FOR BURNED-OUT city dwellers weary of concrete horizons, nothing quite renews the soul like a weekend down on the farm. Not your own farm, of course -- that requires too much work. But at a pay-as-you-go bed and breakfast farm.
All around Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, there are farmhouses where you can watch foals play in the paddock or sheep graze in the meadows. Where you can listen to cows lowing or rise early to milk them. Where, after a country breakfast of homemade bread and farm fresh eggs, you can roam through fields and, depending on whether the farm is fancy or down-home, splash in the pool, pond or swimming hole. Go fishing in the creek or read under the shade of 200-year-old trees.
"People come here," says Coulter Huyler, owner of Beaver Creek Farm, near Funkstown, Md., "to get away from the pressures of the city for a while. I've had everyone from doctors, lawyers to Indian chiefs. And they all love the animals."
Opening their homes to guests to earn pin money, reduce taxes, or just to fill the rooms left empty by grown children, most farm hosts enjoy sharing the country's myriad delights. Says Anne Hicks, owner of Meadow Spring Farm in Kennett Square, Pa., "Some guests have said 'adopt me.' And it's been fabulous. I've made many friends, met wonderful people, and been invited all over the world."
Just in time for the lazy, hazy days of summer, here's a country sampler of nearby farmhouses from plain to fancy that will delight and renew you. MARYLAND BEAVER CREEK (East of Funkstown, Md.) "No one who doesn't like animals should come here," says Coulter Huyler, 74, about his 1807 stone farmhouse set amid 141 acres of farmland in Beaver Creek, Md.
Peacocks stroll the front lawn and thoroughbred horses graze in the pasture. Chicken Little, a big, brown discerning rooster, acts as doorman and welcoming committee. Hundreds of ducks and wild geese peck near the trout stream, goats munch in their pen, but, says Huyler wryly, "There's only one jackass besides me, and he's in the barn."
A retired foreign service officer who speaks 11 languages, Huyler always wanted "a farm and the health to go with it." When he moved here 16 years ago, he was on crutches from arthritis. Having to feed the animals, he says, cured him.
The 15-room house, plain on the outside, is decorated with old family pieces, antiques and Oriental rugs. The six guest rooms feature 18th- and 19th-century country antiques. Red and green handpainted Dutch Hinterloopen chests brighten many of the rooms. A large upstairs bedroom has an adjacent sitting room -- perfect for children -- and a private sunporch, an enticing place for reading and gazing at the landscape.
Breakfast in your room, in the kitchen or on the front porch within sound of the nearby gurgling stream, or in the dining room serenaded by six canaries. Fish in the creek, or skinny dip in the swimming hole. Tour the Victorian barn with its Chinese rickshaw, a memento of Huyler's travels, and search the grounds for a peacock feather, a special favor to take back to the city. BEAVER CREEK -- Near Funkstown and Hagerstown, Md. For specific directions and reservations, call The Traveller in Maryland, 301/269-6232. Six guest rooms, two with private bath. Private bathrooms, $60. Shared bath $50. Includes full country breakfast. Near antique shops of Funkstown and Beaver Creek, and Antietam Battlefield. Within 2 hours of D.C. VIRGINIA JORDAN HOLLOW FARM (Stanley, Va.) The sign above the two-tiered wrap-around porch of this 200-year-old farmhouse proclaims, "Welcome Friends." Porch swings, rockers, kittens popping out of wicker baskets and the rush of the nearby stream add to the unassuming, friendly feel of the place. Nestled in Jordan Hollow, near Stanley, Va., on 45 rolling acres bordered by the Blue Ridge Mountains on the east and the George Washington National Forest on the west, this working horse farm of German Holsteiners and thoroughbreds offers spectacular countryside and the chance to view it on horseback.
In the farmhouse, originally two small structures joined by an enclosed dog-trot, Marley and Jetze Beers now offer three meals a day, including country French dinners in three intimate dining rooms, one of which is graced by carved African masks from Marley's tour in the Peace Corps.
What began as a way out of the city for consultant Beers, has grown into a small conference center for groups, and a getaway for couples. Guests stay at Rowe's Lodge, a motel-style structure with 16 rooms, small but pleasingly decorated with floral wallpaper, handcrafted headboards or with country antiques from white iron beds to carved oak dressers. From the rockers on the sundeck outside your room, you can enjoy the foals frolicking in the pastures and a view of the soft peaks of the surrounding mountains.
Saddle up and take a scenic trail ride through the foothills of the Blue Ridge, along the adjacent country farms, past mountain meadows filled with wildflowers. In the evening, relax in the renovated 150-year-old barn with hand-hewn beams, now a lounge with a full bar, television, billiard table and board games. With more amenities than a plain farm, Jordan Hollow still offers the simple country pleasures of horses and rolling hillsides. JORDAN HOLLOW FARM -- Route 2, Box 375, Stanley, VA 22851. 703/778-2285, or 2209. 16 rooms with private bath, 4 family rooms with two double beds, or one double, and two singles, all in the Lodge. $47 single, $55 double, $10 extra person in room. 4 years and under, free. Meals not included, but available. Trail riding $12 per hour; private lesson $12 per half hour, not available weekends. Take the Beltway to I-66 west to Front Royal/Linden exit, to Virginia Route 55 to Front Royal. Take Va. 340 south to Luray. About 6 miles past Luray, just after the Exxon station, make a left onto Va. Rte. 624. Then left at Va. Rte. 689. Go over the small bridge. At the next intersection, turn right at Va. Rte. 626. Jordan Hollow farm is just down the road on the right. About 2 hours from D.C. WEST VIRGINIA PROSPECT HILL (Gerrardstown, W. Va.) When you drive between the old stone pillars and up the winding road to this Georgian-style, gentleman's farmhouse on 225 acres, the ducks and geese squawk a greeting. Prospect Hill, built between 1795 and 1804 by a prosperous businessman, and named because it was the last place to outfit a wagon train before heading west over the mountains, offers a gracious retreat with 18th-century charm.
Furnished formally with antiques and art from Hazel and Charles Hudock's 28 years of traveling as a Navy couple, the house, on the National Register of Historic Places, has a wealthy but welcoming feel. The wide hallway boasts a gracious, three-tiered staircase and a handpainted 1930s mural of colonial scenes that winds all the way to the third floor. Enjoy a full country breakfast in a dining room set off with Oriental rugs and Indian and Chinesefurniture. Browse Charles Hudock's collection of more than 2,000 books -- "a special one for every visitor," he says. Borrow philosophy by Erasmus, or read such charmers as the first years of Life magazine.
You can relax in the two large guest rooms in the main house, each with 18th-century woodwork, fireplace, colonial bed, rocker, comforter and loveseat. The converted slave quarters down the hill, surrounded by large sycamores and weeping willows, feature a kitchenette, living area, large brick fireplace, breakfast room and, upstairs, a cozy sleeping loft.
Be sure to explore the farm, tucked just below North Mountain, with its dooryard herb garden, a hundred acres of woods, ponds stocked with bass, and orchards lush with apples, apricots, peaches and plums in season along with strawberries and raspberries.
"Part of the fun," says Hazel Hudock, "is sharing what we have with guests. I love to cook special things for them, and give them favors to take home, like the grapevine wreaths I make from our vines."
Enjoy talking with the Hudocks over complimentary wine, or homemade cake and coffee, while watching the sun set over these West Virginia fields. PROSPECT HILL -- Box 135, Gerrardstown, WVA 25420. 304/229-3346. $65 midweek, $75 weekends, per double. Children permitted in the guest house. Near Harpers Ferry, Martinsburg and Charlestown. From the Beltway, take I-270 to West Va. 340 west to Charlestown, to Route 51 west through Gerrardstown. Prospect Hill is half a mile past town on the left. About 1 1/2 hours from D.C. HICKORY HILL (Moorefield, W. Va.)
"We grow cattle, corn and kids here," says Fran Welton of her simple but inviting 2,000-acre farm. "Two thousand acres sounds grand, but it's not like Texas. In West Virginia that includes two mountains, with a lot of the land straight up and down." The scenery is spectacular: pastures ringed by the Allegheny foothills and fields cut through by the meandering south branch of the Potomac. You will enjoy this large, 1809, Georgian-style farmhouse furnished with antiques and well-worn family pieces. Note the original pine floors, poplar woodwork, sunburst moldings, iron strap hinges and large key locks on the outside doors. Says Fran Welton, "George Washington did not sleep here. No Civil War battles were fought here. Just a lot of normal families lived, loved and died here." And most of them were Weltons.
In the Welton family for over 250 years, Hickory Hill offers bucolic scenery and friendly hosts. The Weltons had considered starting a bed and breakfast for some time, but the disastrous flood last November carried away their topsoilgiving them a financial incentive to open their house to guests.
The high-ceilinged guest room is comfortably furnished with two double beds, one antique and one reproduction, and Victorian wicker side chairs. Just outside the guest room, a hallway overflow room, formerly the mammy's room, is perfect for children.
For more than two centuries, guests have rocked on the back porch with its expansive view of acres and acres of fields and mountains, writing graffiti in the hand-painted borders between the bricks, a Welton tradition. J. Brittingham left us this message: "The day is cold and dark and dreary. It rains. The wind is never-ending." Dated Christmas Eve, 1875.
But in summer the landscape nurtures the soul. You can fish in the creeks or the pond; hike the farm trails; or, if you're a capable rider, trot through the fields on the Welton's registered, Tennessee walking horses. HICKORY HILL -- Route 1, Box 355, Moorefield, WVA 26836. 304/538-2511. One guest room and overflow room. Shared bath with family. $25 single; $35 couples. Includes full breakfast. 140 miles from D.C. About 3 hours. Take the Beltway to I-66 West to Strasburg, then Va. Rte.55 West (Highland Trace) to Moorefield, then Va. Rte. 220 South, 9 miles to Hickory Hill. PENNSYLVANIA SWEETWATER FARM (Glen Mills, Pa.) Sweetwater Farm is an elegant 12-room Georgian home atop a hill, with a wide expanse of front lawn and 50 acres of corn and pasture. Built in 1734, and enlarged in 1800, this red brick house, filled with antiques and fine furnishings, is gentleman farming at its most gracious. The house has a sweeping three-tiered staircase, intricate moldings and original 18th-century woodwork.
But it took host Linda Kaat six years of loving renovation to erase the ravages of a series of careless tenants who remained indifferent to roof leaks, lawn trash and 200 years of peeling plaster.
"Restoring the home and having the bed and breakfast started as a hobby," says Kaat. "As it became enjoyable, I did it more and more. Now it's my career."
The dedication shows in the special touches, from the bouquets of dried flowers Kaat designs and places in each room, to the antique quilts, colonial stenciling, spinning wheels and Wyeth prints. Relax in the parlor painted gold to catch the last rays of the sunset, or sit on the back veranda, watching the sheep lazily grazing in the pasture, or drinking at the pond.
Kaat raises chickens, corn and sheep, selling her homegrown, hand-dyed wool to special customers. Farm-fresh eggs appear at your breakfast served in Kaat's country kitchen complete with hanging wicker baskets and an old brick fireplace. Nearby the pantry sparkles with rows and rows of softly colored skeins of wool.
Choose among six guest rooms, many with working fireplaces. For history, choose the bedroom Lafayette slept in on a tour through the Brandywine Valley, complete with fireplace and view of the pasture. For children, take the nursery, adorned with stenciled tulips and hearts, and a white iron and brass crib, with wicker twin beds. For elegance, try the four poster in the blue-and-white master bedroom, with a bed canopy that delicately cascades against the paneled walls. For a private hideaway, try the two loft rooms. SWEETWATER FARM -- POB 86, Glen Mills, Pa. 19342. 215/459-4711. Accommodations: six rooms, three with private bath. Rates include full country breakfast. $65-$95 per double, depending on the room. Children welcome; bring your own horses to board; outdoor swimming pool. Near Brandywine River Museum, Longwood Gardens, Winterthur. 2 1/2 to 3 hours from D.C. Take I-95 north to Pa. 202 north to U.S. 1 north (Baltimore Pike), approximately 5 miles to the Franklin Mint. Turn left on Valley Road. Follow for 2 miles to 'T' intersection, make a left, then a quick right to get back on Valley Road. Follow 1/2 mile to left on Sweetwater Road. The farm is 1/3 mile on the left. MEADOW SPRING FARM (Kennett Square, Pa.) Downwind of the cows, you're reminded that this is a 240-acre working dairy farm with 300 Holsteins plus assorted pigs, chickens, dogs and cats. With a towering silo and red barn in the front pasture, this 1836 white brick farmhouse offers a true country welcome. So does Anne Hicks, the delightful grandmother who turned bed-and-breakfast host to make pin money and new friends.
Antiques, old family pieces and country touches adorn the rooms. A painted rocking horse and two teddy bears dressed in their Sunday best sit by the parlor fire. Relax here, or soak in the country kitchen's hot tub, surrounded by skylights, plants and a view of the garden. Then sun and swim by the outdoor pool.
You can also amuse yourself in the doll room, complete with the three-story dollhouse Hicks' father built for her 60 years ago, and rows upon rows of Victorian dolls reclining in buggies, resting on shelves, or ready for tea.
Old quilts, comfortable armchairs, fresh flowers and, in one room, Hick's grandmother's Victorian lace wedding dress brighten the guest rooms, all four of which share a bath. Romantics will especially enjoy the room with the four poster hung with a crocheted canopy or the high-carved sleigh-bed room with working fireplace.
In the enclosed garden room, enjoy what Hicks calls a real country breakfast of homemade breads, mushroom omelets, corn fritters and sausage. And be sure to tour the farm's miles of meadows full of wildflowers -- be careful of cow pies -- and its mechanized dairy barn. Get up at 4:30 a.m. for the morning milking, or sleep in and catch the cows coming home at 3:30 p.m. Meadow Spring Farm presents dairy farming the easy way -- at your leisured pace. MEADOW SPRING FARM -- 201 East Street Road (Rte. 926), Kennett Square, Pa. 19348. 215 444-3903. All rooms with breakfast and shared bath. One single, $25; three double rooms $45. Children welcome. Crib $10. Children $10. Near Brandywine River Museum, Winterthur, Hagley Museum. 2 1/2 to 3 hours from D.C. Take I-95 north to Del.-Pa. Route 52 to left on U.S. 1 to Longwood. Then right on Pa. Route 82 north to Kennett Square to the village of Willowdale. Turn right at the blinking light on Pa. 926. Meadow Spring is the second farm on the left, about 1 mile down the road. About 2 1/2 hours from D.C. MARSHALL MEYER HOUSE (Concordville, Pa.) The Marshall Meyer House, a 12-room fieldstone farmhouse atop a knoll and surrounded by three acres of towering, 200-year old beeches, oaks, maples and evergreens, offers guests a pleasing retreat. Set in 106 acres of cornfields, this farmhouse, with its one guest room, combines country pleasures with privacy.
To the original 1760 structure, a wealthy millowner in 1833 added the parlor and upstairs rooms. As you relax with a glass of wine in the front parlor, charmingly furnished with antique sofa, spinning wheel, secretary and lady's writing desk, be sure to note the elaborate woodwork and moldings and wide-plank pine floors. Join the hosts in the cozy back parlor with its country ambience of dried flowers, quilted pillows and hanging wicker baskets.
The guest room boasts a canopied bed and a fireplace, and such country touches as a blithe, stenciled purple heart border, painted rocking horse above the mantle and a straw bonnet behind the door. For city die-hards, a portable television can be wheeled to your room.
Breakfast in the sunroom, or on the patio. Walk through the cornfields, hike the woods, watch the sheep graze or the owner's horse trotting in the back pasture. Enjoy the sunset over the cornfields, then -- as the only guests at the farm -- take a moonlit swim in the pool. MARSHALL MEYER HOUSE -- Concordville, Pa. For specific directions and reservations, call Bed and Breakfast of Philadelphia, 215/688-1633. One double room, with private hall bath. $60 a couple, includes full country breakfast. No children. Near Wilmington, Winterthur and antique shops. About 2 1/2 hours from D.C.
Candyce Stapen last wrote for Weekend on inns in Chincoteague.