Photo by Prestige Photography
“People have a lot of misconceptions about Appalachia and West Virginia in particular,” says Harry Sanford. He and Chatman Neely are co-owners of the 35-acre Highland Springs Farm—and the Barn With Inn Bed and Breakfast—in Wellsburg, W.Va. “When people visit us from Pittsburgh or California or Austin, they are surprised to find that the region is more of a destination than they assumed. They’re surprised to find that organic, farm-to-table food can be sophisticated and worldly.”
They may also be surprised that two gay, married men are operating a bed and breakfast in what many perceive as one of the most conservative states in the country. Sanford and Neely were legally married in Maryland in 2013, and after two decades as a couple, they finally felt comfortable owning and operating a business together.
“There are close to 2,000 legal privileges that married couples have that unmarried people don’t,” Neely says, “and a lot of those pertain to property ownership and other legal protections.”
“The validation of being legally married has allowed us to operate as a couple instead of as business partners,” Sanford adds. “When we go to business meetings we go as a married couple running a business together instead of two guys partnering on a business.”
“It also makes me feel like I’m much more a part of my culture and my country than I ever thought I would be,” Neely says. “We’d been in a relationship for twenty years before we got married, but now we own a piece of the American Dream, and no one can take it away from us.”
Part of that dream has become a reality with this spring’s grand opening of Barn With Inn, a bed and breakfast on the farm that combines rural farm life with world-class hospitality.
Neely, a social worker, has long served the region by caring for its people, while Sanford, a veterinarian, has done the same by caring for its animals. The skills acquired and refined over those years of service are now serving the two men well as the owners and operators of Barn With Inn.
“As a social worker, I’m compelled to show people it’s okay to let others take care of them,” Neely, the inn’s executive chef, says. The three of us have gathered in the sitting area of one of the guest rooms: a renovated hayloft where two skylights and a large picture window allow the mid-morning April sun to illuminate the room’s Victorian furniture and antique furnishings.
“And I’m a scientist,” Sanford, the inn’s farm manager, says, “so I’m drawn to details and organization, and I want to plan and organize and carry out things in great detail so our guests can relax.”
This balance of care and detail permeates everything about Barn With Inn. While it was once used to store hay during long winters, a local carpenter’s renovation now allows modern luxury to meld effortlessly with recycled materials: radiant-heated floors in the private bathroom, stained-glass wall sconces, cherry hardwoods, pine ceilings and poplar trim, a queen-size headboard customized from 150-year-old hand-hewn cabin posts. But the life of the farm is never far away; to complete the rustic feel two windows allow guests to peer down into the barn where donkeys, sheep, chickens, pigs, and other animals go about their day as if no one were watching.
“There’s a whisper here that reminds us to listen to our interior voices,” Neely adds. “That’s what our animals do: they eat when they’re hungry, they drink when they’re thirsty, they nap when they’re tired. They have very simple but purposeful routines. That’s the experience we want our guests to have.”
The cuisine at Barn With Inn centers around what’s ripe in the garden, what’s fresh at the local, organic markets, and who’s venturing out to the farm to cook a meal in Neely’s kitchen. This morning’s breakfast was a vegetable frittata courtesy of the farm’s free-range chickens and the garden’s fresh asparagus, and last night’s dinner was a four-course Italian feast prepared by two local women who recently relocated from Rome.
For people who aren’t familiar with what the northern panhandle of West Virginia has to offer, the cuisine and accommodations available at Barn With Inn may be unexpected.
“We have an opportunity as ambassadors of the region to remind the public that there are incredible people and opportunities in West Virginia,” Neely says. “There are other farms like ours. There are world-class wine shops and markets and art galleries and musicians.”