I spent one of the most memorable weekends of my life at the Welbourne Inn Bed and Breakfast in Middleburg, Va., a few years ago. Looking back on it now, I feel like I was in a time warp—or maybe I dreamed the whole thing.
In any event, it seemed like all of the stars lined up just right to allow me to get a true glimpse into the past.
Since I was working on a Civil War novel at the time, it was truly a surreal experience.
Come along as I tell you about this remarkable historical inn that will transport you back in time.
Introduction to Welbourne Inn Bed and Breakfast
Welbourne is a 520-acre estate that has operated as a bed-and-breakfast since the 1930s. It has also served as a writing retreat of sorts, having hosted some famous writers for long visits, including Thomas Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Sidenote: I found out later that they stayed in the same room that I did. What a coincidence!
In the 1970s, the farm began to be used as a retired horse boarding operation that continues today. (Another reason I loved it so much).
As you will see in the information below, horses have been an integral part of Welbourne’s inhabitants for generations.
History Of Welbourne Inn
I’m not sure which is more fascinating, the people who have lived in and visited Welbourne over the years, or the impressive house itself.
Let’s start with the house. The famous writer Thomas Wolfe called Welbourne “one of the most beautiful plantations houses you ever saw” when he visited in the 1930s.
Indeed it is! The original core of the house (now the South wing), was built about 1770, before we were even a nation.
The Welbourne name comes from John Peyton Dulany. He bought the property and named it for his wife, Mary Anne DeButts, who was born at “Welbourne Hall” in Lincolnshire, England.
In the 1800s, Welbourne became the home of Col. Richard Henry Dulany, the great-great-great-grandfather of the current innkeepers.
Colonel Dulany is well known in the horse world as being the founder of the nation’s oldest foxhunting club (Piedmont Fox Hounds in 1840), as well as the oldest horse show (Upperville Colt & Horse Show in 1853).
One of the first things visitors will notice when they drive through the gates of Welbourne inn is a two-story portico with Italianate columns that were added in the 1850s. They give the house a stately bearing and an indication of the Southern charm you will find within.
The house was further enlarged with a two-story addition on the south side in the 1870s.
Like other properties that were part of a large plantation, Welbourne is located in a park-like setting with mature trees, attractive gardens and hundreds of acres of pastures.
Numerous outbuildings remain on the property, including a greenhouse, billiard house, carriage house, and farm office that are now used as residences.
A smokehouse, springhouse, and icehouse from the original estate are also still there, as is the ivy-covered old schoolhouse. Located in the garden, the schoolhouse was used by a private tutor to teach Colonel Dulany’s children French, Latin and the three R’s.
Amazingly, a circa-1750 log cabin, called the Old Dwelling still stands as well.
A Visit To Welbourne Bed And Breakfast
I would compare walking into the Welbourne bed and breakfast inn with walking into a museum because of all of the heirlooms and impressive family portraits that adorn the walls.
Yet the atmosphere is not stuffy like a museum. Welbourne is a home. Authentic. Warm. Welcoming. It’s like an old soul, full of vintage charm and character.
A visit to this historic property provides a unique and incomparable experience that gives visitors a first-hand look at mid-19th century plantation life in Virginia.
My Welbourne Experience
When the innkeeper called me and explained how to get to my room in case she wasn’t there when I arrived, I knew it was going to be a good trip. She said that I should turn right at the front door, and go straight through the library…”
Straight through the library? It already sounded like I was going to love it, but things just got better.
My arrival at Welbourne inn soon thereafter gave me the opportunity to meet the innkeeper, Miss Sherry, at the time.
I can’t begin to tell you what a joy it was to walk through the library. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves were overflowing with old books (as in 10,000 of them), and vintage chairs accentuated the authentic feeling of the room. (It’s pretty much how I picture heaven).
I ended up spending a lot of time in the library, and came away with an list of out-of-print books that I’ve slowly been adding to my collection ever since. I was surprised, though, at how many of the titles I already had. On the topics of the Civil War, Virginia history and the Confederacy, I share the same tastes as the Morisons.
The Guest Rooms At Welbourne Inn
I learned that Welbourne has five main guest rooms, all with wood-burning fireplaces and private baths. There are an additional five small rooms attached that have shared baths for families with children.
My room (the End Room) was not only beautiful, but was located in its own wing on the first floor with a private door onto the front lawn.
Pictured is one side of my bedroom, with the door on the right opening to the front. That is only half the room. The other side had an antique table, antique writing desk, sitting chair, and huge armoire. I felt like I had stepped back in time.
After showing me my room, Miss Sherry told me I might want to close my front door since there were “soldiers” everywhere.
Yes, soldiers. Because it just so happened that there were re-enactors camping on the historic property for the weekend.
A Magical Weekend At Welbourne
As I said before, at the time of my visit, I was working on a Civil War novel, so seeing men in Civil War uniforms wandering about the grounds of a historic house seemed like a great way to immerse myself in the era.
A short time after the innkeeper left, the hounds started barking and I watched four Confederate cavalrymen ride up the driveway right outside my door. They were heading for the water tubs for the horses—which just happened to be right outside my room. (Thank you very much).
Welbourne is a special place for anyone who loves history, and is often used as a retreat for reenactors. During the Civil War, real soldiers camped on the lawn, and bullets were said to have pinged off the roof during the Battle of Unison.
Even more noteworthy to me was that three of my favorite historical figures from the Civil War also visited Welbourne: J.E.B. Stuart, John S. Mosby and John Pelham.
As a matter of fact, John Pelham scratched the name of his aide-de-camp “GC Walker Oct. 28 1862,” into the glass of a window in the parlor at Welbourne. He also scratched the letter “J,” but before he could complete his own name, thirteen-year-old Mary Dulany came into fetch him for breakfast.
For those who don’t know much about the Civil War, John Pelham joined the military at the age of 23 and was killed near Kelly’s Ford when he was 24. Years later, Mary Dulany named her own home “Pelham” after the young officer.
Robert E. Lee called him “The Gallant Pelham,” and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson said, “With a John Pelham on each flank I believe I could whip the world.”
Welbourne And The Civil War
Everyone has heard of J.E.B. Stuart, and now you know about John Pelham, but unless you live in Virginia, you may not be as familiar with John Mosby.
I have to mention a little bit about him, since he is the inspiration for the main character in my Civil War novel, Shades of Gray. Being able to stay at Welbourne and walk in his footsteps throughout the Middleburg area was a wonderful experience.
Mosby was a charismatic officer whose small band of partisans outwitted and outfought the Union army on the fields and farmlands of northern Virginia.
He was kind of like the Mel Gibson character in the movie “The Patriot” and did, in fact, use the same ambushing techniques that General Francis Marion used in the Revolutionary War.
Sounds like a great character for a Civil War novel, right?
Staying at Welbourne gave me the opportunity to explore other places where Mosby had been active, including his former headquarters. Only a stone chimney remains of that property since it was burned by the Yankees.
The “Hathaway house” is also nearby. From a window in this house, Mosby had to crawl onto a tree limb in the middle of the night to evade being captured.
The tree still stands. It’s amazing to be able to touch a living thing that witnessed so much history.
Another incident that took place at Welbourne during the Civil War was the near capture of Johnny DeButts in February 1864. He was reportedly hidden in a feather bed beneath three young cousins, who appeared to be innocently sleeping when the Union soldiers searched.
My Civil War Experience At Welbourne
Back to my visit to Welbourne inn.
My trip to Welbourne was a last-minute decision that I made after hearing about an event hosted by the Virginia Piedmont Heritage Area (formerly called the Mosby Heritage Area Association) at Welbourne and the neighboring historic home called Crednal.
Since I had recently read a copy of the Dulanys of Welbourne by Margaret Ann Vogtsberger, I knew it was a place I had to visit.
I had no idea that I would get to really step back in time, but my first evening there opened my eyes to the sites, sounds and smells of another world.
When I stepped out my front door, I could just make out the main campfire of the reenactors flickering through the trees and hear men’s voices being carried in the breeze.
At times their tones were quiet and hushed, but sometimes I could hear laughter quite clearly—just like I would suspect occurred during the Civil War.
As darkness descended more fully, someone lit candles in the parlor. The flickering light reflected and shimmered off the pillars outside and cast a glow so different from harsh, modern lights that I can’t really describe it.
Unbelievably, I was awakened the next morning by a bugle call—or an attempt at a bugle call. Laughter and jokes ensued about the supposed musician’s bugling abilities, followed by the sounds of the soldiers preparing to ride out.
They watered their horses and then the sound of their hoofbeats and their voices faded away.
All was quiet until 7:45 a.m., when a unit of infantry marched by my room…
Can you see why I sometimes think this was all a dream?
Bringing History To Life
The reason for my visit to Welbourne was to see the re-enactment and living history presentation put on by the Valley Light group out of Winchester (THE most realistic looking re-enactment group I have ever seen).
The scenario featured a group of Yankees riding up to Welbourne and taking a young boy prisoner in retaliation for Mosby’s raids in the area. The women in the picture were trying to get their child back.
It was a realistic and heartrending depiction since it took place just as night was falling. All was well at the end when the Confederates rode in and returned the boy safely into the arms of his mother.
Sidenote: I assumed the poor quality of the photo was from dust, but this is the only photo in which the “orbs” appear.
Welbourne Is A Writers’ Paradise
I am not the only writer to be drawn to the mystical nature of Welbourne as a historic hideout and retreat.
As I stated before, Welbourne Inn hosted to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe in the 1930s, both of whom used the house as a setting in their works.
In Fitzgerald’s short story called “Her Last Case,” he wrote: “The house floated up suddenly through the twilight…the intimate gardens only half seen from the front, the hint of other more secret verandas…”
Wolfe used the house as a setting as well, calling it “Malbourne” instead of Welbourne. He wrote: “The house in its general design is not unlike the one at Mount Vernon…yet surpasses it in its warmth and naturalness.”
I could not agree more. He goes on: “The place is warm with life, instantly familiar the moment that a stranger enters it.”
Those who prefer 5-star hotels may not admire and appreciate the understated elegance of Welbourne, but to me, every creaky floor shows off its special character and each heirloom on display is a treasure from the past.
As if that weren’t enough, it’s located in Mosby Country. An additional draw for me is that it’s surrounded by horses and hunt country. To top it off, Goose Creek runs along the back of the property and the Blue Ridge Mountains provide a spectacular backdrop.
Definitely a writer’s paradise.
Getting To Welbourne
Another unique thing about traveling to Welbourne—and anywhere in that part of Virginia—are the dirt roads.
When I was researching my novel, I would try to plan all my trips without going on a paved road, which was not a very difficult to do.
Here is a photo of Route 743, which is the road that Welbourne is located on. It may have been widened now, but it was an interesting drive to go over hills and around corners without being able to see what was on the other side.
I remember laughing when I saw a sign that said “one lane bridge ahead.” That meant they considered what I was driving on to be two lanes?
The endless miles of stone walls are also distinctive to this part of Virginia. Anyone who has read the Civil War novel Shades of Gray, knows there is a scene in which a stone wall plays a role.
There are many accounts during the war in which stone walls either saved someone—or resulted in their capture.
Staying At Welbourne Inn
You can’t have a bed and breakfast without breakfast and Welbourne Inn does not disappoint! They feature a hearty southern breakfast served on family China in the Dining Room during the colder months and a lighter modified version when it’s warm.
Self-service coffee and tea are available anytime.
Another part of the Welbourne experience is that guests are welcome to help themselves to a drink in the Parlor and gather there or on the porch, depending on the weather before dinner.
All of the guests at Welbourne have access to the common rooms in the house, including the Parlor, Library, Dining Room, Music Room, front and back porches and kitchen.
You are also welcome to explore their 520 acres that feature gardens with seating areas, retired horses roaming the fields, woods, fields and creeks.
And yes, dogs are welcome, but should be kept on a leash until the resident dogs get to know them.
In addition to being used as a bed and breakfast inn, Welbourne is an ideal venue for weddings and rehearsal dinners, cocktail and dinner parties, family reunions, conferences, meetings, and retreats.
You can find your next getaway, book your night at Welbourne Inn, or just check the rates out on TripAdvisor.
Welbourne Inn Featured In A Movie
In doing research for this post, I discovered that a feature film, as well as an episode of The Amazing Race, were filmed at Welbourne.
Of course I had to watch the movie, called Crazy Like a Fox, which is based loosely on the family and the late father of the current innkeepers.
It was fun to watch the different scenes and recognize the fields, barns and rooms in the house at Welbourne.
The movie is a comedy-drama about a man who is evicted from his eighth-generation family home and fights to win it back. The film stars Tony Award-winner Roger Rees and two-time Academy Award-nominee Mary McDonnell and was written and directed by Richard Squires, a long-time Welbourne tenant.
Final Thoughts On Welbourne Inn
This post does not begin to cover everything I did over the weekend, but I hope it gives you a taste. Perhaps the most memorable part was Nat Morison, the owner of Welbourne at the time, showing me two of his unbelievable historic treasures. I could not believe my eyes!
Nat was busy taking care of the horses, so I only talked with him briefly during my visit. It is one of the biggest regrets of my life that I didn’t get the time to sit down and chat about history with him before he passed away in 2019.
I’m usually anxious to get home after being away—but on my trip to Welbourne—I somehow felt like I was already there.
If You Want To Visit The Welbourne Inn
Welbourne is located right outside Middleburg, Va., a small historical Virginia town that is unlike anywhere in the world.
2314 Welbourne Farm Lane, Middleburg, VA 20117. Phone 540-270-5854.