GLEN FERRIS, W.Va. -- Remember Sunday drives? Leisurely afternoons spent wandering along a country road, perhaps stopping for lunch or dinner at a quiet spot tucked far away from the busy interstate?
Visits to the early 19th century Glen Ferris Inn in Fayette County evoke those memories. Perched between the historic Midland Trail (U.S. 60) and the picture-perfect Kanawha Falls, the inn serves breakfast, lunch and dinner to travelers, locals and guests.
Diners settle into the dining room, located in the original part of the house, and peruse menus that offer Florentine Orange Roughy, Prime Rib, Grilled Trout in a Mornay sauce and Swiss Mushroom Pork Loin as well as more standard home-style fare like Country Fried Steak.
The turkey and dressing supper on Sunday afternoons draws a big after-church crowd. The limited menu on that day also includes a fish, chicken, seafood and beef entree as well as broccoli casserole and corn pudding.
Diners often make the mistake of filling up on the made-from-scratch yeasty rolls and don't save room for their entrees, said inn owner Becky Hill.
"We have people who come in just for the rolls. They'll call ahead and order them," said Hill. They make the rolls daily from a recipe honed by Hill's mother, Natalie Phillips, who managed the inn for years. "I had to work for a year to master it. Once you get it, it's easy."
Her mother trained Hill in nearly every position within the inn, including maid, dishwasher, waitress and baker.
Today the baker makes fresh pies, cobblers and bread pudding. Coconut cream pie is always on the menu along with lemon, chocolate or peanut butter silk pie. Cherry, blackberry or deep dish peach cobblers are served warm with ice cream.
Hill has operated the Glen Ferris Inn since 1996 when her husband, Robert Hill, owner of Danhill Construction in Gauley Bridge, purchased the inn and presented it to her as an anniversary present.
"I was in a state of shock. I was a full-time schoolteacher and loved teaching. I tried to talk him out of it, but he told me my life isn't going to change," she said. "He said, 'You'll make the occasional wedding cake and putter around in the garden.'" Those were two activities she enjoyed.
He slightly underestimated the demands of the job. She continued teaching until five years ago, while she also ran and renovated the inn and updated the restaurant's menu. "I've always enjoyed it. You meet so many great people. It overrides the stress," she said.
Today, she relies on restaurant manager Tony Phillips to continue the inn's culinary traditions, but also update the menu. Like the famously irresistible yeast rolls, many of the recipes are her mother's. Hill frequently researches other recipes, especially for the ethnic feasts the inn offers monthly, except in December.
They strive to serve authentic foods from the area featured in the feasts, including Italian, German, Irish, Tex-Mex and Cajun. The recipes require ingredients not readily available locally.
A wedding party of first generation Americans from Germany sparked the idea for ethnic feasts. The bride and groom wanted to serve authentic German food at their reception and shared family recipes for the inn's kitchen staff to follow.
"We did a dry run and they tested and approved them all," she said. "The guests loved the food."
Hill and Phillips have long considered preparing a feast that features food that would have been served when the inn, then called Stockton's Inn, opened in 1839. Col. Aaron Stockton built the original red brick structure with imposing white pillars and double porches as a private residence in 1816 or 1819. The actual date is unknown because the original documents were burned in a fire and both dates are listed in subsequent accounts of the house, Phillips explained.
The building later served as an inn along a stagecoach route and a Civil War hospital before it was purchased by a nearby aluminum plant that added a wing to accommodate the increasing number of guests who visited the facility.
The inn's occupancy is not quite as high as it was in the days when the aluminum plant generated a steady stream of guests, but Hill still updates the rooms, two or three each year.
In the past several years, Hill has overseen improvements including the removal of carpet and installation of hardwood floors and carpet, new wallpaper and paint in the common areas and the installation of WiFi throughout most of the inn.
"It took us one month to strip the wallpaper in the hallway. We took off a layer of wallpaper, at least two coats of painting, and another layer of wallpaper until we were down to the original plaster," Hill said. Two or three of the 18 bedrooms and suites are updated a year.
Although it's unlikely that guests will notice it, the installation of a generator is most appreciated by Hill and her staff. Long before the rest of West Virginia struggled with long-term power outages this year, the inn was well accustomed to losing electricity.
"If the wind blows through here, we lose power," said Phillips. The generator powers the entire inn.
In addition to tending the inn's gardens in which she's planted thousands of perennials and annuals, Hill joins her sister Donna Jones in a daily craft session. They sew and sell children's coloring aprons and fill the over-sized pockets with crayons, scissors and pencils. They make candles and jewelry and market a line of jams, jellies and relishes, all made from their mother's recipes.
The items are displayed in an alcove under the main staircase, where they also sell locally produced books, including a cookbook containing recipes from the inn. Hill just finished compiling 350 pages of recipes for a second edition that will be printed soon.
Now that she has the place in ship-shape, Hill has decided to retire from her hotelier duties. She'll train the new general manager for several months, and then leave the inn in her hands. She plans to spend time with her children and their families who are scattered all over the country.
"I've been doing this for 17 years. I didn't think I'd ever master it, but I did and now it's time to go," she said.
The Glen Ferris Inn, U.S. 60 in Glen Ferris. Call 304-632-1111.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.
Glen Ferris Inn Broccoli Casserole
This casserole, made from innkeeper Becky Hill's mother's recipe, is served on Sundays.
1 small onion, chopped
1 small can of mushrooms, drained
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1 pint heavy whipping cream
3 slices American cheese