"Whenever I'm ready to throw in the towel," says David Thomas, innkeeper at the Fairfield Inn, "I take a tour of the inn. By the time I get outside facing the old stone building, it looks so inviting that I realize I've got something special."
The inn that casts its spell on Thomas sits on Main Street in Fairfield, Pennsylvania (pop. 580). It's a 90-minute drive from Washington. The oldest part of the inn was built in 1757 and the newest part in 1823.
"I know people in Gettysburg think 'Oh, Fairfield, that's just a little country town,' but we're coming into our own," Thomas says. "And after living in the city, I appreciate walking down quiet streets, chopping wood and growing tomatoes in the summer." Running an inn gives Thomas the chance to use his experience in hotel management -- he used to work for Marriott -- and to buy antiques.
Thomas's antiques fill the rooms. A cherry corner cabinet and 18th-century writing desk sit in the parlor, and a collection of wooden sleds decorates the hall. The pressed-tin ceiling and stone fireplace in the tavern are the originals.
"Some of the more prosperous local people wonder why I let just anybody come to the tavern. But we have the only liquor license in town, and inns should be the center of a town's social life," says Thomas, who stops to chat with a local worker sipping beer at the bar.
There are two guest bedrooms on the second floor. One has two double beds, a dresser, a spinning wheel and a cradle with a china doll inside. The other room has a double bed with a handmade lace canopy and an antique dresser and chair. Guests share a bath.
"I get vibrations immediately if my overnight guests are inn people," says Thomas. And if they are, he tells them about Squire Miller, whose home was part of the inn, and Thaddeus Stevens, who lived there while he built a railroad and iron works. Thomas shows them a ballroom used before the Civil War and takes them to see the room in the attic where slaves hid before they escaped to Canada.
A steep, narrow staircase leads to a loft above the restaurant where stagecoach drivers and drovers rented space to sleep on the floor.
Nowadays, local cooks prepare the food, and a 78-year-old woman makes deep-dish apple pie and raspberry pie.
"She gets mad because people think you just have to be old to make good pies," says Thomas, who makes the crab imperial, creamed spinach and bourbon cake.
"We don't serve fancy food; most people order chicken and biscuits," he says.
Thomas says Mamie Eisenhower liked to entertain at the inn.
"She came in a limousine from her Gettysburg farm eight miles away," recalls Thomas. "I always told her how nice she looked, and she'd say 'Oh, I bought this dress in 1955 at Lord and Taylor in Washington.' Her clothes were dated, but they suited her perfectly."
Recently Thomas renovated the oldest house in town. In it, there are four more immaculate rooms, more modern ones, for overnight guests; the bath is down the hall. The parlor and dining room are furnished with 18th-century pieces. The green-frame house, used as a hospital for officers during the Civil War, is a block from the inn.
Thomas hopes his guests absorb some of the past when they come to stay.
"Coming just to eat is not coming to the Fairfield Inn," he says.