By Wendy Gooditis
Oh, Battletown Inn. I remember sunny day lunches under an umbrella on the patio, and cozy hours upstairs in the Gray Ghost Tavern on winter evenings. I remember the live music on Thursdays. And I remember the day my friend Paula and I went to the door and found it locked, with a sign that said it would reopen soon. But thus far, that has not occurred. Many people over many decades have enjoyed the hospitality and the food at the Battletown Inn, and I am not the only one missing it. It has been a fixture in Berryville as a restaurant and inn for nearly a century under one name or another, and its closing leaves a void.
My real estate team leader Chip Schutte shared a memory with me today: “Oh, I remember when I was a boy they handed you a bag of rolls as you left the restaurant, and we kids took them home and gobbled them up immediately in front of the television.” From the far-away and half-starved look in his eyes, I know those rolls must have been wonderful!
Most Clarke County residents probably know by now that Berryville was named to demonstrate how very pleased with himself Mr. Berry was when he bought the land and drew the grid of roads and whatever else one does to create a town. But the place he bought was known as Battletown (and apparently continued to be so known for years after he made it his own), probably because of the notorious recreational tavern brawls that occurred at the crossroads tavern here back in the 1700s. The Battletown Inn we have known actually started a couple of blocks down in what was then the Virginia Hotel, on the southeast corner of Main and Church streets. There is an old picture of the front of this building with the name “Battletown Inn” emblazoned across the front. The name moved over to the current location when it was bought by the erstwhile Battletown Inn proprietors in 1952.
In its current incarnation, the building is set up as a restaurant with a number of dining areas, a lounge or two, and cozy upstairs bar/pub with a few private rooms as well, and a separate building with 12 guest rooms with private baths, nine of which are finished. It has its own private parking lot, the entrance to which is between the two buildings. In recent years, the inn has been primarily a restaurant, but its history and, hopefully, its future are as a restaurant and inn combined.
According to Maral Kalbian, vice president of the Clarke County Historical Association, the building usually served as a private house and small family business before its hospitality years. It was built in the first years of the 1800s as a house for the daughter of Mr. Berry, who ran a boarding house there. It changed hands a few times and was added to periodically, but throughout much of the 19th century it housed the Showers family with their various businesses, including cabinetry and tailoring. It is said to have been a hospital during the Civil War.
One legend has it that a Confederate soldier hanged himself upstairs upon being told that his girl had married a Union soldier. It is cliché to say so, I know, but oh, the stories those walls could tell!
In 1919, the building vroomed into the modern age when the Elder family bought it and opened the doors of a new establishment for a new world: “The Sign of the Motor Car Inn.” Imagine how thrilling to have real motorcars trundling or perhaps roaring down Main Street and stopping right here in our very own town. I wonder how many buggy-drivers ran into trouble—literally—when their horses failed to grasp the concept of these frightening contraptions.
The business may have been created as a tea house, but must have become a one-stop destination for motor-fanciers, because it is listed in the 1920 version of the Automobile Blue Book, Volume 3, as a garage and service station as well as an inn. Anyway, it remained in business until the Battletown Inn took it over in the early 1950s in order to continue the tradition of excellent food in concert with nice lodgings.
Excellent food and hospitality were indeed to be had there for decades, until the recent closing of the doors. Just for fun, I searched the internet for reviews of the inn, and found nothing less than four stars and most of them closer to five. The location in Berryville seems to me to be a fine one—far enough away from the city to be a getaway, but close enough to make it an easy trip. Plus, we like our restaurants in this town, and we can use another one for sure.
The inn is currently owned by the Bernstein Family Foundation, who have been doing some repairs and painting of the property for the last several months. The kitchen is ready for an update, and the heating and cooling systems are as well, but I am assured that the two buildings are otherwise safe and sound. The signs only went up recently, and owners are asking for offers.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it would attract the notice of a talented innkeeper with the energy and imagination to make it flourish once again? If you know of a restaurateur in need of a venue, or an innkeeper in need of an inn, spread the word. We want the Battletown Inn back.
Wendy Gooditis is a real estate agent on the Chip Schutte Real Estate Team with ReMax Roots at 101 East Main St., Berryville, VA 22611, phone (540)955-0911. Wendy would be happy to answer any questions you may have about real estate; reach her at Gooditis@visuallink.com or at (540)533-0840.