A Berkeley Springs family’s hard work and good ideas put The Country Inn back on track.
Tourism officials and others in Berkeley Springs spent years worried about the future of The Country Inn, the stately hotel in the heart of downtown. But after a period of decline and then the historic spot’s closure four years ago amid a bankruptcy filing, the town’s oldest and most recognizable hotel is enjoying a brand new day.
The Omps family—who also own the Best Western hotel just outside of Berkeley Springs, Ace Hardware, and other local businesses—have expanded and updated The Country Inn’s suites and created an outdoor dining area that’s the town hot spot on summer weekends. And while locals happily spend time and money here, the Ompses are also finding other ways to attract out-of-town visitors.
Jeanne Mozier, who operates the vintage movie theater just a stone’s throw from the hotel, cannot contain her delight that the hotel that’s been a fixture of Berkeley Springs since the 1930s is now better than ever. “There was great rejoicing when the gavel at The Country Inn auction dropped and the winners were the Omps family. And now, there’s no question we were right to be pleased,” says Mozier, who is also the longtime vice president of the local travel council, Travel Berkeley Springs. “The Country Inn had been in decline for several years, but this family that’s hands-on about everything from marketing to maintenance has come in and worked hard. And now it’s once again the centerpiece lodging property in town.”
Meet Matt Omps
Credit 35-year-old Matt Omps with much of The Country Inn’s invigoration. The Berkeley Springs native—who also own the Best Western just outside Berkeley Springs, the local Ace Hardware, and other businesses in town—has served as general manager since his family purchased the hotel in August 2013.
The Country Inn had been closed for more than three months when the Ompses made the top bid. Omps says his immediate goal was to get the hotel into shape as quickly as possible and begin welcoming guests again. Omps, his parents, siblings, extended family members, contractors, and other workers put in long weeks to completely renovate a number of rooms and finish other upgrades. The County Inn’s doors were back open that December.
No one would have blamed the Omps family for feeling daunted at the prospect of turning around the biggest hotel in this world-famous spa town. A three-story Georgian brick structure that boasts a picturesque white-pillared portico, the hotel is on Berkeley Springs’ main thoroughfare, right next to Berkeley Springs State Park and the warm mineral springs that have a fan base dating back to founding father George Washington.
But Omps says his family put The Country Inn back on track largely by working to make the hotel elegant but unpretentious. “We wanted to keep the charm of a bed and breakfast—a place with a comforting, welcoming feel—but still provide all the modern amenities that guests expect,” he says. “The feedback we’ve gotten from guests, including guests who stayed here years ago and have come back since we bought the inn, has been thoroughly positive.”
Giving Guests More
In the months and years since taking over the inn, the Ompses have been chipping away at additional room upgrades and other improvements, all the while keeping hotel and restaurant patrons satisfied and hosting wedding receptions, New Year’s Eve parties, business banquets, the annual Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting, and other big events. When all the renovations are done, The Country Inn will have 25 rooms in the historic center of the hotel and another 35 rooms in an annex tucked behind the main building.
The Country Inn’s overhaul wouldn’t have been complete without revitalizing its Renaissance Spa. Many hotel guests choose “Stay and Spa” deals with stress antidotes ranging from a mineral water soak in a whirlpool tub to hot stone massages, detoxifying Thai body wraps, pedicures, manicures, and a host of facials, along with other spa standards. Omps says the hotel’s expanded couples massage area has gotten rave reviews, as has Renaissance’s tranquility lounge, where the newly relaxed spa visitor can sip herbal tea and prepare for reentry into the real world.
Omps also has worked to amp up the entertainment profile of the hotel, lining up musicians to perform on weekends. They perform in a piano bar in the hotel’s gallery in cold weather but, for much of the year, the shows moves to a garden that has grown from four small tables to a setup that includes a stage and room for 100 guests. “It’s packed out there most of the time,” Omps says. “You’re under the trees and it’s just a really pleasant place to spend time. The events we have there are free for anyone to attend. They can order drinks or enjoy dinner. People love it.”
Another big hit for The Country Inn has been its Oktoberfest. Admission is free, with music, dancing, and, of course, outstanding German beer and food available for purchase under tents on the hotel grounds. This year’s event, the Omps’ fourth, is set for September 30.
George Washington Stayed Here (For Real)
The Country Inn’s 2.5-acre site on Washington Street has been the town’s prime hospitality site going back to 1777. The Throgmorton’s Inn, which stood where The Country Inn’s parking lot is today, opened its doors that year. Countless bigwigs of the day, including the nation’s future first president, were guests in attendance.
In 1848, John Strother, a Berkeley County court official who’d won commission as a colonel in the War of 1812, built the Berkeley Springs Hotel on the same site. With room for more than 400 guests, the resort soon attracted movers and shakers such as then-President James K. Polk.
Strother’s son, David Hunter Strother—who would become famous during the Civil War writing articles and inking illustrations for Harper’s Magazine under the nom de plume “Porte Crayon”—took over the hotel after his father’s death. A fire destroyed the hotel in 1898 and the site stood empty for more than a quarter-century until Berkeley Springs native Walter “Toad” Harmison and his family opened the Park View Inn in 1933.
The phrase “farm-to-table” was still a ways off. But the Harmisons believed in fresh fare, so much so that every day dozens of chickens that awoke in Berkeley Springs ended the day in the dining room, the golden-fried centerpiece of a piled-high plate. The Park View Inn’s practice of serving every hotel guest three substantial home-style meals a day made it a beloved stopover for decades.
Betty Lou Harmison—who ran the inn through the early 1970s with her late husband, Bill, a nephew of the founder—still lives next to The Country Inn and has been impressed with Matt Omps’ work so far. Merchants around town are smiling, too, according to Mozier. With The Country Inn busy again, guests are happy to leave their cars at the hotel and explore the vibrant downtown. Mozier says her 325-seat Star Theater and the distinctive shops, restaurants, galleries, spas, and other spots nearby have all seen an uptick in foot traffic now that The Country Inn is back in fine form.
“All the time I hear from folks in town how glad they are to see what’s happening here. They love seeing our parking lot full again,” Omps says.
110 South Washington Street, Berkeley Springs, 304.258.1200, thecountryinnwv.com
Written by Christine Snyder