Sperryville: All About Being Good Neighbors
When you talk with locals in the village of
Sperryville, you hear a common refrain. “I
started coming for the hiking and loved it so
much, I moved here.”
Sperryville is located on the eastern edge of Shenandoah National Park in Rappahannock County. Founded in 1820 by Francis Thornton, Jr., and nearly unchanged in size since the 1890s, the village is nestled between the Thornton River and the hills of the Blue Ridge. A popular stop for visitors to the National Park, many of the businesses cater to the hiking crowd, but there is also a deep sense of local community and cooperation.
Sherri Fickel and Kevin Kraditor, owners of the Hopkins Ordinary Bed & Breakfast + Aleworks, have lived in Sperryville for nearly 17 years. They lived in Washington, D.C., and had been coming out to Sperryville nearly every weekend to hike (of course) and decided they wanted to find a way to stop going back and forth. Running a B&B proved to be the perfect solution. When they bought the property in 2001, it had been cut up into four apartments after many years as a hotel. They spent 10 months restoring the building, which is one of the oldest in the village. According to Sherri and Kevin, John and Rachel Hopkins built it in 1820 and ran an “ordinary,” offering food and lodging to travelers for many years, and so they named their business in honor of the original owners.
Originally a fairly austere brick Federalstyle building, the two-story porch that wraps around the front and side of the building was added sometime after the Civil War. Today, the B&B has five guest rooms, all with porches and four with fireplaces, plus a guest cottage behind the main building. Lodging includes a full, hot breakfast that features locally produced ingredients, one of many ways that village businesses support each other. Sherri and Kevin worked with Central Coffee Roasters, located just outside Sperryville on Route 211, to create a custom coffee blend, available only at the Hopkins Ordinary. In addition, they serve a special French toast made with whiskey from Sperryville’s own Copper Fox Distillery.
Kevin uses another Copper Fox product, malted barley, in their newest venture, the Hopkins Ordinary Aleworks. A few years after they opened the B&B, Kevin started making cheese. He began experimenting with other types of fermentation, including curing meats, before starting to brew his own beer. Initially, he and Sherri couldn’t share the beer with their guests under Virginia law, even with a brewery license. However, the state law that prohibited breweries from serving alcohol without also serving food changed several years ago. They opened the brewery in December 2014, becoming Virginia’s first “BB&A” — bed, breakfast and aleworks.
Over the course of a year, Kevin will brew up to 25 different beers. His beers are brewed “true to style” using malted barley from Copper Fox as the base. His specialties are Saisons, Belgian-style farmhouse beers made with local, seasonal ingredients. While B&B guests are mostly from the D.C. area, the Aleworks has a strong local following.
Sherri and Kevin continue to be active hikers. They love that they can drive just 15 minutes and go for a great hike in the middle of the day, before coming back to take care of their guests.
“We’ve been here so long, we’ve seen Sperryville evolve several times,” notes Sherri. “Right now, Sperryville is all about being good neighbors. We can’t go to the post office without spending at least 15 minutes talking to people.”
Kevin adds, “The business owners are very welcoming of newcomers. There’s lots of cooperation, but everyone does their own thing, too.”
“It’s very chill,” Sherri says.
One of those newcomers is Kerry Sutten, who opened Before & After, an espresso café and wine bar, just down the street, with his niece Jess two-and-a-half years ago. Like Sherri and Kevin, Kerry frequently traveled to Sperryville from D.C., where he worked for a member of Congress, to go hiking. About seven years ago, he bought a weekend house nearby. As he spent more time in Sperryville, he realized that the village needed a place for people to hang out.
On a family trip to Italy, he says a “lightbulb went off” while they drank espresso each morning and wine each evening. He and Jess named their new business “Before & After” for “before hiking” and “after hiking.”
“The goal was to fit into the community,” Kerry says, “to be Rappahannock’s living room.” Kerry gives much of the credit for their success to Jess, who managed the day-to-day operations for two years, before Kerry moved to Sperryville full time. For example, it was Jess’ idea to feature art by local artists for sale at the café. The café also offers free Wi-Fi service.
According to Kerry, they “stumbled” into the food business, as they couldn’t serve wine without serving food as well. Now, though, Kerry’s favorite part of the business is creating new dishes using produce from his own garden and local farmers. On a recent day, by mid-morning, they were sold out of his asparagus quiche.
Jess and Kerry are working on their latest expansion, “During,” a market offering local products, Sperryville-branded clothing, wine and foodstuffs, especially packaged items hikers can throw in their backpacks. Eventually, they hope to offer fresh, prepared meals from the Before & After menu.
Kerry was the brainchild behind the recent “Great Rubber Ducky Race” on the Thornton River, a community fundraising event. On Saturday, April 28, 250 rubber duckies were dropped into the river from Main Street bridge at the west end of town and floated downriver to the Pen Druid Brewery in the River District. Each duck was numbered, corresponding to raffle tickets sold for $10 apiece. Prizes, donated by Sperryville businesses, were awarded for the first five ducks to cross the finish line.
“I sent an email to other businesses, asking if they would be interested in supporting the race and received an overwhelming response,” Kerry says. “The tickets were sold out even before the prizes were announced.”
The weekend before the race, Kerry coordinated a river clean-up. Thirty volunteers pulled trash and debris out of the river, ensuring that the duckies had smooth sailing. The $2,500 raised will be used for village-beautification efforts.
Located just east of downtown, between two forks of the Thornton River, lies Sperryville’s “River District.” The site of an earlier tannery, the buildings of the River District were once part of a fruit-growers’ cooperative. A former apple cold-storage warehouse now houses Copper Fox Antiques and Pen Druid Brewery. The juicing plant, where Skyline Drive Apple Juice was produced, is home to the Copper Fox Distillery.
When Copper Fox opened in January 2005, it was the only distillery in the United States to malt its own barley. Owner Rick Wasmund and Master Distiller Sean McCaskey were neighbors living in Middleburg, Virginia, when Rick convinced Sean to help him start a distillery.
Today, Copper Fox is a well-respected producer of single-batch Scottish-style whiskey. The whiskey-making process begins with steeping locally grown barley in water for several days and then spreading it on the “malting floor” to allow the barley to sprout. For five days, the barley stays on the malting floor, kept cool and raked several times a day. The sprouted barley then goes into the kiln where it is smoked with applewood and cherrywood for rich fruity flavor. After the barley is ground into flour, it is mixed with water, 1,000 pounds at a time, placed in the mash tank, and heated up for the better part of a day. The mash ferments until it reaches about 16 percent alcohol. From there, the liquid is distilled down to 170 proof and placed in white oak barrels to age for two to four years before being cut to proof with local well water and bottled.
In addition to several varieties of whiskey, Copper Fox also produces gin that is steeped with botanicals like anise hyssop, lemongrass and lemon balm, grown right on the property. Each batch of gin is unique, depending on what botanicals are in season.
Copper Fox is open for tours and tastings on weekends year-round. The deck overlooking the Thornton River and sloping lawn below the deck have proven to be popular gathering spots for distillery visitors.
Another business that uses locally grown botanicals is Wild Roots Apothecary, located adjacent to the distillery. Owner Colleen O’Bryant says there is an energy in Sperryville different from anyplace else. Clearly, the number of new and expanding businesses is testimony to that energy.
Since the 1970s, the former Sperryville High School, built in 1929, has been occupied by a variety of antique and gift shops. The current store, Schoolhouse Antiques, opened in 2013. Last year, the Headmaster’s Pub opened in the school gymnasium and now offers live music every weekend. In downtown Sperryville, new businesses dot Main Street,
some aimed at visitors who come for the hiking, like Happy Camper Equipment Company, and others providing options for visitors and locals alike. FRANCIS, a neighborhood bar, recently opened next door to the Sperryville Corner Store that has been in business since 1840 in the heart of the village. Another restaurant, Three Blacksmiths, is set to open this summer, across from Happy Camper. One of the most intriguing additions to Sperryville is a new nine-hole golf course, next to the Schoolhouse.
When the Sperryville Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, the nomination form noted that the village had “only one general store, seasonal produce stands, and a number of antique and gift shops.” Sperryville certainly has come a long way since then!