R” on it that Cornelia’s parents received when they got married. Inside, are the antique matchbooks from several Pensacola restaurants that no longer exist.

There’s also an edition of The Negro Motorist Green Book on the shelf, which a lot of people are intrigued with, Cornelia said. “The concept of the Green Book was it told you where you were safe to go when you were on a road trip. You could look at the Green Book and say, ‘OK, we can stop at this hotel or this motel, or eat at this restaurant, and we’re going to be safe.”

The room also showcases an an old map of Pensacola before the house was built in 1888 and a set of chairs from the First Presbyterian Church. The original homeowner, James Simpson Reese, was a member of the church and a well-known banker, who went on to become president of The Citizen and Peoples National Bank of Pensacola and the Florida Bankers Association.

Intentionally next to Vandybilt’s room, is the Celestine room. “The rooms were designed to reflect their individual personalities and they work together nicely, but they also stand out on their own, just like our great-grandparents did,” Cornelia explained.

The Horace room is dedicated to the U.S. Air Force veteran who was not only the first Black male to graduate from Pensacola High School but also a participant of the downtown lunch counter sit-ins, which landed him in jail at the age of 15. He was also president of NAACP’s Youth League.

Mary is the name of one of the B&B’s most popular rooms, which Cornelia’s grandmother Mary helped to curate herself. The James and Jean (J&J) suite is the largest.

Although there are four rooms available to book, guests aren’t there just to sleep, Cornelia and Bronson explained. “We curate experiences,” Cornelia said.

She and Bronson have traveled the world together, stepping foot on just about every continent except Antarctica. They have integrated many of those experiences and cultures into their business model, starting with a welcome drink.

“No matter where you are in the world, one thing that’s common among all folks is food and music it transcends,” Bronson explained. “So, those are the types of things we’ve learned, and we want to ensure we are able to create that same experience here for our guests.”

Cornelia and Bronson serve as the resident innkeepers to the Celestine. Their 2022 marriage on the property grounds marked the beginning of their grand B&B adventure. The two occupy an apartment-sized suite on the third floor but make themselves available as often as guests would like, whether it be for a conversation in the library, a downtown walking tour or an afternoon charcuterie snack in the garden area.

There are four guest rooms in the B&B, each with a private en suite bathroom. One of the bedrooms is a large suite and features separate dining, lounging and dressing space.

Along with concierge-like services, homemade breakfast is also included with every stay. “Whether our guests simply want dinner recommendations or someone to plan a full itinerary, we meet our guests where they are and help them along the way,” Cornelia explained.

The B&B offers an in-house wine menu where guests can purchase wine by the glass or the bottle. “At some of our favorite places in the world, you get a welcome drink when you arrive,” Cornelia said. “It’s something small, but this small gesture makes people feel like, ‘Oh, they were really prepared for me to be here.’”

From cooking and cleaning to all of the behind-the-scenes aspects, both Cornelia and Bronson are intricately involved in the business. Not only does Cornelia share proud stories of her family’s stamp on Pensacola history, she also encourages her guests to share stories of their own. “Because everyone has a story to tell and you never know what you might learn through simple conversation,” Cornelia explained.

The Edwards’ hope that the B&B will be much more than just another boutique lodging option in the downtown area, but rather a meaningful memory.

“We want guests to remember their stay at Celestine and feel cared for. We want them to feel like intention went into planning for their stay and that we’ve created something truly special just for them,” Cornelia said.

For booking rates and more information on the Celestine Bed & Breakfast, visit celestinebedandbreakfast.com or @CelestineBedandBreakfast on Facebook.