By Bob Ruegsegger
Thomas Jonathan Jackson stayed at the historic Buckhorn Inn less than a decade before he became Confederate hero General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and long before the former stagecoach stop became known as the Buckhorn Inn.
“We know that Thomas Jonathan and Elinor Jackson stayed here for several days in 1854 on the way to Warm Springs,” said Garlan Yoder, owner of the Buckhorn Inn. “So that’s our real claim to fame. For the local people, that’s a pretty big deal. That really makes some people’s day,” he observed. “This room over here is supposedly where he slept,” Yoder added.
Major and Mrs. Jackson were en route to Warm Springs, one of the mineral spas that the future champion of the South had patronized. He credited the warm springs and hydropathy for relieving his “rheumatoid-neuralgic condition” and helping to restore his general health.
The historic inn was built in 1811 by William G. Dudley on the stage route from Parkersburg to Warm Springs where The Homestead resort is today. It was an eight room stagecoach stop with four upstairs and four downstairs rooms. The downstairs rooms were public rooms.
Included in the downstairs spaces were a dining room and an ale room. A hall that provided adequate accommodations for dancing and gambling was an integral part of the inn. “It was known for its high class gambling all the way through the 1920’s,” noted Yoder. “The upstairs would have been the sleeping quarters. I’m assuming at that point they would have basically had bunks on the walls,” he said. “Back then they weren’t real fancy.”
Elinor Jackson wrote a letter that made reference to staying at the Dudley House. Elinor’s letter, now at the Stonewall Jackson House in Lexington, confirms the claim that the Jackson’s stayed at the stagecoach stop for several days on their journey to Warm Springs.
“There was another stagecoach stop about ten miles south of here and also one about eight miles west,” said Yoder. “I talked to a guy last fall who had been to an auction where some of the property of that stagecoach stop was sold. He had bought a grandfather clock and was doing some research on it,” said the innkeeper. “There was another guy at the auction who bought the original guest ledger and it had Thomas Jackson’s signature in there and the dates immediately after he stayed here,” he noted. “It corresponds with Elinor Jackson’s letter.”
The original inn known as the Dudley House was built in 1811. Sometime in the late 1800’s the name changed to the Buckhorn Inn. According to Yoder, nobody knows why it was changed. There are two stories. “One was that there was a large buck shot — an enormously large buck — and it got its name from that,” said Yoder. “The other is that there was either a Buckhorn tavern or hotel up in New York City that this reminded someone of.”
“We know a lot of the stories that have been passed down have been just hearsay, acknowledged Yoder.”At some point, I’d like to do some of my own digging in court records,” he offered. “We’d eventually like to put this on an historical registry. It’s not on one yet.”
Lester Hoy added a back wing in 1924. Hoy wanted to turn the inn into a resort. The “new” wing features a wide hallway, heart pine floors, and five panel doors, characteristics reminiscent of many early 1900’s hotels. Hoy wrapped a “new” porch almost completely around the building. “Initially, the porch stopped in front,” said Yoder. “If you look outside when you leave, you’ll see a porch post change out there.” When the Great Depression came along, Lester Hoy’s ambitious resort enterprise failed.
Frank and Mary White bought the inn property and several shacks that were also on the land. They built DJ Whiteway down the road from the inn and ran it as a restaurant and bakery. The Whites became famous for their bread. People would stand in line for hours to buy their bread. “The Whites lived down there and rented the inn out to hunters for a number of years,” said Yoder. “Betty [the Whites’ daughter] said that as a young girl she remembered coming up here to fix breakfast for hunters and make bag lunches,” he said. “For $5.00 a piece, hunters could rent an open spot on the floor. They’d throw their bags down and sleep.” By the 1940’s, the historic inn had been converted into apartments for four families.
Rudolph Evers, a gifted restaurateur, bought the Buckhorn Inn in 1976 and converted it into a restaurant and bed and breakfast. “He could have turned an outhouse into a restaurant. He was that good,” smiled Yoder. “He was well known in the community. People knew he could cook very well. The first day his restaurant opened, he ran out of food,” he said. “It was that popular from the get go. He had it until 1980.”
Roger and Eileen Lee bought the property in 1980 and sold it to Garland Foster. Foster died in a traffic accident, and the Lees who had financed the property again took possession of the operation.
Through the mid-1990’s the Buckhorn Inn was THE place to come to for a buffet in the Shenandoah Valley according to Yoder. “There weren’t any other buffets like this one around. It was popular for its home style cooking — like what you had tonight,” he noted. Buffet guests would wait in line for an hour just to get in the door. In its heyday, the Buckhorn Inn buffet would serve 800 to 1,000 diners on Sundays. Their record for a Sunday was 1,300 guests on Mothers Day.
The Buckhorn Inn was sold in 1998. The owner took out the buffet and put in a menu. The restaurant didn’t last a year. It was sold to a group of Harrisonburg investors who sold it to Kevin and Kim Daly.
“The Daly’s ran a fine dining restaurant here, a totally different setup. It was reservation only,” recalled Yoder. “They were serving filet mignon and chicken Parmesan. They had $30-40 entrees,” he said. “They didn’t really push the bed and breakfast much. They did rent out rooms. Whenever there weren’t reservations, the Daly’s weren’t here.”
From 1998 until 2007, the inn was dark most of the time. Most local folks thought the bed and breakfast and the restaurant were closed. Garlan and Sylvia Yoder bought the bed and breakfast in 2007. “That’s been our struggle getting people over that bump, that nine year break in there,” Yoder observed. “People have changed their habits, and we’ve got more competition out in town.”
Garlan and Sylvia Yoder want to assure everyone that the historic Buckhorn Inn is back in the business. “We have been out here for a year and a half now, and I love it. We love old houses so that drew us here,” said Sylvia Yoder. “I love to do the bed and breakfast — the hosting part,” she said. “One of my interests is to do more special events and to make the bed and breakfast more of a priority.”
The buffet has returned to the inn, and the traditional home style cooking that made the inn prosper a decade ago is back. The Friday buffet features seafood. On Saturday and Sunday, they offer the country buffet. “Normally speaking, the country buffet is going to be roast beef, ham, and fried chicken,” said Yoder. “It changes slightly around Thanksgiving and Christmas when we’re putting turkey out there too.”
When it comes to delectable desserts, the Buckhorn Inn has become renowned for its specialty — peanut butter pie. “This place was absolutely famous for peanut butter pie. People would actually drive out here for that pie,” said Yoder. “We found the original recipe in a recipe box back in the kitchen back when we were sorting stuff out,” he recalled. “If people ask for the recipe, we’ll give it out. It’s not like that recipe is a secret, but the peanut butter pie is a big deal.”
THE BUCKHORN INN’S
Famous Peanut Butter Pie
* Use a 9-inch baked pie shell
* Mix 1/3 cup of peanut butter with ¾ cup 10X sugar into crumbs
* Spread half of the mixture over the bottom of the pie shell.
* 1/3 cup flour
* 1/2 cup sugar
* 1/8 tsp. salt
* 2 cups milk
* 2 egg yolks (slightly beaten)
1. Mix all together—bring to a rolling boil
2. Stir until it thickens—remove from heat
3. Add 2 tsp margarine and 1 tsp. vanilla
4. Pour over peanut butter crumbs and let cool
5. Spread whipped topping on top
6. Sprinkle with remaining peanut butter crumbs
For more information or visit:
The Buckhorn Inn
2487 Hankey Mountain Highway (Rt. 250)
Churchville, Virginia 24421
(540) 337-8660; Toll Free (877) 337-8660