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Hummingbird Inn

The inn's hospitality dates back to the late 1700s. "I like to think that's the reason it feels the way it does," innkeeper Dick Matthews says.

By Donna Alvis-Banks

Photography by Eric Brady

George Washington never slept here, but Eleanor Roosevelt did. The first president could have slept at the Hummingbird Inn's original structure, a post-and-beam dwelling that probably served as a trading post for westward-bound travelers pausing at Virginia's Goshen Pass.

It was built in 1780, the year Washington found himself in the midst of the American Revolution. The celebrated first lady stepped off the train in 1935 in Goshen, a little railroad town that sidles up to the western edge of the Shenandoah Valley. Trains still pass by the Hummingbird, named for a passenger locomotive rather than the tiny birds that frequent flowers and feeders Dick and Pam Matthews have strategically placed.

The couple bought their historic bed and breakfast in July 2003.

"We wanted to be our own bosses and have our own business," says Pam, who realized a lifelong dream to manage a B&B. "We looked all over," adds Dick as he relaxes on the plump sofa in the inn's parlor, a room combining the Victorian romance of lace curtains with the modern warmth of gas fireplace logs. "We wanted to stay South."

Finding the Hummingbird Inn was a stroke of luck, they say. Dick and Pam were making a swing through the Shenandoah Valley area, looking at available properties. The inn, owned by Diana and Jeremy Robinson since 1991, was not yet on the market, but the broker escorting the Matthewses arranged a visit.

"We stopped and fell in love with the place — immediately," Dick says. "The house, we both felt, had a warmth about it. Like ships, old houses have personalities. You'll hear sailors say that."

"Other places were gorgeous, but they didn't feel like home," Pam says. "Until we saw this place, nothing struck us as, 'wow.' This place did.

The broker wouldn't make the sale, however, until they promised to spend a weekend there. The broker astutely realized that people who want to buy a bed and breakfast often "have stars in their eyes," Pam says.

Dick and Pam had done their research, though. They bought the Hummingbird with no expectations of making a profit — "Profitable," Pam chuckles, "is not a word in the bed and breakfast industry" — but with every expectation of improving their lifestyle. They haven't been disappointed.

"Look at it this way," Dick explains, "we have a beautiful house to live in. The business pays our living expenses. If we make money on it, it will be when we sell it."


Goshen, which got its name from the Biblical "land of Goshen" or "land of milk and honey," has just 395 residents, but Dick and Pam Matthews have the world at their fingertips.

"The world comes to us," Dick says, noting that the inn has hosted a diverse clientele, from a Texas rice farmer to the daughter of Bud Abbott of Abbott & Costello comedic fame.

"We've had two rocket scientists, as well as people who work at the Pentagon and can't tell us what they do," Pam says. "Veterans returning from Afghanistan or Iraq who want a green place to stay have visited us.

"The house's history draws many. Through their own research and stories gleaned from local folk, the couple learned that a second floor was added above the 1780 room (which is now the inn's rustic den) early in the building's life. In 1853, the house was bought by the Teter family, headed by a man whose fortune came from inventing and patenting the roller window shade.

The Teters, who owned the house for more than 100 years, gave it its Carpenter Gothic (the first American Victorian style) appearance, which includes extensive verandas that wrap around the house, now measuring about 5,500 square feet. At various times, it served as a boarding house and a railway hotel.

The bathtub where Eleanor Roosevelt soaked after her long train ride to visit Pearl Teter Wood still invites guests, as do the five bedrooms, appointed with lovely antiques and reproductions.

"The house has a pattern of hospitality. I like to think that's the reason it feels the way it does," Dick says. "I like to think we're continuing that tradition.

"They've toasted couples who got engaged there and people who celebrated milestones. They even helped one woman re-live a special time of her life.

The woman's family rented the entire inn to celebrate her 90th birthday. For four years in the late 1920s, the woman had lived at the inn when it was a boarding house. For one weekend, at least, she was a young woman again.

Pam and Dick can't find that kind of joy anywhere else.

Donna Alvis-Banks is a features reporter for the New River Bureau of The Roanoke (Va.) Times.


For more information on the Hummingbird Inn, call 1-800-397-3214 or log on to