Reliving the past at Virginia inn

August 18, 1996|By Jean Simmons | Jean Simmons,DALLAS MORNING NEWS

If you really want to be transported back in time, try carrying several pieces of baggage up interminable flights of narrow stairs to a fourth-floor dormer room. At the Red Fox Inn in Middleburg, Va., you are reversing the calendar to the early 18th century.

Even if the room turns out to be a two-room suite with a private bath and four-poster queen-size bed, the setting and antique furnishings will keep you in tune with the past. As they well should do, belying the inn's contemporary place on the Internet.

You not only are a guest in what is billed as the "oldest original inn in America," you are in the heart of a charming little town that in turn is in the heart of Virginia's fabled hunt country. History gets no more authentic. And the whole experience is very top-drawer.

In all fairness, a staff member was available to help carry our suitcases, and most rooms and suites are not that high up.

As for the inn's past, the story goes that a certain Joseph Chinn opened a tavern built of local fieldstone midway between Alexandria and Winchester, Va., in 1728. The territory around Chinn's Ordinary, as it came to be called, was part of the vast estate of the sixth Lord Fairfax, an eccentric bachelor who preferred his log cabin on the Shenandoah to the social responsibilities of his London palace on the Thames.

Chinn's Ordinary became a popular stopping point for traveling colonists on the Ashby Gap Road (now Highway 50) and was visited around 1748 by a young surveyor named George Washington, a first cousin of the innkeeper. In 1787, Chinn's Crossroads and 50 acres were sold for $2.50 an acre to Revolutionary War Lt. Col. Leven Powell to found the town.

Hunting, breeding, riding

Middleburg prospered and eventually grew in reputation as the nation's foremost area for fox hunting, thoroughbred breeding and horse racing. Chinn's Ordinary remained a focal point; in 1812 it was remodeled, adding an extensive wine cellar, and was named the Beveridge House.

During the Civil War, Gen. J.E.B. Stuart met in the inn's tavern with Col. John Mosby and his rangers. The inn also served as a headquarters and hospital for Confederates during the Gettysburg campaign. Strategy meetings took place upstairs in what is today the Jeb Stuart Room, and wounded soldiers were cared for in the tavern rooms below.

The pine service bar still in use today was made from the field operating table used by an Army surgeon who served with Stuart's cavalry.

In 1887, the Beveridge House became the Middleburg Inn, and it remained through the years a popular destination for Washingtonians seeking a hideaway in the hunt country.

In 1937 the structure became the Red Fox Inn, which now consists of the original building as well as three nearby historic properties, the Stray Fox Inn, the McConnell House and the Middleburg Inn. There are 23 guest units in all.

Amenities include fresh flowers, thick cotton bathrobes, bedside sweets and a morning Washington paper, which accompanies a continental breakfast delivered to your room.

The atmospheric, tavernlike dining room serves as an excellent background for any meal, which may feature fish, fowl or meat, fresh bread and fancy desserts. Products from local vineyards are served along with imported vintage wines. Three vineyards can be visited within minutes of town.

A half-block away from the Red Fox Inn is Mosby's Tavern, under the same management, which contains a popular restaurant in what was once an old livery stable and car salesrooms.

Stroll and ride

Strolls around the pleasant village of 600 residents, with its many top-quality specialty shops, along with drives into the wonderfully scenic countryside are highly recommended. For information, stop by the Pink Box Information Center at 12 N. Madison St.

A particularly lovely drive leads north on Route 626N, a narrow, tree-lined lane, to the exclusive Foxcroft School for girls.

Leesburg, Va., lies about 20 miles northeast of Middleburg via U.S. 50 and U.S. 15; en route, you might stop along Route 15 just 6 miles south of Leesburg for a visit to Oatlands, a Federal-style showcase structure built in the early 1800s by George Carter and now owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The imposing home is set in terraced gardens and open daily for tours.

Another journey into the past can be taken at Leesburg's Laurel Brigade Inn, which dates to 1759. The inn offers six guest rooms, each with private bath, and operates a restaurant serving lunch and dinner. It is in the heart of the city's historic district.

If you go

The Red Fox Inn complex consists of four buildings. The original stone structure contains seven units, mostly suites, ranging in price from $135 to $160; bathtubs are equipped with hand-held showers; several rooms have canopy beds and/or fireplaces.

The Stray Fox Inn, a stucco structure with a red roof, has seven accommodations, including two suites, plus a cozy Gardener's Cottage; rates from $135 to $245.

The light green McConnell House holds five bedrooms and one suite, priced from $135 to $155. The Middleburg Inn has three bedrooms priced at $150 or $165.

Cots are available for $25 and cribs for $10 with advance notice.

Reservations: The Red Fox Inn, P.O. Box 385, Middleburg, Va. 22117; (540) 687-6301 or (800) 223-1728; Internet: www.redfox.com.

Getting there: Middleburg lies on U.S. 50, an hour west of Washington, D.C., and 30 minutes from Dulles Airport.

For more information:

The Pink Box Information Center, 12 N. Madison St.; P.O. Box 187, Middleburg, Va. 22117; (540) 687-8888.

The Town of Middleburg, P.O. Box 187, Middleburg, Va. 22117.

Loudoun Tourist Council, 108-D South St. S.E., Leesburg, Va. 20175; (703) 777-0519 or (800) 752-6118.

Oatlands, (703) 777-3174. Open daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas; closed Dec. 30 to March 29, 1997; tour admission $6 for adults, $5 for students and senior citizens.

Pub Date: 8/18/96

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