Ghosts, generals have stopped at inn

July 28, 2003|by JESSICA DAVIS

Editor's note: Washington County was the first and is the oldest of 31 counties in the United States to be named after the country's first president, George Washington. This weekly series each Monday seeks out other places and items in the county that hold the title of "the oldest."

BOONSBORO - Many Civil War soldiers and generals, as well as an occasional ghost or two, have stepped through the doors of Washington County's oldest restaurant, the Old South Mountain Inn near Boonsboro.

The inn, founded around 1732, may have seen Gen. Edward Braddock, accompanied by a young Lt. George Washington, march through Turner's Gap and past its doors during the French and Indian War in 1755. Throughout the 1700s, pioneers looking to expand westward frequently passed the stone building. After the National Road was finished in the 1820s, several Washington, D.C., dignitaries visited the inn, including Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, according to the Old South Mountain Inn Web site.


The Old South Mountain Inn was particularly lively during the Civil War because of its location along the National Road during the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam. In 1859, the inn was captured and held for one night as an outpost for abolitionist John Brown and his followers. In 1862, it became the headquarters of Confederate Gen. D.H. Hill during the Battle of South Mountain, according to the Web site.

Also in 1862, as the Confederacy began to collapse, Gen. Robert E. Lee decided to bring the war into Northern territory to decrease the number of Southern casualties and the amount of destruction.

Part of the Confederacy headed toward Turner's Gap, the name given to the gap in the mountainside where the inn is located. The troops, under the direction of Hill, achieved a victory at the Battle of South Mountain. Three days later, on Sept. 17, the Battle of Antietam began, according to Miller House documents.

The next day, the Rebels abandoned the inn as a meeting place and it became a gathering spot for Union generals. Clara Barton tended to the wounded in the fields around the house and sometimes brought them to the inn for treatment. Abraham Lincoln also is rumored to have frequented the inn on his return from Antietam Battlefield en route to Frederick, Md., according to documents.

Since the inn opened almost 275 years ago, it also has been used as a tavern, with the exception of 1876 to 1925, when Madeline Vinton Dahlgren, wealthy widow of Adm. John A. Dahlgren, purchased the house as a private residence, according to the inn's Web site.

The residence was purchased in 1925 and again became a tavern until purchased by Charles and Dorothea Reichmuth, who turned it into more of a restaurant. Russell and Judy Schwartz bought the inn in 1981 and continued as owners until 2001. That year, Chad Dorsey, who also is the inn's executive chef, and his wife, Lisa, bought the inn.

Lisa Dorsey says that owning more than 250 years of history is not always easy but it helps to have a passion for cooking and the restaurant business.

"Sometimes it's stressful, but if you didn't love it, you couldn't do it," Dorsey said.

Lisa Dorsey worked at the inn for nine years and Chad Dorsey worked there for 13 years before they decided to buy it.

The inn has many regular customers and some ask for specific servers who know them by name, Dorsey said. The best part of owning a restaurant is the satisfaction that customers show when they leave, she said.

"When they leave happy, I'm happy. You can advertise until you're blue in the face, but word-of-mouth is most important," Dorsey said.

Although the days of Lincoln and Lee visits are long gone, Dorsey says she has known of a few modern-day celebrities who dined at the inn. While former U.S. Rep. Beverly Byron, D-Md. is the only autographed picture she and her husband have received, she also heard rumors that actor Jeff Daniels had dinner there after the filming of "Gods and Generals," although she did not meet him.

One "person" she has met is the ghost of Madeline Dahlgren, Dorsey said. She recounted the time that she was in the attic searching for holiday decorations when she saw a "flash of something" move across the hallway.

The ghost may even have saved the inn from being destroyed in a fire. In December 2002, a fire broke out at the inn that engulfed the back of the restaurant. That day, linens were supposed to be delivered but did not arrive, so the cleaning man stayed longer than he should have to wash the dirty cloths, Dorsey said. A door was opened that always was kept shut, allowing the janitor to smell the smoke and alert the fire company. The entire inn could have burned to the ground if it weren't for those odd coincidences, Dorsey said.

Working with a spouse may seem like too much of a good thing, Dorsey said, adding that she enjoys working with someone she knows she can trust.

"To me, I love working with my spouse. He's my best friend," she said.

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