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Checking In With History

Centuries Later, Six Colonial Inns Are Still an Overnight Success

By Jennifer Barger
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, April 7, 2004; Page C02

George Washington never slept at the circa-1745 General Warren Inne in Malvern, Pa. But he wouldn't have slept well if he had. "His coming here would not have been a good situation," says innkeeper Patrick Byrne. "Someone would've given him a very short haircut." That's because this public house near Valley Forge was among the Colonial era's most notorious Loyalist hangouts.

Here, dashing British spy Maj. John Andre once planned the routes for Gen. Charles Cornwallis to invade Philadelphia. On the third floor, just above where my husband and I slept on a recent weekend, legend says a Whig blacksmith was tortured by British troops. And in the hurricane lamp-lit dining room where we tucked into a dinner of beef Wellington and turtle soup, Tories met to plot the American Revolution's bloody Paoli Massacre, which happened a few miles away.

The General Warren Inne near Valley Forge, Pa. (David Campli - General Warren Inne)

My husband and I had checked into the General Warren to steep -- and sleep -- in Colonial history. Turns out, this is easy to do near Washington; dozens of Colonial-era inns still accept overnight guests. "If you stay in a historic plantation or an old tavern, you can really feel 1776," says Robert I.C. Fisher, who edited a Fodor's Colonial-era travel guide.

Thanks to the General Warren Inne's Yankee Doodle-Dandified atmosphere and colorful past, we got a crash course in early American history. The gable-roofed structure morphed from a Tory haunt (the Admiral Warren Inne) to an early American stagecoach stop (the General Warren Inne, renamed after a hero at Bunker Hill). The property also served as a 19th-century temperance hotel, a 1970s biker bar and a country inn in the 1980s, which is what it remains.

The Warren has been remodeled countless times, but signs of its Colonial past remain, from thick brick walls and deep windowsills to fireplaces with Georgian mantels. A 1786 deed to the property -- in curly script with red wax seals -- hangs in the bar. The original Tory owners would probably flip their Whigs to see engravings of George and Martha Washington in the dining room.

The restaurant serves traditional cuisine (Caesar salad, crab cakes) and more inventive fare (black bean cakes, salmon with "dueling red pepper sauces"). The white tablecloths, Windsor chairs and fresh flowers seem old-fashioned, but according to Byrne, the place would've looked far different in Colonial times. "It probably had plank tables, pewter dishes and a masculine crowd drinking hard cider," he says. Huzzah!

The inn's guest rooms combine period decor and modern comforts, a good thing for us since, in early America, tavern guests slept five to a bed and a "gentlewoman" like me couldn't have stayed here at all. Our suite had a four-poster rice bed, high ceilings and wooden folding doors, along with a gas-powered fireplace and a luxe bathroom festooned with toile. "We keep history alive, but we also want guests to feel pampered," says Byrne.

A short distance away at Valley Forge National Historical Park, it was easy to imagine Washington and company suffering through that dismal winter of 1777-78. In one of the replicas of the log huts inhabited by the patriots that dot the park, the place smelled of dust and the plywood bunks looked uncomfortable. If this was how Colonials spent the night around here, I'd pledge allegiance to those Loyalists at the General Warren any day.

General Warren Inne, Malvern, Pa. Eight suites with private baths; $120-$190. Old Lancaster Highway and Warren Avenue, 610-296-3637, www.generalwarren.com.

Here are five other Colonial accommodations chosen for historical significance, architectural interest and proximity to other early-American attractions.

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© 2004 The Washington Post Company


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