We Are a Smoke-Free Facility
Our History - 1928 to Today
The concept that eventually led to the development of The Village Inn started in 1928, when O.K. Early of Harrisonburg wanted to provide travelers with a comfortable place to stay on the busy road of U.S. Route 11. On property across from what are now the Rockingham County Fairgrounds, Early built The Green Lantern cottages. Six years later, in 1934, Early moved across the street to build Oak Leigh; but two years later, in 1936, Early moved again - this time just a few hundred yards south to build Pure Village Cottages - known today, as The Village Inn.
Article from Shenandoah Valley Business Journal detailing our history:
Room at the Inn (printed July 1994)
By: Jeff Miller
Reprinted with permission of Shenandoah Valley Business Journal
In 1928, O.K. Early of Harrisonburg had a dream. He wanted to provide travelers with a comfortable place to stay on U.S. Route 11. Interstate highways didn’t exist then, and Route 11 was a very busy road. He took a piece of land and built The Green Lantern cottages, across from what are now the Rockingham County Fair Grounds. In 1934, he moved across the road to build Oak Leigh. Finally, in 1936, he moved just a few hundred yards south to build Pure Village Cottages, which is known today as The Village Inn.
For over 58 years, his little cluster of cottages has continued to attract visitors to the Shenandoah Valley, looking for a rural escape from the city or just looking for a quiet place to spend the night. O.K. Early would probably be very surprised to see his Pure Village Cottages today.
Kermit Early, O.K.’s son and present owner of the establishment, began working for his father in the family business at age 12. “I did anything that came up then. I helped him build, did odd jobs, whatever needed to be done.” Back in 1936, the motel started with nine rooms and connecting garages. The rooms were heated with steam, a big advancement in those days.
The 1941 Directory of Accommodations from the American Automobile Association lists the Inn as:
Pure Village Cottages . . . A group of comfortable Steam-heated cottages consisting of 26 units, 6 with private tile bath, 20 with connecting bath. Nicely furnished. . .private garages. . .electric fans and radio in every cottage. Rates: $2.50 to $3.50 for two persons, $4 to $6 for four persons.
The “Cottages” have changed over the years, and the prices have gone up a little, but the simple country charm and warm hospitality of the Early family is still a large part of The Village Inn experience.
Kermit began managing the property in 1946, when he returned from World War II. He attended Bridgewater College in the morning and worked at Pure Village in the afternoons and evenings. He actually lived in what is now Room 104, with his wife Jean, during the first years of their marriage. He simply built a kitchen and living area onto one of the cottages and called it home until they bought their first house.
O.K., Kermit and his son Kevin share the family hobby as air pilots. The landing strip behind the motel was used for their plane, and guests would fly in to do business or visit Harrisonburg long before the airport in Weyers Cave attracted people.
The Village Inn owned one of the first televisions in the area. Kermit remembers the lobby crowded with local men watching their Dumont television, “It was a snowstorm with a World Series game just barely showing through.” The motel also built one of the first swimming pools in the area, where local residents still swim for $2. Some of the first air conditioners in the area were found in the dining room, “They hung in the windows. [They were] big things, with water coming down over the coils and air blowing through them from behind. My gut feeling is that my father, knowing what the old cabin concept was, knew that facilities were changing quickly. . .we have been trying to keep up with public demand [ever since].” The Village Inn has been renovated and reshaped several times, increasing to 37 rooms and one suite (new this year).
Early says he can’t really name one thing that has changed more than any other. He has observed that the public demands many more amenities when they travel. The first of his father’s motels had oil stoves, no water, a community shower/toilet and was nothing more than a set of primitive cabins. Remote colored televisions, carpeted rooms, whirlpool-tubs, swimming pools, kitchenettes, suites, and decks have all been added as the public began to demand them. “In homes, things have changed, and that brought people to expect more when they travel.”
Another feature that has grown over the years is the restaurant. In the early years, the dining room served as a facility for the guests, with just a few tables and a small kitchen. In the 1950’s, and later in 1965, the dining room facility was expanded to bring in more local residents. Kevin Early, the third-generation manager of The Village Inn, says that dining room business has increased in the last ten years because of the Breakfast and Dinner Buffets. The menu had grown to offer more types of meals, with a varied price range. “The last ten years, the Breakfast Buffet has gone crazy, it increases every year.” The expanded menu has also attracted many people to the dining room.
This past winter, the Earlys added a walk-in refrigerator and freezer unit to the kitchen, changing the appearance of the building again. Two years ago, they completely renovated the dining room with a new tile floor, carpeting, wallpapering, new glass doors, and a new air conditioning system. “We will continue to improve and add-on as the need arises,” Kevin says. He has computerized the dining room and motel for more efficient service and easier accounting.
On a Saturday morning, when the Breakfast Buffet is most popular, or on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday evening when the Evening Buffet is offered, locals and travelers often fill the dining room to capacity.
Linda Long, a breakfast cook at The Village Inn for 18 years says her 4 a.m. wakeup every morning (except Sunday when the dining room is closed) has become a habit. She likes working for “respectable people.”
Eric Miller, a waiter, has worked at the motel for six years, since he was 14. “I think we get busier every year,” he says. Miller started working as a dishwasher, and quickly ascended the ladder as a busboy, waiter, and desk clerk.
“The work atmosphere is comfortable because it is so easy going and unstressful here.” Miller attributes the success of his employer to “their approach. The family-type atmosphere, friendliness to customers and the honesty of the Earlys makes people happy.” Miller, who hopes to someday own his own restaurant, says he has learned much from the Early family, “personal skills and interaction mostly. . .they know how to treat people.” He says that the complete renovation of the swimming pool, room reservations system, upgrading the restaurant, changes in the menu, and constantly making the place better have drawn people back to the Inn.
Kevin agrees, “As rooms go, the quality has increased. Whirlpools, decks, and our new Suite (the only one in Harrisonburg) have made us competitive and popular.” Listings in the AAA and Mobil guides have also given them a national following. Last year, The Philadelphia Enquirer featured them in a story about East Coast getaways.
Kevin, who has been working in the family business since he was “old enough to walk”, says, as a child, he filled drink machines, swept and always knew this is what he wanted to do. His entire family; three sisters, Kermit, Kevin, and mother Jean, all worked at the Inn. Jean still bakes her homemade pies and desserts for the dining room and provides color for the lobby with trimmings from her own flower garden.
Renovations to rooms are thorough. When The Village Inn renovates a room, it is completely torn apart and started over. Next year, they plan to renovate four more rooms, adding Whirlpools and decks, new furniture, and decorations. It is not unusual to see a print by P. Buckley Moss hanging in a room or richly decorated upholstery on the furniture. In the center of rural farmland, each deck holds a spectacular view. Each room has been fitted with individual climate controls. Sensors on the doors and windows save energy by shutting off air units when they are ajar. Though small, The Village Inn has remained competitive and on top of changes in the industry. Every room is clean and unique.
Armina Fitzwater, a housekeeper at The Village Inn for over 20 years, began working there when she was 16, and has been back four times. “I couldn’t stay away, I reckon,” she says. Fitzwater says she likes her employers. “O.K. Early used to call me Joe because he couldn’t remember my name.” She says the prices are the biggest thing to change since she started working there, Room 128, (now part of the new suite) was only $6 then.”
Myrtle Washington, a housekeeper for a total of 30 years, began working there when she was 13 years old. “I made beds and cleaned rooms for 30 cents an hour. They had garages, no televisions, showers...instead of tubs.” Washington actually lived at the motel, in the attic above the dining room and lobby, with her sister. “My sister would wait tables and I was the dishwasher. We did laundry and cleaned rooms.” The laundry room, in those days, consisted of a washer and dryer in the basement of O.K. ‘s house, across the street from the Inn.
Over the years, many guests have returned to The Village Inn, as regulars. Dolly and Ed Frise of Richmond have been coming back to the Valley to relive their honeymoon for 65 years. They were married here, and noticed Pure Village on their way home once. Back then, there were gas pumps out in front of the office and a garden, with a gazebo in what is now the parking lot. “Kermit told me once that he was going to tear out that garden and gazebo to make a parking lot,” Dolly Frise recalls. “I told him that if he did I wasn’t coming back.” That was almost thirty years ago and they have been back at least twice every year since. Every time they return, they greet their old friends, the Earlys as well as the employees, with hugs and hellos. “The Early family keeps us coming back. We have seen The Village Inn grow from nine little rooms with garages to 38 rooms. We love the people up there and we feel loved in return.” Three years ago, their family came up to surprise them for their anniversary. The staff helped arrange the secret surprise party in the dining room. “It is the most wonderful place we have found, where we can do what we want to do.” When the Frises come for a visit, the staff gets Room 1 12 or 1 15, their favorites, ready for them.
Kermit says the success of the business has been “the owner-manager concept, rather than a chain. People like to know that they can talk to the owner if they have a problem.” Kermit lives right across the street and is at the motel every day. “Also, we are rural, not urban. We would like for people to stay awhile and see more of the area. We would like for them to see more of the rural area. More people stay here and go to local sights during the day.” Many more guests are staying at The Village Inn as an anchor for short day-trips to valley locations. The evenings bring them back to the cool swimming pool and dining room.
The third generation has begun management of the Inn. Kermit ponders what changes will take place in the future: “Who is to say what else will change? What’s after Whirlpools and decks as a feature? When color TVs came, I might have asked what’s after color TVs? We are aware of the change of time, whether we can or will [change] is another story,” Kermit says.
The years have been good to the Earlys and they have been good to their customers and employees. In the motel where Shirley Temple Black, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Gene Austin have all stayed and eaten, a new generation of loyal customers and employees can be found. Future advancements in room design might be uncertain for Kermit, but one thing will assuredly hold true, good customer service and family charm will take The Village Inn into the generations ahead.
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