Nestled in the George Washington National Forest and about 4 miles from Vesuvius proper, the Sugar Tree Inn offers a woodsy break from the madding crowd.
The main lodge, built in 1984 out of reclaimed 19th-century logs, houses three guest rooms. Each has a large bed topped by a traditionally patterned quilt, along with tall-back rockers, wood-burning fireplaces, and hurricane lamps. Rooms in the tree-shaded buildings nearby (with names like the Log House and Creek House) round out the accommodations. Just outside of each, the forest beckons.
“There’s no street noise, no cars,” says 39-year-old former mining engineer Russ Fox, who owns the place with his wife, Kelly, 36, a former paralegal and social worker. “Once the sun goes down, all you can see are the stars and all you can hear is the wind in the trees.” And on occasion, a little sprite shows guests around.
“This is our dining room,” Freddie Fox, age 5, pleasantly informs a visitor, entering a long, rectangular space in the main lodge. A bank of windows looks out and up a hillside thick with ferns and columbines.
“Whenever people show up, he shows them where the rooms are,” Russ says of the couple’s son. “Freddie is our goodwill ambassador.”
The purchase of Sugar Tree in December 2016 signified a homecoming for the family of four (they have a 20-month-old daughter, Edy). They were both living in Virginia when they met in 2004 but moved to Alabama after they married. After Freddie’s birth, they realized they wanted to return to Virginia to work and raise their children.
Disappointed with the available mining jobs, Russ looked at other opportunities. He and Kelly took stock of their entrepreneurial skills and began mulling the idea of running an inn, even though, Russ says, “I’d never stayed at a B&B before.”
Kelly, who’d earned an English degree from Radford University and a master’s from the University of Alabama, went into research mode, reading blogs and websites. The Foxes hired a broker to comb the state for a B&B that would fit their growing family. They found it in the woods of Rockbridge County.
Inn keeping isn’t easy, says Russ, who does much of the cooking and handles repairs, “but Kelly and I knew how to cook and clean; we could learn how to host; and I consider myself to be a fairly handy guy.”
These days, when she isn’t hosting, cleaning, cooking, buying supplies, or letting phone calls at 2 a.m. go to voicemail, Kelly meets with local groups, hoping to boost Sugar Tree’s involvement with the community. “We hope to get it right for our family,” she says. “We want to be able to raise our kids here and see them go off to college. We want to be here for a long time.”