If you read our About the Lodge, then you know that Sugar Tree began with a man and a dream. Dr. L. Richard Meeth dreamed of relaxing on a front porch with “27-mile views of the Shenandoah Valley.” As is the way of life, things didn’t quite follow the plan, and Sugar Tree Lodge became his swan song, but I’ll get to that. First, in order to explain Sugar Tree’s origin, allow me to tell you a little bit about the man and the dream.
Meeth’s sister remembers her brother as a dreamer, but always busy, always doing. She said he never could sit still very long, always ready for the next project or challenge. Based on the information I could find about Meeth and his connection with Vesuvius, I would have to agree.
Said connection began in 1957 when Meeth was the student minister at Mt. Carmel Presbyterian Church. During his field placement, he and his grandfather went about renovating a derelict log cabin giving it a new life and providing Meeth a home during his studies. Time passed, Meeth graduated the program, got married, and moved on, becoming a life-long higher education advocate. But Rockbridge County and especially our little hamlet of Vesuvius must have gotten under his skin because in 1971 he returned. Two years after Hurricane Camille stalled over the Blue Ridge Mountains and poured down destruction, Meeth purchased the Osceola Mill and renovated the mill within a few months to his primary residence. He kept many of the original gristmill features, but also modernized the mill to suit his family’s needs. After the Osceola renovations, Meeth created a KOA campground in Vesuvius further up the mountain on Route 56. It was during this time period that he built and sold 11 homes. But a larger project continued to call him.
In 1973 and for the next four years, Meeth scoured Rockbridge County for abandoned and falling down log structures. He found six buildings which would eventually become Sugar Tree Lodge: 3 log cabins, a house from Fairfield, a poplar Barn from Vesuvius, a school from Churchville, and Raphine’s General Store. All buildings were estimated to be built in the mid to late eighteen hundreds. By 1977 Meeth begin work on his dream, a home high up in the hills where he could sit on this front porch and enjoy 27-mile views across the Shenandoah Valley. But Meeth wasn’t interested in just preserving the logs, he was interested in preserving a way of life, knowledge that was getting lost with each successive generation.
Meeth hired a local crew leader, Alvin Reynolds who created a team of 18 local men and women tasked with preserving a heritage. Local Elders were consulted, chinking recipes were recorded, notching tips and tricks were noted, and in the late 1970s, construction on Sugar Tree Lodge was underway.
Meeth and Reynolds showed their commitment to creating an authentic log structure beginning with the foundation by laying locally quarried stone. Axes were used if logs required new notching or rot needed to be cut off. As the structure grew, a primitive pulley system was created to hoist the logs into place, since muscle was only going to get the team so far. Due to the teams’ prior research, they left a tree inside the structure for just this purpose. The team continued this method of notching, hoisting and stacking until the structure was two stories tall. As the structure grew, the fireplaces and chimneys were constructed, again using locally quarried stone totaling 55 tons and ten tons of mortar.
So, after the chimneys and fireplaces were set and the structure stacked, it was left to settle through the winter. Next fall the roof was added, and at this point, the first nail was hammered. The exterior chinking was also added that fall. By the spring the interior chinking was added, then for two months, fires burned in the fireplaces to dry the walls.
Even though Meeth’s main desire for this project was to preserve tradition, he thankfully made a few concessions for modern conveniences such as plumbing, electricity and even insulation. As the current owners of the property, we are grateful. Despite these concessions, Meeth’s commitment to the Shenandoah Valley’s heritage permeates numerous details through the Lodge. He procured Chestnut siding dating back to the mid-1800s which was repurposed into cabinets, closets, interior paneling, doors, and trim. Old rafters were used, and extra rafters were turned into handrails. Even the Lodge flooring was flooring in another life, in another building.
As the Lodge began to take shape, Meeth realized that his dream of creating a home with amazing front porch views wasn’t quite large enough to account for the size of the structure Reynolds and his crew created, so Meeth’s dream home expanded into a mountain inn, totaling 76 feet in length. With a few minor adjustments to the dining room, the addition of a commercial kitchen and a glass solarium for more seating, the Sugar Tree Lodge officially opened Sunday, May 2, 1983.
In an article published in Country Magazine in September 1983, Meeth said that in creating Sugar Tree Lodge he sought to “display Shenandoah Valley’s best,” which was evident not only in the method of building the Lodge, but also the details inside the Lodge, and Lodge offerings, which Lodgekeeper, Dean Gregory, a Junior Olympics gold medal gymnast from Greece, oversaw. In the beginning, fresh flowers, Virginia apples, and red wine awaited all the guests. Meeth also hired a local chef, John Greco, who shared Meeth’s passion for the region and the two labored away creating regionally inspired dishes way before it became trendy.
One year later Meeth’s crew leader, Alvin Reynolds located a double barn which was falling in on itself, all the pieces were broken down and transported to Sugar Tree where it and a house near Brownsburg were reconstructed into the structure now known as our Log House. Unfortunately, prior to the completion of the Log House, Meeth was involved in a fatal car accident.
After Meeth’s death, the timeline grows a little fuzzy. (So if anyone reading this has more information about specific time frames, enhancements done to the property, etc., please help us fill it in. Feel free to contact us at email@example.com.) From what I have gathered, Meeth’s wife left the running of Sugar Tree Lodge in Gregory’s care. Sometime in the 80s, Sugar Tree was sold to the Snyders, who lived at and took care of the property with their family until it was sold to the Davis in the early 90s. The Davis owned and operated Sugar Tree Inn until the early 2000s, when they sold it to the Walters. The Walters ran the Inn for approximately 2 years at which point it was sold to the Chanters. The Chanters purchased Sugar Tree Inn in 2003 and owned and operated the Inn until the Foxes (us!) bought Sugar Tree Inn in 2016. The Foxes now run the Inn with their two small children.
And there you have it, the origin of Sugar Tree Lodge. Through 30 plus years of operating and six different owners, Sugar Tree remains a little mountain inn with great front porch views. And we’ve come full circle. In a local newspaper article published just four days after the Lodge opened, Meeth stated, “We hope people will come here to relax, rest and get back in touch with themselves.” Meeth, you’ll be happy to know that your hope’s been coming true for almost four decades now and we hope to continue your legacy because there should always be a place where you can escape the urgency of life even if only for a day or two.
As stated above, if you have any information to elaborate our timeline, please share. Additionally, if you’ve been a loyal Sugar Tree Inn devotee/patron, share with us why you love it. What is your favorite part of escaping to the mountains? Or, if you have yet to stay at our little mountain inn, feel free to browse our rooms and flip through our calendar; don’t be afraid to use some of those vacation days.
Until next time, we’re looking forward to your stay!