Big things are happening at the Inn at Kelly's Ford near Remington, with recent expansion of the equestrian center, as well as more special events, concerts and wedding bookings that stretch well into this summer, next year and beyond.
One of the region's biggest conference centers and bed-and-breakfasts, the inn is located on the historic Kelly's Ford Civil War battlefield.
Part of a 500-acre estate, the inn blends the old with the new: a recent event there commemorated the 150th anniversary of the bloody battle at Kelly's Ford straddling the Culpeper-Fauquier County line, complete with cavalry re-enactments, period dress and lectures on Union and Confederate strategies.
"It's a very busy time over here," said Diana Tobias, who handles publicity for Kelly's Ford. "We have events planned all the way through next fall, and we're getting inquiries for 2015 already."
The central main house at Kelly's Ford is a rambling white colonial with views of the rolling meadows and pastures to the west and the Rappahannock River to the east.
Owners Bill and Linda Willoughby have been careful with additions and renovations since the inn opened 13 years ago to keep architecture true to the historic original structure.
Inside, décor is accented with a 19th-century warmth. Two rooms in the main house and one in the silo are ringed by three cottages and two houses located on adjacent properties. Suites and cottages feature amenities ranging from king-sized beds and stone fireplaces to a balcony overlooking the river and an outdoor jacuzzi.
Tobias said new offerings for inn guests include canoe and kayak lunch paddles from Kelly's Ford to Mountain Run, and beyond, with instruction if desired. Fishing equipment can be arranged and fishing licenses can be purchased on-site.
When the water is high enough -- this spring is looking really good for river-flow, Tobias said, guests can float downstream on huge inner tubes.
Even when full, the inn retains a feeling of intimacy, since there are accommodations for just over 40 at a time. Tobias said that the arena can be configured to allow up to 600 for a wedding or conference, while there is, literally, "no limit" to the number of guests at an outside event.
There are more than 30 primitive campsites available, many of them at the riverside. Campers can come up to the main house or to Pelham's for meals, or cook on the provided grills or firerings.
Horsing around at Kelly's Ford
New offerings and expansion aren't limited to the main house and inn. The horse facilities have undergone recent renovation and new construction has expanded both boarding and competition options.
Upper-level three-day eventer Jim Moore has managed the active, and growing, Kelly's Ford Equestrian Center for three years. The Colorado native, certified by the American Riding Instructor's Association, started a Certified Riding School in hunt seat equitation, dressage and eventing at Kelly's Ford.
He has also established an American Interschool Riding Competition team for junior high and high school equestrians. Two recognized horse trials -- spring and fall -- are held at Kelly's Ford.
Moore said the horse facilities are a main attraction at the facility. "Another big draw are horse-drawn carriage weddings," Moore said. "There are five different venues to choose from -- Ripley Hall, the [indoor] arena, Manahoac Park, the Fountain and the pond gazebo."
New this year, Moore said, is a 12-stall boarding barn that complements an existing stable. Short- and long-term boarders have use of the 70-by-140 heated indoor arena, all-weather outdoor arena, grass arena, jumper derby field and 100 acres of cross-country jumps. Six levels of jumps range from intro to preliminary, all designed by Mogie Bearden Muller.
Two round pens, a lengthy trail system and extensive grass turnout round out the horse facility.
Kelly's Ford hosts six recognized hunter-jumper shows and a pair of "fun shows" in addition to the rated horse trials. Just last month, the facility hosted an open tack sale and swap in the indoor arena, something Tobias said attracted vendors and shoppers from around the area and around the region.
Kelly's Ford offers boarding -- field and stall, and training as well as short-term board for overnight and weekend guests. Any of the three arenas, two outdoors or the indoor, can be rented for clinics or events.
"We're planning to expand vendors and shopping at our shows and events," Tobias said. Recent sponsors and vendors included Country Chevrolet, John Deere and the Culpeper Farmers Co-Op.
Moore said that the guided trail rides from the inn are a popular draw for guests, many of whom are inexperienced riders or new to Virginia's horse country. Tobias said that Kelly's Ford has a dozen safe, well-trained school horses for rides. Trail rides cover miles along the banks of the Rappahannock River and through the woods and fields ringing the property.
Pony rides for kids can be arranged along with overnight or weekend accommodation for guest horses or show participants.
More to do
Guests at Kelly's Ford have a wealth of choices to enjoy the history and scenery of the property and surrounding area. In addition to riding, guests can hike, bike, swim, fish, canoe, kayak, tube the river or enjoy golf at any of five nearby courses. Pelham's Pub offers a bar menu and late hours, while the inn's main dining room features seasonal fare and a variety of innovative dishes created by chef Jean Paul Pessaint.
Tobias said that Pessaint has several wine-tasting dinners planned, including a French wine-tasting five-course meal this week. Easter Sunday plans include an egg hunt for kids and special Easter dinner in Ripley Hall.
A horse show is slated for April 20 and headliner Kim Carnes ("Betty Davis Eyes") plays the arena April 27.
New this year, Tobias said, are canoe and kayak "wine-runs" with a paddling lesson, river trip and gourmet lunch served afterwards. The river between Kelly's Ford and Mountain Run has class 1 and 2 rapids -- a smooth ride -- with plenty of flow this year because of good rainfall and snowmelt.
Full details on upcoming events at the Inn at Kelly's Ford can be found online at www.InnAtKellysFord.com
Tons of history
Long before it was called Kelly's Ford, a low passage in the bold Rappahannock River at this spot marked a hunting path traveled by the Iroquois, the original tribe that inhabited the region. Later, the area was settled by Sioux tribes taking advantage of the flat and easily cultivated land on both sides of the Rappahannock.
Irish immigrant John Kelly gave the low-water mark its lasting name when he bought property straddling the river in 1773.
Kelly built a large mill and manufacturing complex producing shoes and coaches in a hamlet soon known as Kellysville.
Kelly built a bridge across the river next to the ford, and started collecting tolls. It was an active, vibrant village, some 15 miles south of Warrenton.
The charming hamlet of Kellysville was forever changed 90 years later, in 1863 during fierce fighting for the important river crossing during the American Civil War.
Long a contested ford, the fight for Kellysville came to a head that March when Union Gen. William Averell and some 2,000 mounted troopers charged Confederate Gen. Fitzhugh Lee and his cavalry command stationed on the banks of the Rappahannock at Kelly's Ford. The Federal attack was the first offensive by Union troops on the stronger southern cavalry.
Though the Confederates technically won the Battle at Kelly's Ford, it exacted a high price from the southern force. They lost 146 to the Federals' 85, with horrifying effects of hand-to-hand saber combat playing a major role in the high number of wounded and killed.