Candlepin bowling comes to Sperryville

Many might not know that one of New England’s favorite sports is candlepin bowling. “To us in New England, we just say bowling. Bowling is candlepin,” said Liz Moore, executive director of the International Candlepin Bowling Association. “That’s regular bowling for us. We would say ‘Big Ball Bowling’ if we were talking about the other kind.’”

Candlepin is now in Sperryville, thanks to Erin Platt, above, and Cliff Miller IV. By Chris Green

Playing candlepin is about as New England as eating lobster rolls or spending summers down the Cape. While other areas recognize the sport, including a competitive scene in parts of Canada, candlepin bowling is mostly foreign to other regions of the country that insist on rolling balls using three fingers. But not anymore. Candlepin is now in Sperryville, thanks to Cliff Miller IV and Erin Platt.

According to the Boston Globe the sport has a storied history, one that remains vibrant in the Northeast to this very day. Wikipedia reports that candlepin bowling was developed in 1880 in Worcester, Mass., by Justin White, a local bowling center owner, some years before both the standardization of the tenpin bowling sport in 1895 and the invention of duckpin bowling, said by some sources to have been invented the same year. The Woburn Bowladrome, pictured in Wiki’s history of the sport, celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. It is the bowladrome where I often bowled with my friends, just down the street from my old high school.

Erin Platt, managing partner of Sperryville’s Headmasters Pub, part of Cliff Miller IV’s sprawling School House Complex, sits with me at the half circle bar with deep swivel seats, and surrounding booths, designed with comfort and style in mind, facing the bright bay windows and large TV. The game room lies within eye shot, with custom-made pool tables and outside of course is the professionally designed nine-hole 3-par School House Nine golf course.

She shares the story of her travel with Cliff to pick up candlepin bowling equipment from its owner in Ohio, an item that Cliff, maestro of all things auction related, bid upon to install in his School House game room. She tells of Bruce Critzer and Tim, resident mechanic, and also Jeff the golf pro, and their shared adept installation and maintenance and how she loves to bowl most every morning. The lanes have been expanded and the bowling is now fully operational. Still in the making are decisions such as how to determine player time, etc.

In recent years, I have devoted many a column to Cliff Miller IV as his myriad interests and imaginative business conquests prove always newsworthy. He is all about drive, determination, vision and execution. As a young man, he set his goals, one of which was to bring back to life, with his father and mother, the beautiful country manor now known as the Inn at Mount Vernon Farm. Cliff graciously offered, several years ago, a tour of the Inn and its grounds, that I and my cousin Christina, visiting from Germany thoroughly enjoyed. The view of the Blue Ridge Mountains is spectacular, with the Inn itself filled with rich Rappahannock history and splendid stone masonry. The walls, too, speak of a family history, hung with portraits of his German ancestors, the Muellers. He also restored with great care Mount Vernon’s old dairy barn, the largest of its kind in America, its ancient wood and architecture of days of old now used for wedding receptions.

Having successfully restored the Inn and Dairy Barn, Cliff dove into the antique and retail business, purchasing the Old School House, and in full throttle along with Erin, opened Headmaster’s Pub, followed by the construction of a golf course. Now he adds yet additional entertainment with the introduction of candlepin bowling to the county.

I remember after Cliff gave our tour of his Mt. Vernon Inn, Christina and I climbed back into my pickup, and she looked at me with a big smile and said, “You know, he’s all about authenticity, isn’t he, Chris? You can see the love that goes into every inch of his work.” Yes Christina, he’s all about living his passions and he’s what we call a glass half-full kinda guy.

Cliff, how about a Drive In?

Chris Green
About Chris Green 160 Articles
Chris Green (formerly Chris Doxzen) is an an executive recruiter by profession who enjoys exploring and writing about all things Rappahannock. Friends and neighbors with potential stories for her Sperryville column should email her at


  1. The thing to remember is, Candlepin is about spares, strikes are gravy! You can’t count on strikes. A pro-Candlepin bowler averages around a 120. So if you’re getting a 70 or 80 you’re doing awesome! There are 3 balls per turn, if you get all the pins down with 3 balls it’s just a 10. When you’re holding and delivering the ball, keep your thumb on top, and 4 fingers on the other side. Let the ball roll evenly off of your fingers. Oh, and don’t clean up any of the fallen pins between balls, use them to help knock over other pins! :)

  2. Never heard of it, love the story, can’t wait to give it a shot. Thanks for sharing your love of exploration and the desire to bring that “glass half-full” mentality to the our world!

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