This hunt country hamlet of 61 inhabitants has two streets and, as of today, exactly one commercial enterprise.

But that business, the Ashby Inn, which opened last month in a 150-year-old house as a bed-and-breakfast inn and restaurant, faces a challenge Wednesday from a wealthy 83-year-old landowner seeking to preserve Paris as it is.

The landowner, C. Reed Thomas, holds about 1,800 acres of green meadows and wooded hills that virtually surround Paris, which is 55 miles west of Washington. He is suing Fauquier County, which granted the inn permission to operate last spring, as well as the inn's owners, in a case scheduled to be heard in Fauquier Circuit Court.

To Thomas, who won't discuss the issue publicly, the inn is a threat. He contends in court papers that it will reduce the value of a rental property he owns across the street by 50 percent. And he charges that the county acted improperly in granting the inn a special exception in a residential zone.

Thomas's son, Phillip, a Middleburg real estate man, said his father "feels that Paris is really intended to be a residential village. There's a difference between hearing crickets and frogs at night as opposed to the slamming of doors and the noise of good cheer and people having a good time."

But to the inn's owners, John and Roma Sherman, formerly of Washington, the inn is a dream come true -- and an expensive dream at that.

The Shermans -- he the press secretary for the House Ways and Means Committee and she an advertising executive -- spent six years looking for a suitable place to open a country inn. When they finally found the old home at the corner of Main and Federal streets in Paris, they sold two houses they owned in the District and moved to Paris.

The renovations were extensive. The Shermans added three bedrooms to the existing three, raised the roof, extended the stairway, remodeled and refurnished. The total cost was about $400,000.

"We're not wealthy people; we didn't come in here with a trunk full of cash," said John Sherman. "We're mortgaged right up to our forehead."

The Shermans' position is that the special exception granted to them by the county supervisors was proper because the house is too old and awkwardly constructed to be used as a residence. They say they don't understand Thomas' statement that the inn will depreciate property values.

"I think we're pretty tasteful in what we've done," said Roma Sherman. "It's not a beer joint with people rolling around."

The Ashby Inn is one of a growing number of bed-and-breakfast inns in Washington's outer suburbs that seek to attract guests for weekends amid pretty rural scenery and old-fashioned country charm.

Fauquier officials and residents of Paris say that the Shermans' proposal to open the Ashby Inn was welcomed by the community, and met with no opposition until Thomas filed his lawsuit.

"There was no opposition at all," said Paris Civic Association president Albert B. Stapler. "People wanted some activity in town and thought it might be a good idea to have the inn."

About three-quarters of Paris' residents are retired, and many are natives of the county, according to Stapler. Thomas' family has owned land around the village for "three or four generations," according to Phillip Thomas. C. Reed Thomas now lives on Ovoka Farms, an estate overlooking the village and stretching toward Paris Mountain.

"My father owns land in Loudoun, Clark and Fauquier counties ," Phillip Thomas said. "When you spend a lifetime trying to preserve an area and you're completely dedicated to it, things like this inn are threatening."

"I don't think he understood what a village inn is about," said John Sherman. "We don't have live music and we don't have rock 'n' roll and we don't have neon signs and floodlights. It's a quiet inn in a small village. I don't think we've changed the quality of life in Paris at all."

The Shermans said they would attempt to have the land rezoned if they lose in court Wednesday, and failing that, appeal the case.

"We've spent too much money and gone too far just to roll over and play dead," said Roma Sherman. "It's something we've always wanted to do. And we're doing it."