Bed Check: At Maryland's Elk Forge Inn, try to stay in the main house

At the Elk Forge B&B, luckier guests sleep in a former iron forge.
At the Elk Forge B&B, luckier guests sleep in a former iron forge. (Christopher Krause/CK Photography)
By Bonnie S. Benwick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 22, 2010; 10:59 AM

The last time my husband and I checked into anything labeled "honeymoon," we had A Flock of Seagulls in our new five-CD changer. So we were imagining all sorts of amenities in the Winghaven, a VIP/honeymoon suite at the Elk Forge Bed and Breakfast Inn in Elkton, Md. It was the only space the B&B had available for our early October visit to nearby Wilmington, Del.

All signs pointed to yesss: a place with history. Sun-filled conservatory. Five acres of sloping green overlooking Big Elk Creek. Fireplaces in all 12 rooms. Whirlpool tubs for two!

Elk Forge was an iron forge in the mid-1700s, later a textile factory with worker housing on the grounds. When Harry and LeAnn Lenderman bought it in 1999, the main building had nine bedrooms and one bathroom, Harry told me. So the Lendermans renovated with Victorian flair. Each room has its own bath and particular decorative theme: Colonial, nautical, equestrian and more.

Unfortunately, the Decor Fairy had flitted right past the Winghaven.

Instead of heading up the narrow back stairway, we were directed to the next driveway over. As much as we were primed for our special suite, things went sour. The two-bath, two-bedroom unit occupied a separate structure with vinyl siding and an aluminum storm door. The main entrance took us through the eat-in kitchen, which needed cleaning. The living room furnishings were a bit worn and not along the lines of those in the main house. Magazines in the rack dated to 2003.

The back bedroom with king-size bed had sliding-door access to a low redwood deck. The second bedroom had a queen-size bed with a disturbingly rumpled bedspread; on closer inspection, we figured it was the result of dryer shrinkage and not a quick, er, nap by the previous VIP/honeymooners.

One bathroom indeed had a whirlpool for two. (The other had a molded-plastic shower.) I was lucky enough to score a last-minute massage in the spa while my husband set his sights on an invigorating soak. When I returned, relaxed and loose, he grumbled: "Couldn't make it work." We later found that the whirlpool controls were on a timer situated above the light switch next to the sink. Not so handy.

We got to breakfast Sunday morning during a slight rush of guests, so Harry was in constant motion. The food was laid out buffet-style in the formal dining room. The sideboard held store-bought baked goods and a toaster. A pitcher of batter nestled in ice (a welcome nod to food safety) was set up next to the kind of idiot-proof wafflemaker you'll find at some chain hotels. Yogurt and fresh fruit filled a table in front of the conservatory, where separate tables allowed for private conversation.

When Harry was able to come up for air, he let me peek into an almost-completed commercially outfitted kitchen just off the current kitchen. He explained that state regulations pertaining to B&B occupancy prohibit them from cooking "a proper breakfast" for guests. With restaurant-grade equipment and appliances, and permits in place, the Lendermans should be baking up a storm.

The garden overlooking the creek proved to be a pleasant place to let our breakfast settle before the ride home. While my husband test-drove the hammock near the artificial-turf putting green, I wandered back into the main house. Harry graciously gave me the keys to a few just-vacated rooms so I could see what we had missed as Winghaven guests: cozy and charming corners for reading, quilts on the wall and at least one claw-foot bathtub. It had no whirlpool, but it looked easy for a grumpy husband to operate.

As it turns out, our suite originally had been outfitted as a residence for LeAnn's parents. Her mother might soon move back in, which means the main-lodge suite she's now in will revert to a guest room, and the Winghaven will be rightly, and singularly, VIP.


Elk Forge Bed and Breakfast Inn

807 Elk Mills Rd.

Elkton, Md.


Rooms range from $89 to $229 on weekdays and $119 to $269 on weekends. Spa appointments should be made in advance.

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