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Overnighting with History at Virginia’s Inn at Narrow Passage
By Tom Adkinson

EDINBURG, Va. – The first time Ellen Markel saw the Inn at Narrow Passage, her husband, Ed, was lifting her up to peer through a dirty window into a sad, soggy, unoccupied building, part of which dated to 1740.

Their conclusion: “This place is a gem.”

At least that was their conclusion after they decided to buy the historic property, invest considerable sweat equity, get to know tradesman from throughout the Shenandoah Valley and learn the hospitality industry.

inn at narrow passage
The core of the Inn at Narrow Passage was built in 1740. George Washington could have slept here, but didn’t; image by Tom Adkinson.

“Who knows what all has happened here?” Ellen pondered, sitting at a breakfast table in part of the inn built around 1780.

George Washington could have slept here. He didn’t, but the core of the inn was here along the Great Wagon Road (now Rt. 11) when Washington was surveying in this neck of the woods for Lord Fairfax. Washington was Lord Fairfax’s official surveyor of northwestern Virginia in the late 1740s.

inn at narrow passage
Expect fresh fruit, baked goods and a full breakfast at the Inn at Narrow Passage -- image by Tom Adkinson.
  inn at narrow passage
An understated sign marks the entrance to the Inn at Narrow Passage -- image by Tom Adkinson.

The Inn at Narrow Passage – named for a constricted portion of the Great Wagon Road wide enough for only one westward-moving wagon and therefore a strategic place for Indian attacks in the 1750s – is a notable lodging place in the northern portion of the Shenandoah Valley. It is halfway between Harrisonburg to the south and Winchester to the north and offers 12 rooms, all decorated in a colonial style but with all the modern conveniences.

Through almost three centuries, the Inn at Narrow Passage has seen a lot and endured a lot. Pioneers stayed here on their way west. Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson made it his headquarters during the Valley Campaign of 1862. After the Civil War, it became a resort along the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, where people could escape the heat of the cities. For a while, it was a private school for young ladies.

It also was a private home, and it was divided into apartments before standing empty when the Markels came into the picture. Ed, observing that he made an early exit from corporate life, sought something to occupy himself.

“I wanted either a hardware store or a country inn. My guardian angel put me here,” he said.

The peering-through-the-window episode was in 1983. Two years later was when the newly minted innkeepers received their first guests. Since then, guests have arrived from around the world.

inn at narrow passage
The 12 rooms at the Inn at Narrow Passage are decorated in a colonial style but with all the modern conveniences -- Image by Tom Adkinson

  inn at narrow passage
A covered bridge over the North Fork of the Shenandoah River is a nearby attraction -- Image by Tom Adkinson

Rooms come with a bountiful breakfast that is served buffet-style if occupancy is high or delivered already plated if there happens not to be many rooms occupied. Either way, Ed and/or Ellen are around for conversation and tips about enjoying the surrounding countryside.

“This was a good place to save,” Ed said, especially if the alternative was trying to keep a small-town hardware store alive in an era of Lowe’s and Home Depot.

What to see nearby:

• Wineries are abundant. The two closest to the inn are Shenandoah Vineyards and Muse, and the Markels can help you find the rest.
• Luray Caverns is at the end of a twisty drive through the mountains.
• Route 11 Chips, a popular regional brand of potato chips, welcomes guests to its manufacturing plant.
• A picturesque covered bridge is a short distance from Route 11 Chips.
• Swover Creek Farms offers excellent craft beers and pick-your-own berries in season.
• The summertime Shenandoah Valley Music Festival is in Orkney Springs, a mountain retreat about 30 minutes from the inn.

Trip-planning resources:,,

Published October 19, 2018

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