In that short amount of time, I could tell that this was a place I’d have trouble leaving the next day, let alone the next minute.
We were only about three hours from Washington, but it felt as if I’d been whisked back several centuries. The former plantation outside Gloucester, Va., began as a 1642 land grant to George Washington’s great-great-grandfather, Augustine Warner I, whose other descendants include Robert E. Lee and Queen Elizabeth II, who visited in 1957.
With less pomp than that arrival, we bounced up the rutted lane, and the grand house, with its sprawling wings and Ionic-columned portico, came into view between the lines of white fence. There was only one thing I could say: “Wow.”
The setting was pretty impressive, too. Rising above the green landscape of Gloucester County on Virginia’s Middle Peninsula, Warner Hall boasts a waterside location along the Severn River.
The river was one of the reasons innkeeper Theresa Stavens, who owns the inn with her husband, Troy, urged me to book the Elizabeth Lewis room, named after one of Warner’s granddaughters. From its large semicircular window on the third floor, we looked out over the lawn and to the rippling water beyond.
Stavens’s recommendation was spot on and typical of the thoughtfulness put into Warner Hall. A stash of cards with a sketch of the inn nearly inspired me to sit down at the petite writing desk to dash off a brag-filled note about my mini-break to my family. And I appreciated the small chest of night lights, the generous Gilchrist & Soames toiletries — mending kit! lip balm! — and free bottled water in the room.
The inn was even ready to welcome my two dogs. While helping me with my reservation, though, an employee warned me that the room across from the one I was thinking about was scheduled to host a boxer. That was good to know, considering my guys’ anxiety around large canines. Sorry, Leo and Hobbes. Maybe next time.
It was just as well. I’m not sure how patient the dogs would have been with my husband and me as we comically struggled to launch and then return one of the canoes available to guests. Yes, we could just have stayed clean relaxing at the inn’s boathouse (full kitchen and bathroom, laundry facilities, sitting room and dock). But with the prospect of a hearty breakfast the next morning, some physical exertion seemed necessary.
We tooled around the calm water for a little while, long enough to get thoroughly chilled and spot what my untrained eye believed to be a heron.
The next morning, the smell of breakfast was about the only thing that could have motivated me to get out of bed, where I was lying and admiring the scenery through glass fringed with condensation. I traded that view for an equally pleasant one from the glassed-in porch where the meal was served.
Before leaving, we spent some time at the on-site cemetery for Warner Hall’s founding family. Some tombstones dated to the 1600s.
Since then, the estate has experienced several destructive fires. Those rebuilding over the years — the current house went up around 1900 — chose to reuse their predecessors’ foundations. Perhaps those predecessors would be a bit surprised by the oversize chess set or the hot tub that grace the inn today, but the overall feeling of history remains. And we get to luxuriate in it.