The name seems appropriate—The James River House. It’s the new name attached to the 140-year-old, three-story frame building that now serves as an “inn” in Downtown Buchanan.
Twin brothers Dan and John Mays are the proprietors, they of the Twin Rivers Outfitters that sits behind the new inn and across Lowe Street on the banks of the James River.
The inn is an endeavor that grew out of Twin Rivers Outfitters, and one that is already complementing their river float business.
The Mays brothers moved Twin Rivers Outfitters from Glasgow in neighboring Rockbridge County to the banks of the James in Buchanan a couple of years ago. They bought the canoe livery business a couple of years before that, and realized being riverside would be a real plus.
As one of the leading outdoor recreation businesses in the county, they decided it would be nice to have a place in Buchanan’s downtown for more out-of-town customers to stay.
So, when the former antique shop moved across the street and out of what is locally known as the Rogers House, the brothers decided to buy the building, renovate it and turn it into an inn.
It fits nicely into Botetourt County’s tourism plan, too.
The county has just started promoting the James River as a “blue way trail.” It’s called The Upper James River Water Trail and has a website of the same name—www.upperjamesriverwatertrail.com. It tells potential visitors all about floating the James River and promotes restaurants, motels, inns and other businesses that complement the tourist trade.
The James River Inn is the largest of the other two places to stay in the town proper. The Rhein River Inn Restaurant, Bed & Breakfast is south on Main Street and has two rooms available and The Buchanan Rail Car Inn is a block off Main Street in a converted vintage 1934 Hiawatha dining car. Wattstull Court, a motel, is just northeast of town off I-81.
The Mays brothers bought the James River House 18 months ago and spent more than a year doing the renovations themselves. They previewed inn last winter during the town’s annual Christmas Homes Tour. That allowed more than 300 visitors to get a peek at the restoration.
Buchanan Downtown Revitalization Manager Harry Gleason said the home is where many of Buchanan’s residents went for piano lessons when the Rogers family owned it.
More recently, it served as home to James River Antiques.
Dan Mays, during a short tour of the inn, said by early April, they had already booked more than 30 rooms for the summer.
He thinks the inn will be a great place to stay for visitors who want to spend two or three days in the area where they can get on the river, browse the downtown’s collection of antique shops, go to nearby Natural Bridge or Peaks of Otter, take in one of the wineries or enjoy the thousands of acres of nearby national forest. In fact, among the inn’s first customers were some hunters who stayed there last fall.
The house is on the National Register as a Historic Landmark and features details of a prominent family home from the mid to late 1800s, Gleason said.
From Main Street, the prominent two-story porch and original ornate front door greets visitors. That second story porch is one of the features of the inn’s single suite—The James River Suite.
Four of the five guest rooms are named after area rivers, the Jackson, the Maury, the Cowpasture and the James River. The fifth is The Stone Room and is in the basement.
Historic features of the home include its large front hall with ornate staircase, formal parlor and dining room with pocket doors and original mantles, ornate tiles and hardwood floors.
When the Mayses started renovating, they took the interior down to the studs, saved the woodwork and put it back in place. They also moved a double pocket door from upstairs back to where it originally had been between the front parlor and formal dining room.
The brothers did most of the renovations themselves—just as they’d done when they built the headquarters for their canoe livery.
Each guest room has its own bath and each is unique. One includes an antique claw foot bathtub they cleaned up and Mays described as “very comfortable.”
The inn is decorated with a blend of contemporary and antique furnishings. The walls are decorated with an eclectic collection of art by the Mayses’ mother and Dan’s wife and other area artists who are featured in Gallery By The James, a cooperative art gallery that’s next door.
Dan Mays said right now they are getting mostly vacation rentals, some through their listing on Vacation Rental By Owner website, www.vrbo.com/276548.
By having their own guest rooms, Twin River Outfitters also is able to offer packages that combine rooms and river outings.
Visitors can rent rooms individually or the whole house is available. The whole house can accommodate up to 15 people. The rooms also have a mix of beds for a variety of visitors.
The room with the most beds, The Stone Room, is in the basement. It has six bunk beds where a family could sequester the kids if they wanted. The walls are stone and there’s a door to the fenced and walled courtyard on the northeast side of the house. There’s a flat screen TV and Xbox 360, too.
At one time, this basement room was where the home’s owners kept horses, Mays said. They had to break out the stone water trough that ran along one wall when they did renovations.
Mays said they’ll continue their renovation work by landscaping the courtyard. It actually is six or eight feet below the Main Street sidewalk that runs along one side.
As he talks about the courtyard, Mays looks skyward, up the walls of the original clapboard siding to the peak of the roofline. The burgundy paint is new. Mays says it was quite a job being on scaffolding up to the peak of the roof. “I hope we don’t have to paint it again for a while,” Mays added.
For more about the inn and Twin Rivers Outfitters, visit http://canoevirginia.net.