The Rosebrook Inn: a romantic getaway steeped in history

By Susan Gibbs

The Rosebrook Inn in Stanardsville

Set at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Rosebrook Inn is one of the places to gather in Greene County.

In warm weather guests celebrate their occasions in the pavilion, where they feast on the meal of their choice, enjoy music and dancing, wander outside to savor the landscape abloom with a wealth annuals and perennials, or just kick back and relax on a full stomach.

“We host reunions and weddings, anniversary parties, bridal and baby showers, birthday parties, graduation parties, and corporate retreats,” says Mike Skeens, who owns the Inn with his wife Cory. “The Ruritans have events here, as do the school district, and a number of other local organizations.”

Winter months, guests gather inside, in the large banquet hall on the ground floor of the Inn, or wander  up to the second floor to relax in the great room filled with lush seating and Chinese antiques.

One of the guest rooms celebrates China; another, England. The Kimono Room celebrates Japan; and the Western Room has a Southwest flavor. The Murphy Room includes a small second bedroom with an antique Murphy bed. The Blue Ridge Room and the Country Cottage Room celebrate the local area, but the kitchen, filled to its brim with Coca-Cola memorabilia, is the Inn’s heart.

The menu is anchored by beef, pork, fish or eggs, “with a choice of side dishes and a great deal of input from guests,” says Skeens.

Outside the Rosebrook Inn Pavilion

The Skeens opened the Inn in 2000, following a tour of their property – which consists of the Inn, a separate cottage, and their home – sponsored by the Greene County Historical Society the previous year.

The compound, constructed in 1922 at the height of the Progressive Era, opened in 1923 as the Church of the Brethren Industrial School, with an initial enrollment of 98 boys and girls.

“Missionaries taught the kids trades, and there was a store behind the main house where they sold their goods. They produced just about everything here. They made quilts, canned, and all kinds of things,” says Mike.

The Progressive Era, which flourished from the 1890s into the 1920s, called for reforms in just about every area of American life, including education, health and conservation.

At the time, though people living in the mountains and hollows of Greene County were wealthy orchard owners, teachers and ministers, others were uneducated, and considered to be, according to one historian, “living in ignorance of Divine Truth and even of the uplifting influences of civilization.”

Homes were first established in the mountains almost a hundred years before, by less prosperous settlers making their way through the forests via old Indian trails filled with rocks and stumps. They arrived with only basic necessities – an ax, a pot, a skillet, seed for crops, and a cow or a horse if they had one. Food, shelter and clothing were provided by nature.

As more came, men banded together to raise barns and to bring in the harvest. Women made apple butter and pickles, dried beans, peaches, cherries and blackberries, and buried potatoes, cabbage and apples in the ground for winter use.

One descendent of the mountain folk would say: “These were independent, freedom loving people. They worshipped God and lived as they felt was right under His laws as laid out in the Bible.”

The Rosebrook Inn Pavilion Interior

By the turn of the century they’d cleared meadows in the hollows to make way for pastures, where they raised cattle and hogs. They’d built flour mills, grist mills and saw mills, around which little communities had developed.

But travel had always been difficult, with narrow dirt roads winding down the mountain around boulders that often shifted when the snow melted in the spring, or after heavy summer rains, leading, more or less, to isolation and the arrival of missionaries.

Historical records indicate that the large four-story building that is now the Inn was constructed to serve as classroom, chapel, office, library and living quarters.

“The kitchen was on the lowest level,” Mike explains. “The middle floor contained the classrooms, chapel, office and library, and the top floor was the dormitory. The girls stayed in the dormitory, and the boys stayed in the main house, where my family now lives.”

The two-bedroom cottage out back of the Inn that now serves as a guest cottage was the home of the school’s headmistress.

“The school only lasted about 10 years, and then the government bought the property for a resettlement camp,” Mike explains.

For several years a group of local organizations and businessmen had been touting the Blue Ridge as a location for a national park. Congress approved the location, but made it clear that it would not accept the land from the state unless it was uninhabited. Virginia’s Public Park Condemnation Act, enacted in 1928, gave the state the right to seize the land via eminent domain.

The need for the mission school, and others like it, faded into history as a special agent walked the mountains, getting people to sign their land over to the state. Those who did not own property, who wished to remain in their homes as long as they could, were allowed to stay on their property until alternative housing was found.

Some of that “alternative housing” was in the form of resettlement camps, which had their beginnings under the Subsistence Homesteads Division of the Department of the Interior, formed in 1933.  According to historical records, the poor were moved to small plots of land in “model communities” where they could live in safe, clean houses and learn to produce enough food to become self-sustaining.

The Rosebrook Inn's Coca-Cola Kitchen

One of those model communities was out back of what was the Church of the Brethren Industrial School, and what would become the Rosebrook Inn.

“There were between 16 and 29 homes here,” says Mike, “but the people were left on their own, and we don’t have any records of what happened to them, some of the foundations of the homes still exist.”

Historical records indicate that he homes had to be purchased, and, after assessment by the Resettlement Administration, many families did not qualify for the government loan needed to purchase one, and so they, like the school that had once occupied the Rosebrook property, faded into history.

The resettlement facility was closed, and the property would have several owners before the Skeens purchased it in 1981.

“I gutted both houses and refinished them,” says Mike. “About a hundred people came through the property during the Greene County Historical Society Tour, and even though our work wasn’t finished at the time, one man said it was the best tour he’d had in the county.”

The following year the Rosebrook Inn was born.

Today, in addition to serving as a gathering place for celebrants from here and there, the Rosebrook Inn serves as a touchstone for those who want to revisit their childhoods, or the childhoods of their ancestors.

“People who were at the school as children have stopped by, and others, whose parents or grandparents were here, still stop by,” says Mike. “The Inn is a draw for them, and, when they share their histories, I learn more about my home from them.”

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