Written by Diane Helentjaris
Photos by Gracie Withers
In the late 1970s, Tucker Withers ran two antique shops: one in Aldie and one in Maryland, the latter managed by his mother. As a reprieve from work, he often played poker on Tuesday nights. One evening around the card table with his buddies: a sheriff, a landscape architect, and a banker, the banker mentioned a piece of Aldie property which was coming up for sale. By Friday, Withers owned it.
Withers telephoned his mother to share the news of his acquisition: a historic brick two-story house and outbuildings. Her response floored him: “I never told you this, but your father was from Aldie.” Withers’ parents had divorced when he was three. He grew up in Bethesda, Maryland, and did not know much about his paternal family history. Now he would not only discover it, but live it as well.
The epitome of small world connections, his great uncle had once owned the very same brick house Withers purchased. Withers later discovered his great-grandparents once lived in the property’s log cabin. All the older villagers knew his family. Years ago, he was given a family photograph by Sarah Love Douglass. Sarah and her husband James Edward Douglass owned and ran the Aldie Mill before donating it in 1981 to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. “Your great grandmother was the nicest person,” she always shared with Withers.
In February of 1982, Withers decided to turn the property into an inn. Little River Inn opened four months later and his career as an innkeeper began. Affable by nature, the role of host suited him. In fact, Withers even taught hospitality at Northern Virginia Community College and would tell students, “The first thing is you have to like to get up early. You have to like people 24 hours a day, not just from eight to five. You get calls early in the day and late at night…by nature, you have to like people.”
Withers’ wife Mary Ann works at the inn alongside him. They met when Mary Ann, a former special education teacher, spent the summer waitressing at the iconic Coach Stop restaurant in Middleburg. And their three children, now adults, all worked at the inn growing up.
Little River Inn offers bed and breakfast-style stays in three buildings: the two-story house, the small Patent House, and the log cabin. Rooms are, as would be expected from a long-time antique dealer like Withers, furnished with period pieces and decor. The main brick house was built in 1810 by Rezin Willcoxon.
The Patent House is the oldest building in Aldie dating somewhere between 1750 and 1760. The name refers to the building’s purpose. Patent Houses were built to claim and hold on to land received as a grant (or patent). Their minimum size was sixteen by twenty feet, which is roughly the size of the Aldie Patent House. Little River Inn accommodates a range of needs — from honeymooners who want to snuggle into their own private space to a family wishing to take over the second floor of the brick house.
Withers would like people to know that the Little River Inn is “…just like going home. It’s easy. It’s comfortable. It’s where you get good food and good company. [There is] just so much personality to the place, the town is just so welcoming.”
As innkeeper, Withers is also the chef and is proud of his breakfasts. The menu rotates and includes specialties like eggs benedict with cottage-fried potatoes and eggs and mushrooms with tarragon cream sauce in a ham cup on an English muffin. After trying his banana bread, one customer declared, “I never thought anyone made banana bread as good as my mother.” Withers is quick to add that he also bakes blueberry and poppyseed muffins.
“[There is] no microwave at the Little River Inn. Everything is made from scratch.” If someone asks him to nuke their cooled coffee in the microwave, Withers insists on making a fresh pot. He also refuses to carry a cell phone or use a computer. He communicates in person, by telephone, or with little notes left on tables. Mary Ann responds to emails, handles the website, and otherwise picks up the technology slack.
Few bed and breakfasts last 40 years. Mary Ann believes the longevity of the Little River Inn is partially due to the fact that the Withers family has maintained a separate, private home in the village apart from the commercial enterprise. They are always reachable but don’t live with their guests, even though she’s quick to emphasize their visitors are “as nice as they can be.”
Affection for their guests is certainly part of the Withers family recipe for success. Withers believes the “best thing [about the inn] is the people who stay here.” He continues, “They really become our friends. One man stayed every Monday and Tuesday for twenty years. He was a landscape architect. Some have come each year for 40 years. One couple first came in 1982 and still comes back…That is the best part of it all. We have, over many years, [built] relationships with many nice people.” Early on, a couple honeymooned at the bed and breakfast. “They were so nice,” Mary Ann emphasizes. Withers called them up when they went home to Kentucky and offered them a job. They drove back to Virginia and helped manage the inn for 12 years.
Looking forward, Withers has no plans to change. And when asked if he would do it again, he says, “Oh, yeah — in a heartbeat. We enjoy it so much.” He adds, “Don’t know if the kids will take it over. Don’t know how long [it will go on].” Luckily, his children and a growing group of grandchildren all live within twenty minutes of the inn. “[I don’t] know what will happen but for now I am sticking with running the Little River Inn.” ML
For more information on this historic inn, visit aldie.com or call 703-327-6742. Little River Inn is located at 39307 John Mosby Highway (Rt. 50), Aldie, Virginia 20105.
This article first appeared in the June 2022 Issue.