Horseshoe Inn was ‘in’ place to be

But who are the unknown people in this photograph?

We turn to Rappahannock County native and historian Nan Butler Roberts for information about this amazing old photograph snapped in front of Sperryville’s Horseshoe Inn on a warm and sunny day between 1950 (“Dad and Mom opened Horseshoe Inn that year,” Nan notes) and July 1955 (“My Uncle Walter in the picture died in a single car crash in Woodville in July 1955”).

Courtesy Nan Butler Roberts

“The only living person that I know is Ray Jackson, living somewhere in the Northern Virginia area. Could this be a baseball league meeting photo? I wouldn’t be surprised,” says Nan, who showed us a letter dated about that time inviting her father, Howard Butler, to a meeting in Harrisonburg to discuss an expansion of the Black Baseball League, written about in this newspaper last month.

“It would be very much in line with my Dad’s nature in hospitality to invite the league representatives to come to Horseshoe Inn for a future meeting,” Nan notes. “Who is behind the camera? It just occurred to me probably my mother’s brother, John E. Wills. He lived in Philadelphia and he probably drove my Aunt Mildred (also living in Philadelphia at the time) to visit Mom and Dad for a few days. My Uncle John E. was well known for his photography and always had his camera with him.”

Nan says the Horseshoe Inn was the “In” place to be for African Americans in the 1950’s through the mid-1960’s, particularly after a baseball game during the summer months in Sperryville and surrounding locales including Washington and Reva.

“The Sperryville Tigers ball diamond was located on Route 522 West just a short walk away, where the Rappahannock Loan Closet is located now on Black Locust Lane in Sperryville,” she continues. “Horseshoe Inn was a restaurant, dance hall, convenience store and our home place until my Dad found employment in Washington, D.C. working for the federal government.

“We lived out of the backside of the building; the kitchen served a dual purpose, for our home and for the restaurant. It has been said that my mother made ‘The Best’ fried chicken and potato salad — sold in a Dixie cup! — anywhere around. Daddy built and named Horseshoe Inn for the horseshoe curve, where the building is located, heading up the mountain toward Skyline Drive and Luray.”

Nan further points out: “Horseshoe Inn was one of four restaurants/convenience stores/entertainment locations for African Americans in Rappahannock and surrounding areas from the early 1950’s into the 1990’s and beyond, [which were] located on the northeast side of the county in Amissville (Cross Creek, just west of Clevenger’s Corner, the partial sign is still there); Washington, Flatwood Inn (just adjacent to the Rappahannock County School Administrative building); also in Washington, Pine Knot Inn (where the Washington Monarchs played baseball); and at the foot of the mountains, Horseshoe Inn.

“Horseshoe Inn is still standing today and is a private residence,” she says. “If the walls could talk! What an amazing story they would tell!”

Here’s what Nan knows about the photograph, although she’d like to learn more:

Left to right (back row): Ray Jackson, unidentified person, Walter Kemper Butler (Nan’s uncle on her father’s side, and a Korean War veteran), unidentified person, Howard H. Butler (Nan’s father), unidentified person, unidentified person. Left to right (front and stooping down): unidentified person, Mildred Wills (Nan’s aunt by marriage on her mother’s side), Dorothy C. Butler (Nan’s mother), Lewis Jones of Luray (associated with the baseball ball team in Luray and close friend of Nan’s parents).

If anyone can help name the unidentified persons in the photo, please contact Nan at 540-661-2013 or email

About John McCaslin 469 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at

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