The Inn at Tabbs Creek – Southern Hospitality at Its Finest!
By Bob Tagert
With February temperatures spring like, we decided to take a road trip to Mathews, Virginia and stay at the Inn at Tabbs Creek. After years of sailing my own boat and sailing with others I had heard a lot about the maritime history of Mathews County. During the 18th and 19th centuries, more than 2,000 vessels were built in Mathews. The demand for sailing ships increased during the Revolutionary War and the industry dominated in the county until before the Civil War. During this time period, more vessels were constructed in Mathews than anywhere else in Virginia. The history of Gloucester and Mathews counties revolves around the Chesapeake Bay and those who worked its waters for generations. Those old enough to recall the days when buy boats came in and out of the harbors will tell you that many of the vessels were crafted by local boatbuilders. Today, there are those who work to keep the history of these artisans and their boats from being forgotten.
Mathews and Gloucester counties lie along the Chesapeake Bay and are bordered by the Rappahannock and the York Rivers. There are a number of routes to take to get there. We decided to avoid I-95 and Fredericksburg and chose to head into Maryland, take route 5 south to Waldorf and continue down Route 301, across the Potomac River, across the Rappahannock River and into Port Royal. From there we picked up Route 17, the “Tidewater Trail” and headed south. After traveling for about 45 minutes you will come to the county seat and you can either take route 3 or continue on 17. As you go deeper into the county you will need a good map or GPS. Here the driving is like Rappahannock County…no traffic lights and spotty internet service.
After you pass through the town of Mathews you will come to the very small town of Port Haywood. After a sharp right turn on Turpin Lane (look for the Marlboro sign), follow the gravel road to a right turn and the approach to the Inn at Tabbs Creek. The approach is a straight arrow road that is pointed at the front door. With two huge Magnolia trees guarding the entrance and Tabbs Creek painting the background, you will know you have arrived.
The main house is a circa late 1800’s wooden structure that was built by one of the local boat builders. It is known that the one of the former owners was a boat captain. The house makes a strong statement as you view from the outside, but once inside you will note the classic hardwood floors and sturdy staircase leading to the upstairs bedrooms. The first floor has an office on the right side and an intimate study complete with two brown-leather over stuffed couches, a TV, a wall case of books as well as a nice gas fireplace for these cool nights. Straight back is the gathering area of the kitchen around a huge wooden table/counter. It was here that we met our hosts Greg and Lori Dusenberry. As they explained, in the morning there is a fresh pot of coffee and also a small refrigerator stocked with wine. Each guest is allowed a bottle of their choice upon arrival. The kitchen is to the left and the dining area is directly back with some two top tables and a large common table in the side dining room. There are wrap around windows that allow views of the pool, the grounds and the creek to the kitchen side and directly out back. The fire pit is located in the back yard sitting along Tabbs Creek. Greg stacks the firewood each evening so all one needs to do is light the prepared kindling. We spent both our damp, but not rainy evenings by the beautiful fire pit.
After chatting with some of the other guests, we were shown to our room. We were assigned the “Captains Room” that is located upstairs and centered in the middle of the house with 270 degree views on both sides and back towards the creek and boat dock. The room was very comfortable with a TV, bathroom with a walk in shower. There was also a sitting room with a mini fridge and a welcoming cheese plate. The hit of the room was the wonderful bed. You don’t just lie on the bed but it rather molds around you like a gentle hug. Very nice. From our viewpoint we could see almost all of the property except for directly in front of the Inn. Facing directly out back we could see Tabb Creek and the boat dock. To the left was East River and to the right was the pool (although covered this time of year), one of the standalone cottages as well as more water in the distance. We didn’t tour either of the cottages because of guests but the photos we saw indicates that they are just as amazing as the main house. You can check them out on the Inn’s website and Facebook page.
After taking a few minutes to check out the property we began to feel a little hungry and thirsty. Even though we had stopped in Port Royal for a nice Mexican lunch, the three hour drive was beginning to take its toll. On a recommendation from Greg we drove about ten miles to the Hole in the Wall Waterfront Grill. Although there were no horses parked outside, this was just the kind of place we were looking for. Great food, good prices and exceptionally friendly folks. The restaurant derives its name from a shallow passage over a sand bar that can become visible with a very low tide. With shallow draft work boats, it is always an adventure I am sure.
On our second day we took a drive north to Deltaville. As the saying goes, “Deltaville, a place that has more boats than people and perfect for sailors or fishers”. Deltaville is also home to Norton Yachts, the largest dealer of new and used boats on the Chesapeake Bay. I have sailed in there a few times over the years…great folks. On this particular afternoon we visited the Deltaville Marine Museum. We were short on time, but you could spend the whole day here. It is fascinating. Also, here, the boatbuilding legacy of the area is alive.
We also visited the Voll Winery tasting room and restaurant, which is a chef owned winery with an emphasis on food as well as wine through tastings. The wine flights we had were very good. It is a different concept than what we are used to in the Blue Ridge.
For dinner on our second night we ventured to the White Dog Bistro at our Innkeepers recommendation. Originally Lane’s Hotel, this elegant columned structure has been standing its ground for over 175 years. From 2009 to 2012 the property was renovated and reopened as The White Dog Bistro. An analogy that would work well here in Mathews County, the White Dog Bistro is the mother pearl in this oyster! Clearly, the food is fresh as most is local. The dining room is beautiful while the prices were very reasonable. Both establishments at which we dined were very different but both excellent at what they do.
Although the weather was overcast while we explored Mathews County, it didn’t rain…until we left. The bright spot was one more breakfast from Chef Greg. This cannot be underestimated, you don’t eat this breakfast, you savor his creations. As we dined with the couple from Richmond whom we had shared the fire pit the last two evenings, we swapped business cards and made our way into the increasing drizzle outside.
Although our weather wasn’t ideal, it certainly wasn’t bad. We hope to return in the warmer months when the pool is open, the kayaks, a canoe and the paddle boards are back at the dock. In addition to these amenities there is also a restored dead rise boat, the Helen Elizabeth, available at the floating dock for excursions on the water that involve tonging for oysters, lessons on shucking oysters and other “waterman” type adventures.
The Inn at Tabbs Creek IS one of those places you tell your friends about. They spare no expense in time and effort to make your stay amazing. The attention to detail from the room appointments to the breakfast and the amenities is a cut above the norm by a long shot.
Inn at Tabbs Creek
384 Turpin Lane
Port Haywood, VA