Home From the past, into the future: The Buckhorn Inn provides farm-to-table dining

From the past, into the future: The Buckhorn Inn provides farm-to-table dining

Rebecca Barnabi
buckhorn inn
Photo by Rebecca Barnabi

Jack and Brenda Kearney of Harrisonburg purchased the Buckhorn Inn in July 2021.

Soon after, Brandon and Danielle McCown came on as business partners in the Churchville bed and breakfast.

Established in 1811 as a tavern and stagecoach stop, the inn was also a gambling and dance hall.

“So, if you left Staunton that would have been your first stop [on the stagecoach],” Jack Kearney said.

After the Battle of McDowell in the American Civil War, soldiers temporarily used the inn as an infirmary.

“As the story goes, they stayed there on the way back,” Kearney said.

Before the war, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and his wife stayed at the inn and visited the spring nearby.

Kearney said the creek near the inn was named after the inn, and stories about the inn’s name include that it resembled a tavern in New York by that name or that a big buck was killed behind the inn in the 1940s. Hunters slept on the floor and received a hot meal during hunting season.

“We have a love for old historic buildings, and we want to preserve history in the area,” Kearney said.

In the 40 years before the Kearneys purchased the inn, buffet meals were provided, but in a COVID-19 world, that style of dining is not appropriate. Kearney said the owners chose to provide an elevated form of Appalachian dining with locally sourced meat and vegetables. In the six months after purchasing the inn, the Kearneys won five Shenandoah Valley Best Awards for best date night, bed and breakfast, brunch, farm to table and specialty cocktails.

Guests are welcome seven nights a week in the inn’s five rooms. Dinner is available to the public, not just guests, on Fridays and Saturdays, and brunch on Sundays.

The Kearneys also own a restaurant, The Thomas House, in Dayton, Va.

According to Kearney, at the Buckhorn Inn, guests can receive the same level of food quality as at a fine dining restaurant in Staunton or Harrisonburg, but at a less expensive cost, and in a restaurant that is not crowded.

In the spring, Kearney said he and the other owners hope to have four patios with fire pits available for outdoor dining and live music. Guests will be able to sip a cocktail or drink a beer while hearing the sounds of the creek flow and feel the warmth of a bonfire.

The Buckhorn Inn is the only restaurant on the west side.

“So that’s a niche we’re going to be carving out next spring,” Kearney said.

The inn also has its own crafted beer. Brandon McCowan and Kearney are home brewers and worked up a brew for the inn.

“I was curious as to what people would have been drinking back in 1850,” Kearney said of the inspiration for the fall brew: fermented pumpkin with sassafras. Kearney said the beer has a root beer flavor.

Beers from local breweries and wines from local wineries, including Barren Ridge, are available at the inn.

Kearney said the inn will work more in 2023 with local food distributors, wineries and breweries, and hold tasting events. Meat and greets will give guests opportunities to meet local meat vendors and try their products.

“We like the idea of farm-to-table,” Kearney said.

The Kearneys were married at the Buckhorn, and next spring hope to again provide the inn as a venue for weddings.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.