A local hidden gem
By Sasha Braithwaite
photos by Monika Wertman
Pulling into the Purple Iris with its 17 acres of beautifully landscaped property is enough to make any visitor forget that it is located just off of busy Route 11. A grand manor of stony structure serves as the pinnacle part of the property and gives the impression that visitors are about to encounter elegance and romantic gardens. A frame of woodlands encompasses the house and property, creating a secluded vestige of centuries past.
Owners Daniel and Tiffany Harshbarger purchased the Purple Iris in March 2002. Both Daniel, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, and Tiffany had been involved in the restaurant industry since they were teenagers and were looking for an establishment to call their own. While the previous owners ran the Purple Iris mainly as a venue for weddings and events, the Harshbargers decided to not only let it continue that role, but they also expanded further, incorporating a restaurant on the second level of the house and catering on and off site.
Originally named Hartwood Mansion, the house was built in 1929 as the private home of George Mulliss. He served as the vice president and director of operations at the Martinsburg mill of the Interwoven Stocking Company, the largest employer in Berkeley County during the Great Depression.
According to the National Register of Historic Places Inventory, Hartwood was built and modeled after Georgian Revival Architecture and is still considered an architectural achievement in Berkeley County today. Georgian Revival, or Neo-Georgian Architecture, essentially means that the design of the home was created to look like a Georgian manor and seem older than it actually is in appearance. “It’s just magnificent—the architecture of the house,” Tiffany beams. “I never get tired of looking at it.”
Known to be a wedding venue, the Purple Iris hosts an average of about 50 wedding receptions a year with 75 percent of them also being the wedding ceremony location. While their peak wedding season runs from April to October, winter weddings are not unheard of and are accommodated indoors. Almost every week the Purple Iris hosts some sort of special occasion, whether it be a major event, wedding ceremony or reception. There is a beautiful glass room adjacent to the house which seats 130 guests as well as large tent outside that holds about 220 guests. Inside are inviting rooms on the first floor where guests can mingle, get a drink from the mini bar and have designated gift and cake-cutting areas.
In addition to the house, there are three rooms available for guests to stay overnight. If a couple has both their reception and ceremony at the Purple Iris, a stay in one of the rooms is included in their package. For visitors, there are bed and dinner packages available to make their stay more enjoyable and convenient.
While the Purple Iris is a local hot spot for special occasions, its restaurant also has much to offer guests. Tiffany says that many people associate the Purple Iris with good food and service, and often guests who previously attended an event there will come back and dine because they enjoyed the food and experience so much. Many couples who were married there will come back to dine and celebrate their anniversaries. Although the Purple Iris is often regarded as a place of formality, there is no dress code enforced for guests.
The restaurant menu is what Tiffany labels as “American bistro style cuisine” and includes tantalizing appetizers, desserts, seafood and meat entrees, and even a children’s menu all prepared by Daniel and his team. The portions are large and every meal includes a side salad, a starch, and a vegetable.
Everything is made in-house down to the bread, salad dressings and sauces. In 2009, the Harshbargers began growing their own herbs and produce in a greenhouse located on the property. They had been successful in growing flowers, so they decided to expand even further growing cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, onions, strawberries, and blueberries, as well as herbs like mint, basil, oregano, thyme and rosemary.
“It’s just a much fresher product,” Tiffany says. “I think people in today’s society are really looking for that farm-to-table type of feel, so we try to do as much as we possibly can as far as that goes.”
The Harshbargers and their staff are making an effort to offer a wide range of services in order to help guests relax and make the most of their experience there. They make invitations for special occasions upon request and have also incorporated cake-making into their repertoire.
“We’re trying to be as one-stop shop as we can be with the catering, the coordination, and the food,” Tiffany says.
In November 2013, all of their hard work earned them the Small Business Award from the Chamber of Commerce, which Tiffany says has been a great avenue of support for their business.
“It was really an honor to receive that award,” Tiffany says. “It meant a lot to us.”