Historic Country Inns to Visit Over the Holidays
By Ellen Moyer
The seasons are changing. Our life outdoors, gardening, walking and sailing is on hold while the world sleeps. The frost of Winter, however, offers new opportunities for discovering new places and sharing time with friends in quieter moments. Throughout history the dining table has been a gathering place for conversation, relaxation and the best of hospitality. If you like fine food, wine and the ambience of historical country inns, the two come together in northern Baltimore County horse country with three fine restaurants. Between the snow swirls, load up your car and follow the Baltimore Beltway North.
The Valley Inn has been a landmark on Falls Road since 1832. Popular with the horse country crowd, the two and one-half story stone structure was built as an inn and restaurant and never stopped until 2010 when it was closed for renovation. Now refurbished, the Valley Inn is back in business. Memories of the horse patrons who found this their special place for casual dining fill the walls with original photos.
When built, the inn faced the new railroad, the Baltimore and Susquehanna, chartered by the Maryland legislature in 1828. The line that would eventually become the North Central Railroad extended 380 miles to York. It passed through Mt. Washington, Lutherville, Timonium, Monkton, Cockeysville and Sparks with stops along the way. Presumably, the Valley Inn was built to accommodate passengers on the rail line as well as coach passengers on the historic Falls Road. In August 1972, Hurricane Hazel wiped out much of the railroad track and one of the oldest railroad lines, 134 years in operation, came to an end.
The rural community of Sparks along the old York Road got its name from the railroad. A switching place on the property owned by the Sparks family was finally shortened to a town named Sparks, a community once named Philapolis and earlier Priceville. The abandoned railroad is now a hiker biker trail along the Gunpowder River that runs through Sparks and extends to York, Pa.
Sparks is also the site of The Milton Inn, holder of the prestigious DiRoNA Award and the 5 Star Diamond Award. Originally built in 1740 as a coach stop for Quakers who settled the area, the charming stone country inn served visitors for 100 years. It then served the area as a classic cooking academy for boys. (Infamously, John Wilkes Booth attended the school). It was named the Milton Academy after John Milton, author of Paradise Lost. In 1947 it was purchased, restored and has served the public ever since with fine dining, excellent wines and comfortable ambience.
Milton Inn’s Chef Brian Boston, a Baltimore native, has been named chef of the year and brought numerous awards to the Milton Inn. He shares his culinary expertise with fundraising for Poverty Solutions. The chef also happens to be a Maryland state equestrian champion four years running caring for his two horses in his spare time.
Back in the heart of horse country on Shawan Road near Hunt Valley, The Oregon Grill announces its horse connections with a pathway lined by statues of jockeys of award-winning horses. Inside the stone country home built by the Price family more than 200 years ago on land patented in 1737, the art of the horse covers the walls. Over the years the home has served employees of the iron ore furnace and limestone quarries of Oregon Ridge, a retail store and a post office. Its life as a restaurant is relatively new. Oregon Grill has a cozy atmosphere, a bar with a wood-burning stove and is a romantic getaway in Baltimore County’s horse country.
For information or reservations for a Winter getaway contact:
Valley Inn, 10501 Falls Rd, Lutherville, 410.828.0002
Oregon Grill, 1201 Shawan Rd, Hunt Valley, 410.7711.0505
Milton Inn, 14833 York Rd, Sparks, 410.771.4366
Ellen, a former mayor of Annapolis, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org