LEWISBURG, W.Va. — Take Sparrow and Aaron Huffman’s ages, add them together, and they’re still 18 years younger than the inn they just bought. And the married couple is a good 113 years younger than the building, originally a house, that became their “new” inn.
Sparrow, 35, and Aaron, 32, bought the General Lewis Inn in Lewisburg nine days ago. (The two were married at the Inn five years ago.) The Inn, which opened in 1929, had been owned and operated by three generations of the same family for the last 85 years.
“The first couple days were a little surreal,” Sparrow Huffman said. “It’s an amazing thing to be part of this iconic center of Lewisburg.”
The Huffmans, originally from Pocahontas County, but longtime Lewisburg residents, said they’re pretty much over the shock and novelty of running a 25-room hotel and a full service restaurant, but a few slips of the tongue show that might not quite be the case.
“When they do weddings, they set up a big tent back here,” Aaron said as he showed off the Inn’s gardens.
“They, as in us,” his wife corrected him.
Yes, he agreed.
“We talk about how they have good fried chicken here,” Aaron said.
“I know,” Sparrow continued, “And then I say, no, we, we have good fried chicken.”
Sparrow and her mother own the Stardust Café, about a quarter mile from the Inn in downtown Lewisburg. Aaron is a local contractor.
Last spring, the couple was looking for another project. They thought about buying a house to run as a bed and breakfast or as a wedding venue. They considered properties in both Lewisburg and in Puerto Rico.
“Nothing felt quite right,” Sparrow said.
One day in April, Sparrow was going for a run near their house on Lafayette Street, two blocks from the General Lewis.
“I came home and I said to Aaron, ‘You know I think the Inn is for sale.’”
The next day they emailed Nan Morgan, the Inn’s owner. It was indeed for sale.
The day after that they spoke with former Charleston Mayor Jay Goldman, who was selling the property for Morgan.
With the help of a guarantee from the federal Small Business Administration, they secured a loan from Lewisburg’s First National Bank and bought the property for $1 million.
Four months after that fateful run, just in time for Labor Day weekend, the Huffman’s were inn owners.
They said they plan to make minor tweaks, but the character of the Inn won’t change. They’ll add a small bar, where guests can get drinks to enjoy in the living room or the garden. They’ll host more weddings and will serve more local food – they’re already getting liquor from Smooth Ambler Spirits in Maxwelton and eggs and poultry from Rainbow Farms in Sandstone.
But, the dining room, which serves breakfast and dinner seven days a week, is still the original house, which was built in 1834. The house was expanded to an inn in 1929, using beams salvaged from a backyard stable that was as old as the house.
There have been modernizations along the way – every room now has a bathroom and a television – but the inn still looks much as it always has.
Every room is furnished with antiques. Beds have new mattresses, but rest on wood and rope frames.
A hallway, “Memory hall,” is festooned with tools and trinkets, some as old as the building itself.
The front desk is even older than the building. It dates to 1760, and both Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson registered at it at the Sweet Chalybeate Springs Hotel in Virginia, before the pine and walnut desk moved to the General Lewis.
“The quirkiness is what makes the Inn the Inn,” Sparrow said. “It is unique, it’s not like staying at a Days Inn or a Hampton Inn.”
That quirkiness extends to legends that the General Lewis is haunted.
According to several entirely unconfirmed internet reports, there are at least three ghosts roaming the Inn – the “Lady in White,” who haunts room 208; the ghost of a slave named Reuben and an unnamed little girl ghost who has been seen and heard on the second floor.
Sparrow Huffman is ambivalent. “I don’t know what the right angle to take is,” she said when asked about the ghosts.
“I haven’t met the ghost,” she said. “I live in harmony with the universe, so I’m not too afraid one way or another. Having them or not having them is fine with me.”
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