Photos By: Josh Triggs
Written By: Becky Muth
By the time the town of Boonsboro, Maryland incorporated, the Old South Mountain Inn, at 6132 Old National Pike on the pinnacle of nearby Turner’s Gap, was a wellknown establishment. Founded in the early 1700s, the inn is an historic landmark. Modern day guests who dine in the restaurant may enjoy knowing early notable American figures like the young Lieutenant George Washington, Daniel Webster, and Henry Clay once visited this same building.
The Inn’s Early Years
During its early years the inn served as a tavern, offering wagon stand and stagecoach stop services to pioneers. Many of these early settlers traveling the old National Trail headed west toward the infamous Oregon Trail. Unlike the current business, the original tavern didn’t serve food.
The building survived the French and Indian, Revolutionary, and Civil Wars, serving as a staging point for the raid on Harpers Ferry by John Brown’s followers during the latter. After the Civil War, railroad traffic increased which lessened traffic on the old National Trail.
Less traffic reduced business and, in 1876, the tavern reverted to a private residence. Admiral John A. Dahlgren’s wealthy widow, Madeline, lived on the property until her death in 1925. During this time she made improvements that respected the rich history attached to the structure.
The current topography surrounding the Old South Mountain Inn retains the same exquisite, scenic splendor of its early years. Historic sites within reasonable proximity the inn include well-recognized treasures such as Washington Monument State Park, South Mountain battlefield, and Dahlgren Chapel, a separate property from the inn. Built in the late 1800s at the behest of Madeline Dahlgren, workers quarried and timbered the stone and wood for the chapel behind South Mountain House, as she called the inn in those days.
Madeline Dahlgren called the chapel, which seats 80 people, “the South Mountain Mission” and in her book, South Mountain Magic, she describes, “…the location of Dahlgren Chapel, atop South Mountain between Middletown and Boonsboro, is exquisite!” When standing in the valley on a clear day, you can glimpse the cross atop the chapel high upon Turner’s Gap.
The Transition from Tavern to Restaurant
In 1925, the private residence once again operated as a tavern. The owners installed a small kitchen in what is now the Gourmet Room. Charles and Dorothea Reichmuth purchased the Old South Mountain Inn in 1971. The couple began longstanding traditions that continued with the next owners, Russell and Judy Schwartz who purchased the inn in 1981, as well the inn’s current owners, Chad and Lisa Dorsey, who purchased it in 2001.
Charles Reichmuth was Director of Food Services for the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. During their decade of owning the Old South Mountain Inn, according to the restaurant’s website, the couple “offered visitors a setting of historical authenticity, gracious hospitality, and good eating.”
Chad Dorsey, current owner and executive chef, spent almost his entire adult life working at the inn. He applauds Reichmuth’s insight about the kitchen. Whether it was innovation or foresight, or a bit of each, Reichmuth replaced the former tavern kitchen with a huge, commercial one that continues to meet the current needs of the restaurant on its busiest nights.
World-Renowned Cuisine Just Over the Mountain
The cuisine at the Old South Mountain Inn is “American haute”, which means the food is traditional fare prepared and served at a higher quality than what you’d get from a chain restaurant. Another distinction between the inn and chain restaurants is that the inn cooks meals to order, meaning they wait until after you select you meal to cook it.
The inn’s menu has a bit of everything. Aside from seasonal changes, like the addition of morel mushrooms or trout, the menu sees little variation throughout the year. Chef Dorsey stands behind every item, from the horseradishencrusted salmon to the peanut butter pie.
Yelp and TripAdvisor, rank the inn first and second, respectively, among traditional fare restaurants in and around Boonsboro. On Sunday mornings, the inn’s brunch draws in locals and out-of-towners alike. Reviewers use terms like “impressive”, “top shelf”, and “extraordinary” when describing it.
Popular dinner menu items include:
- Escargot – A world-renowned favorite, this appetizer offers French snails in garlic herb butter.
- Classic Beef Wellington – Tenderloin of beef wrapped in puff pastry with mushroom duxelle, pâté and ham then topped with a wild mushroom Madeira sauce comprise the chef’s version of this popular English cuisine.
- Filet Mignon Lisa – A treasured choice among guests that Chef Dorsey named for his wife, this entrée includes a traditional filet topped with bleu cheese then served with a Cabernet sauvignon demiglace on top of a bed of fried leeks. The wine list offers both red and white bouquets hailing from America’s western coast to the finest of French vineyards.
One Yelp reviewer from Inwood, West Virginia speaks highly of her Sunday brunch reservation and says, “All the food was fabulous. There was a variety of items to choose from and I couldn’t find fault with anything, compliments to the Chef!” Out-of-town guests enjoy the fare at the Old South Mountain Inn as much as tri-state locals. While the inn receives plenty of reservations from Montgomery County, the District of Columbia, and Annapolis, guests from around the globe dine there.
“We get people from New York, Pittsburgh; one person was visiting from France and said they liked my escargot better than what they get there,” Chef Dorsey explains. He continues, describing a guest who makes regular trips to the inn from South Carolina. “The guy eats three orders of escargot and then orders an entrée. The next night, he comes back and does the same thing again; six orders of escargot in two nights. I don’t know how he does it.”
Jeremy James, who grew up in nearby Dargan and has dined at the Inn in the past says, “I definitely felt the age of the building because of how well they’ve kept it up.” He feels out-of-town guests without regular access to our local historic areas might especially appreciate the establishment’s rich past.
Making the Most of Your Dining Experience
Although some guests mistake it for a coat-and-tie restaurant, the dress code at the Old South Mountain Inn is casual. One Yelp reviewer states: I won’t say it’s dressy, but I would wear a NICE pair of jeans and dress them up, at a minimum. Chef Dorsey says the inn even welcomes hikers straight off the Appalachian Trail, as long as they are socially presentable.
If you’re planning a visit to the Old South Mountain Inn, it’s worth knowing the dining areas are cell phone free. If you must use your phone, then they invite you to step into the lounge. They also ask you to remove hats before meal service and tell your server as soon as possible regarding food allergies or intolerances for anyone in your party.
Reservations aren’t required, but Chef Dorsey recommends them. The restaurant can fill up quick with guests who reserve tables, weeks in advance. Don’t wait for a holiday or other important date to visit the Old South Mountain Inn because the restaurant prepares every meal as if for a special occasion. Call 301-432- 6155 today to make your reservation for dinner or Sunday brunch.