By Published On: June 2, 2021Categories: Food and Entertainment, History

Situated amid aged oaks with a storied past, the stately Trawick-Tatum house has stood as a landmark on Geneva Street in Opelika since 1917. Once a grand residence in its early days, the house was converted into a bed-and-breakfast inn in the 1980s. The first inn was named “Under the Oaks,” followed by “The Trawick House” and then “The Whispering Oaks” before once again becoming a family home.     

The first home:

Leonard M. Trawick, who owned a wholesale grocery, is believed to have hired a man named Woodall, an architect in Columbus, Georgia, to build the house. With its dark, red, pressed brick, white trim and columns, the stunning house provided gracious living for its first family.    

The dining room, library and parlor featured beautiful mantels. The dining room was embellished with handsome paneling from the floor reaching five feet high. Most of the house featured fine wood flooring, while the roof was thick, natural slate.

A furnace in the cellar below the kitchen housed the central heating unit. Every room except the kitchen, bathroom and sleeping porch had a radiator and a fireplace.

On one side of the grounds, a large red barn, formerly a stable, was used as a two-car garage for the Trawicks. In the loft of the garage, the Trawick children played and presented shows. The building was razed around 1940, and a smaller garage was built.

Each of the side porches offered a swing for relaxing in a slow pace of living. The center portion of the front porch was covered with a roof two stories high supported by four Corinthian columns. A screened porch on the east side of the house offered another area for relaxing during the summer months. 

Leonard passed away in 1955. The family continued to live in the house until the death of his wife in 1959. 

The Second Family:

The house was sold to Dr. and Mrs. O.H. Tatum in 1961. Tatum was a well-known Opelika dentist.  

A fire in 1963 severely damaged the back of the house, but the structure remained intact. It took two years for the repairs and remodeling to be completed. The back hall was rebuilt, the house rewired, baths remodeled and the kitchen was started from scratch. The back sleeping porch was bricked to become a bedroom. 

The Tatums sold the house in 1981. The house was offered as an office building, but no leases were made.

Under The Oaks:

Debbie and Mike Whitley, along with Danny Tankersley, agreed on a lease purchase with Dr. Hilt Tatum in 1985 for a bed-and-breakfast called “Under the Oaks.” Their remodel was mainly to change paint colors as they rented the home from Dr. Tatum. Inspired by designer Mario Buatta, Debbie selected jewel tones and chintz, which were popular in the ‘80s.  

Once they purchased the house in April 1986, remodeling was done in the bedrooms to include a private bath with every room. The house has 11 rooms, seven baths and six bedrooms. 

The Whitley’s and Tankersley honored the history of the home and each bedroom was decorated in a different theme and named after a member of the Trawick or Tatum family. 

The inn’s amenities included in-room refrigerators, complimentary wine upon arrival and a cozy living room for relaxing. 

For breakfast, Debbie served a sausage quiche and fresh fruit with an orange sauce prepared with orange juice, cream cheese and marshmallow cream. She ordered orange and cinnamon rolls from local caterer Susan Hall.

After a year, Debbie decided she wanted to spend more time with her children. Danny approached his mother, Donna Tankersley, about purchasing Debbie’s partnership.  

Donna was working as a registered nurse at East Alabama Medical Center. She had heard her son talk about the wonderful people he had met at the inn. Donna enjoyed meeting people, decorating and cooking, which were all responsibilities she would hold as co-owner of the inn.

She left the hospital and went to work as the new co-owner. Donna met people from China, Switzerland, Australia, Canada and those from across the United States in only her first three months.

Buckner Trawick, who grew up in the house, came to visit and told stories he remembered of the house. He wrote a book, “The Traylor Tree – Its Nuts and Fruits,” which includes several stories about growing up in the house.

Not only did people from across the states and the world have a chance to meet and interact, but “Under The Oaks” was a place for family, too. 

In fact, one of the most unusual stories associated with the house occurred the weekend of the A-Day game. A man noticed that one of the names on the register was the same as his first cousin, whom he hadn’t seen in years. He waited for the man to come downstairs, and it was indeed his cousin. The men and their wives spent several hours visiting, surprised to find each other unexpectedly in Opelika.

Donna regularly served  a continental breakfast, featuring homemade bread or muffins, fruit, coffee, tea and a variety of juices. Some mornings she served a continental-plus breakfast, which included quiche or ham and Swiss cheese croissants. 

She often served cookies in the afternoon in the common room, depending on if there were guests at the end during the day.

The inn also hosted club meetings, showers and wedding receptions as well as catered small luncheons. 

The Trawick House:

Debbie and Larry Battles of Birmingham purchased the bed-and-breakfast in 1988 and changed the name to “The Trawick House.” They moved into the inn on New Year’s Eve.

The Battles opened the inn in February 1989 to the public for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights. They also began opening for luncheons, parties and dinners on request.

Larry served as the chef for the inn, but he hadn’t always enjoyed cooking. He found an interest in the culinary arts after accepting a position as a broker in San Francisco that required traveling.

As Larry dined at restaurants in San Francisco and the Napa Valley, it opened up a whole new world of culinary experiences. He also traveled to New York and New Orleans where his interest in cooking expanded. When he returned home, he would try to recreate the dishes he had enjoyed in restaurants. 

He invested in upscale kitchen equipment, cookbooks and cooking classes. He attended classes and workshops from well-known chefs. After returning to Birmingham, Larry and Debbie began catering small dinner parties. 

Larry began to feel it was time for a career change. When he and Debbie stayed at a bed-and-breakfast in Virginia with a restaurant, they decided that was what they wanted to do. They began looking for a house to convert into a bed-and-breakfast, but they couldn’t find just the right place.

When Debbie called “Under the Oaks” to make a reservation for someone, she learned that the inn was for sale. When Larry came home that night, Debbie asked if he was interested in a place in Opelika, but he said no.

The two had scheduled a trip to Montgomery and decided to stop in to see “Under The Oaks” on the way. As soon as they drove up in front, the two knew it was perfect for them. 

Larry wanted to develop a local cuisine that could be unique to the area, such as Cajun food in New Orleans. He believed in dining experiences creating happy memories.

One of the meals he prepared for lunch included grilled fish topped with a pesto sauce, served with rice, a mélange of fresh vegetables and homemade French bread. For dessert, a slice of roulage was so dense and chocolaty that it tasted like a truffle, while another dessert, a wedge of apple tart, was delectable with an apricot glaze. 

Dinner at the inn featured a variety of gourmet dishes. Sadly, the “Trawick House” closed.  

The Whispering Oaks:

Mary and Carlton Clifton purchased the house in 1990 and opened “The Whispering Oaks,” which served southern cuisine. After a few years, the restaurant closed. The Cliftons decided to remodel the house and make it a home where they could foster children.      

The house was listed in the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation’s Places in Peril in 2016. 

Today, the landmark structure sits with memories of grander days echoing throughout the rooms, as another chapter in its history unfolds in the Geneva Street National Register Historic District.   


Sausage Quiche 

Debbie Whitley: Under the Oaks Bed and Breakfast Inn

Serve with fresh fruit topped with Orange Cream Sauce (recipe follows)

  • 1 lb. hot sausage
  • 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
  • Garlic to taste
  • Butter
  • 4 eggs,  slightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 
  • 1/2 tsp.  pepper
  • 2 cups Colby Cheese, shredded

— Deep dish pie shell

— Cook sausage and drain. Sauté mushrooms until tender in garlic and butter. 

— In a large bowl, stir together mushrooms, sausage, eggs, salt and pepper. Add cheese to mixture. Pour into pie crust.

— Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before slicing. Makes 6 to 8 servings. 

Orange Cream Sauce for Fresh Fruit

Debbie Whitley: Under the Oaks Bed and Breakfast Inn

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3 Tbsp. orange juice concerntrate, room temperature
  • 7 oz. jar mashmallow crème
  • 1 Tbsp. orange zest 

— Stir cream cheese and orange juuice until smooth. Fold in marshmallow crème and orange zest. Mix until well blended. 

Fresh Strawberry Bread

Donna Tankersley: Under the Oaks Bed and Breakfast Inn 

  • 2 cups whole fresh strawberries
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 cups plus 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 ½ cups cooking oil
  • 4 eggs, well beaten
  • 1 ½ cups chopped nuts

— Slice strawberries and sprinkle sugar over them. Combine flour, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. 

— In a separate bowl, blend together oil, eggs and strawberries. Add this mixture to the flour mixture, blending well. Fold in chopped nuts.

— Divide mixture into two greased and floured loaf pans. Bake at 350 for 45 to 50 minutes until tests done. Let cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and finish cooling.

Pineapple Pecan Loaf

Donna Tankersley: Under the Oaks Bed and Breakfast Inn 

  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup shortening
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
  • 8 oz. can crushed pineapple with juice
  • ½ cup chopped pecans

— Cream together sugar and shortening, then add egg and beat well.

— Stir together flour, baking soda and salt. Add alternately with orange juice to  sugar and shortening mixture, stirring after each addition. Stir in pineapple with juice and pecans.

— Pour into a well-greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 for 50 to 60 minutes until tests done. Cool in pan 10 minutes.  

Blueberry Muffins

Donna Tankersley: Under the Oaks Bed and Breakfast Inn 

  • 1 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 ½ cups fresh blueberries (can use frozen, thawed)

— Beat butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs one at a time and mix well. Add vanilla.

— Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add alternately to the batter with milk. Fold in blueberries.

— Spoon batter into greased a muffin tin. Bake at 375 for about 22-25 minutes or until done.    

Laurel Hill Butter

Donna Tankersley: Under the Oaks Bed and Breakfast Inn 

  • Rind of one orange, finely grated
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 Tbsp. powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. orange liqueur

— Beat orange rind into butter. Add powdered sugar and liqueur; mix well. Place in crock and chill.

— Serve with breads and muffins.

— Butter can be formed into rosettes prior to chilling using a pastry bag and tip. Butter can be frozen. 

Fresh Apple Coffeecake

Donna Tankersley: Under the Oaks Bed and Breakfast Inn 

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 ¼ cups oil1 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 3 cups peeled, chopped apples
  • 1 cup chopped nuts, optional

— Mix eggs, sugar and oil; add vanilla. 

— Sift flour, soda, salt and cinnamon together. Add to batter.

— Fold in apples and nuts, blending throughout.

— Pour into a greased and floured tube pan and bake at 325 degrees for about an hour or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cake freezes well. 

Ham and Swiss Cheese Croissants

Donna Tankersley: Under the Oaks Bed and Breakfast Inn 

  • 8 whole wheat croissants
  • Baked honey glazed ham, thinly sliced
  • 2 pkg. sliced Swiss cheese
  • ¼ cup butter, at room temperature

— Slice croissants. Spread butter on each half. Layer ham and cheese on bottom slices. Replace top. Bake at 350 for 8 minutes.   

Bananas ala Trawick House

Larry Battles: Trawick House Bed and Breakfast Inn

  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter  
  • 2 firm and ripe bananas, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • ¼ cup fine brandy 
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped pecans 
  • 4 large scoops high quality vanilla ice cream 

— In a sauté pan, melt butter and heat until hot but not smoking. Add  bananas to butter and sauté for about two minutes. 

— Add sugar while you are cooking bananas. Reduce heat and add brandy. Flame the brandy, being careful. Cook until the flame burns out completely.

— Spoon bananas and sauce over ice cream in individual bowls. Sprinkle with chopped pecans and serve immediately. Makes two servings. Only cook two servings at a time.

Braised Chicken with Artichokes

Larry Battles: Trawick House Bed and Breakfast Inn

  • 4 split chicken breasts with bone, patted dry
  • 1/3 cup and ½ cup olive oil
  • Lemon juice
  • 4 small or 3 large artichokes
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 Tbsp. minced shallots
  • 2 egg yolks
  • Parsley
  • 1 Tbsp. grated lemon peel

— Marinate chicken in 1/3 cup olive oil and a little lemon juice in a glass container for at least two hours. 

— Clean artichokes and remove fuzzy center. Trim down close to  bottom, then quarter. Place in bowl of cold water and add lemon juice; set aside.

— In a large pan, heat ½ cup olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add marinated chicken and brown on both sides, about three minutes per side.

— Leave chicken bone side down and add stock and shallots. Simmer about 20 minutes, adding quartered artichokes the last 10 minutes. Cook until chicken reaches 180 degrees on meat gauge.  Remove chicken and artichokes.

— Reduced stock to ½ cup. Meantime, debone chicken. When stock has been reduced, remove from heat, and rapidly  whisk in egg yolks (may need to whisk a little stock into yolks before adding to pan). Sauce will thicken slightly. Add a drop or two of lemon juice.

— Pour sauce over chicken and artichokes. Garnish with grated lemon rind and parsley. Serves 4.

Baked Shrimp with Oranges

Larry Battles: Trawick House Bed and Breakfast Inn

Recipe from Betty Harper of New Orleans 

  • 4 lbs. medium shrimp, headless
  • 4 to 6 medium oranges sliced in circles about 1/8 inch thick 
  • 1 lb. sweet butter unsalted, melted
  • fresh ground black pepper, lots of this
  • 1 loaf fresh French bread, 

— Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large rectangular dish, layer one row of shrimp in the bottom and sprinkle lots of black pepper over shrimp. Add one row of oranges over the shrimp, making sure shrimp are  covered completely. Repeat with another layer of shrimp and oranges, then another until all are used, ending with oranges.

— Pour melted butter over the shrimp and orange mixture. Add another sprinkling of black pepper.

— Bake uncovered for about 25 minutes. Then remove from oven. Take a spatula and lift from the bottom, turning shrimp over so that what was on the bottom is now on the top. Bake another 20 minutes. 

— To serve, place a portion of shrimp and oranges in bowls that have been warmed. Spoon some of the butter sauce into the bowls. Break  bread into pieces, so that you can dunk bread into the butter sauce as you eat the shrimp. Serve with a  tossed salad. Serves 6. 

New York Style Cheesecake

Larry Battles: Trawick House Bed and Breakfast Inn

The Filling:

  • 5 packs (8 oz. each)  cream cheese, room temperature
  • 5 egg yolks, 2 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 3 oz. Meyer’s dark rum
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream 

The Crust:

  • 2½ cups  all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ lb.  (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 2 tsp. lemon peel
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 egg yolks

To make the crust:

— In this recipe, the bottom crust is baked, then the crust for the sides is added. (you could cut the crust recipe in half and not place it on the sides.) 

— In a small mixing bowl, combine all the crust ingredients and mix with fingertips until the dough falls away from sides of the bowl.

— In a 9-inch spring form pan grease the bottom of the pan and the sides  with butter. Remove the spring side around the pan. Use one third of the dough and press into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in a 450 degree oven or until the crust is golden. Remove from the oven; cool and then place the spring side around the bottom. Press the remaining dough into the sides and seal gently with the bottom crust.

For the filling:

— In a large bowl of mixer, combine cream cheese, sugar, flour, eggs, and egg yolks one at a time. Add rum and slowly add cream. Whip at medium high speed for several minutes. 

— Pour into the pan lined with crust and bake for 15 minutes in a 500 degree oven, or until a golden top starts to form on top. Reduce  heat to 250 degrees and continue to bake for one hour and 20 minutes or so. 

— Cover with foil and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. Remove ring from pan carefully so as not to tear the crust. When ready to serve, slice thin slices and serve well chilled.

— Note: Your favorite fruit topping would go well with this cheesecake. 

Blueberry Topping (optional):

— Take one 16 oz. can wild blueberries and drain juice; reserve. Process berries in a food processor for about 2 seconds just to chop gently. 

— Melt 2 Tbsp. butter in a saucepan and stir in about 1 Tbsp. of flour. Heat this for a few minutes and then add the blueberry juice. Heat until it thickens to a syrup like thickness. Add berries and spoon over the cheesecake slices

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