Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2015 - 47
a restaurant sporting great mountain
Martha Washington inn
150 West Main street,
276-628-3161 | theMartha.coM
Famous For its intricate interior
and antique ambiance, the Martha
Washington Inn of Abingdon,
Virginia, was originally built as a
mansion in the early 1830s for the
wealthy Preston family.
The patriarch, Francis, was an
attorney who made a fortune in the
salt excavation business of Saltville,
Virginia. His wife, Sarah, was a niece
of Patrick ("Give me liberty or give
me death!") Henry.
Still, it's the story of the women's
school here - existing for about
three-quarters of a century - that
has inspired most intrigue at this
upscale hotel and spa, a southwest
Virginia institution where suites
include luxurious beds and blissful
views of meticulously-shaped
Come sip sherry by the fireplace
in the library. Stroll the creaky
wooden floors. Or make laps in the
salt-water swimming pool, an
indoor amenity built to resemble an
old pool used by the students of the
Martha Washington College.
"There are no tests. There is no
homework," says Chris Lowe, the
hotel manager. "It's just P.E. and
gymnastics the whole time."
Founded in 1858, Martha
Washington College opened in
1860. Yet, in only a few years, students became nurses as the Civil
War ravaged Abingdon, and this
women's college turned into a temporary hospital. Later, with a string
of war-related ghost tales attached
to the brick building, the Martha
Washington College succumbed to
financial woes in the 1930s.
The school closed during the
Great Depression but reopened as a
hotel in the mid-1930s. It has hosted
the old bramwell high school in the coalfields of West Virginia is now a lodge for atV users.
such famous guests as Jimmy Carter,
Bill Clinton and Elizabeth Taylor.
For a while, a few surviving
"Martha Girls" returned for
reunions. Today, however, their
legacy lives on largely in pictures
hanging in the hotel hallways.
Vintage images show where they
once studied and shared secrets.
Restaurant for Recess: Hamburgers
are grand, gourmet and gargantuan at
the Sisters American Grill, located
inside the Martha Washington Inn. The
restaurant's title pays tribute to the sisterhood of students who attended the
old Martha Washington College.
1860 Michigan aVenue,
Lowanda Gernt shows off a
report card and a photo of schoolchildren. Both memoirs date to
about 1910 - about the time the
Allardt Schoolhouse held classes.
"It didn't exist as a school very
long, because they soon outgrew
it," Gernt says. "It was just one big
The Old Allardt Schoolhouse is
now an overnight rental in
Tennessee's Fentress County. "And
a lot of schoolteachers like to book
it," says Gernt, a retired Allardt
For about 80 years, this small
schoolhouse on the Cumberland
Plateau was used for storage on the
Gernt family farm. Then, about 20
years ago, the Gernts moved the
century-old structure about a quarter of a mile to its present location
at the site of an old house.
The Gernts added an upstairs
with a balcony and a bedroom plus
a downstairs kitchen. Guests at the
two-bed cottage have since included
the former Miss Tennessee 2011,
Erin Hatley, who left behind an
May/June 2015 47
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