Home Away From Home: General Warren Inne

The historic Malvern landmark gets an authentic makeover.



 

A fireplace warms up the bar area of the recently renovated General Warren Inne.

Since 1745, Malvern’s General Warren Inne has remained a home away from home for travelers. “It’s always been a place of warmth and safety,” says Patrick Byrne, proprietor of the historic property. “That’s a tradition that has never changed.”

In the early days, the General Warren was a stopping point for those on the colonial turnpike between Philadelphia and Lancaster. Most recently, it’s a place where business types from nearby office parks enjoy food, drink and cozy lodgings. On weekends, it’s home to history buffs exploring Valley Forge and other local sites that played a key role in a burgeoning America. And its exceptional Continental cuisine has made it a worthy fine-dining destination. 

On the exterior, stout walls built from indigenous stone and stucco harken back to the inn’s Early American roots. Inside, there are fireplaces in almost every room. Various interpretations of the Windsor chair—so named for the English town where it was first produced in 1810—with their rounded tops and spindle backs, surround the tables in the dining areas.

Brass-and-candle-style chandeliers illuminate many of the guest suites. “And we’re blessed with relatively high ceilings for a building of this age,” Byrne says. 

the fieldstone springhouse dates back to the 1700s and is now a prime spot for private dining.

History lesson

When the property opened in 1745, it was called Admiral Vernon Inn, in honor of the naval commander who captured Portobelo, Panama, in 1739, preventing Spanish ships laden with treasure from heading home. It was renamed Admiral Warren in 1758 for Peter Warren, a British hero in the French and Indian War. “After the Revolution, we weren’t as excited about British military figures,” Byrne says. “So the name eventually was changed to General Warren, an American who was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill.” 

In 1777, British loyalists plotted the Paoli Massacre at the inn, dispatching 5,000 redcoats with bayonets to kill Revolutionary soldiers as they slept. “As the story goes, the British tortured a blacksmith on the third floor of the inn until he told them where ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne’s troops were camped,” he says. 

Between 1835 and the early 1900s, the inn was silent. Researchers learned about the break in service by reviewing the innkeepers’ liquor-license application history. “Applications stopped and didn’t start up again for more than 70 years,” Byrne says.

That was due, in part, to an unsuccessful attempt to rebrand the property as a temperance hotel where no strong drink would be served. At the same time, the railroad supplanted the stagecoach and fewer travelers, thirsty or otherwise, passed by the inn.

It’s likely the General Warren became a private residence after it closed. For a while, it was abandoned, as evidenced by photographs of the building, shuttered and covered with a tangle of English ivy.

a cozy sitting area in one of the eight suites.

A place reborn

After the inn reopened, there were three significant additions, one each in the early 1900s, 1985 and 2005. In the most recent renovation, the Warren tavern was moved to what the owners believe is the original location. A horseshoe-shaped bar is ideal for congregating and conversation. Small tables are clustered around the fireplace for casual dining. There’s a pressed-tin ceiling overhead.

Byrne says there was considerable debate as to what material to use for the bar countertop. Granite or quartz would have been too slick, too contemporary. Wood and copper are tough to maintain.

Soapstone was just right. A nonporous, natural material, it will not stain, withstanding wine spills and other day-to-day occurrences in a convivial bar. The surface is heat resistant and does not harbor bacteria. And its dark, matte finish provides a vintage feel. “The only maintenance required is a coat of mineral oil every few weeks,” he says.

Amish artisans put down floors of durable, hand-hewn hickory, laying the planks on the diagonal. The configuration allowed workmen to accommodate both running beams and the openings made centuries ago for trapdoors. “We also think it looks great,” Byrne says.

The William Penn Suite

Keeping it authentic

Maintaining a property steeped in history requires a corps of independent stencil artists, chimney sweeps, woodworkers and masons. “Finding plasterers is tough today, but we don’t take shortcuts,” Byrne says. 

In the 18th century, it was customary for fellow travelers to share beds. In the most recent renovation at the inn, the guest floors were reconfigured into eight suites, each with a bedroom, sitting area and bath. 

In the General Warren Suite, there’s a colonial-style four-poster bed. The walls and fireplace mantel in the sitting room are embellished with hand stenciling. Tucked under the eaves on the third floor, the William Penn Suite is warmed with a cast-iron stove. There’s also leather seating and an arched, Gothic-style window.

In the 1700s, the fieldstone springhouse behind the inn was used to keep butter, milk and meats cool in summer. Today, it’s a charming, private dining area with a view of the terrace and gardens.

There are multiple dining rooms inside the inn, including an enclosed front porch that has a stone floor and is a favorite for small gatherings. A large dining room at the back of the inn features a wall of windows overlooking the grounds. The windows are a recent addition but look as if they have always been there.

“We wanted to use real glass and putty,” Byrne says. “They aren’t as energy efficient as the high-tech windows we have today, but they do have an authentic look and feel—and that is what matters to us.”

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