Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Phil Bowditch: The legacy of “Mr. Hospitality”

Phil and Dave Bowditch in front of the Hornsby House. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Dave Bowditch)

YORKTOWN — To say that Phil Bowditch was a busy man would be an understatement.

A local broker for Bowditch Properties and Family Properties, Mr. Bowditch was heavily involved in the community and, though he resided in Newport News, his name and face were well-known in Yorktown.

He served on the vestry at St. Stephens’ Episcopal Church in Newport News and played an active role in many of the church’s activities. A religious man, he was also known to carve wooden pocket crosses and hand them out to people.

According to his obituary, Bowditch was previously involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and served on the board of Watermen’s Museum in Yorktown, which his mother founded to preserve the heritage of the waterman trade.

“Phil has been involved with the museum for as long as I’ve been there,” said Waterman’s Museum President, Steve Ormsby. “He volunteered at many events, and especially our annual oyster roast.”

But above all, Bowditch was also a beloved son, father, and brother.

Dave Bowditch, co-founder of the Hornsby House Inn, said his brother had a unique sense of humor and was very laid-back.

Terry Hodson, who is a neighbor of the Hornsby House, said both Dave and Phil Bowditch were cut from the same cloth.

She called Phil, “Mr. Hospitality.”

So it made sense when the brothers decided to turn their grandfather’s house into a bed and breakfast.

“We kept thinking to ourselves, ‘How can we keep it?’” Dave Bowditch said of when he and his brother were brainstorming over what to do with the house.

Built by their grandfather, John William “J.W.” Hornsby, in 1933, the Hornsby House has been a pillar of southern elegance and hospitality.

Later on, Hornsby’s only daughter, Marian, married Willits H. Bowditch, founder of Bowditch Ford, and they raised their four sons in the Hornsby House so that Marian could care of her mother, Georgianna Hornsby.

Dave Bowditch described the three-generation house as a lively and wonderful place to grow up. When Marian Bowditch passed away in 2006, the Bowditch children were all grown up and established lives of their own outside of Yorktown.

Nobody was prepared to uproot their lives and move back into the house. That’s when the brothers decided to turn their family home into a bed & breakfast. In 2009, the Hornsby House Inn was born.

Dave Bowditch said that both he and Phil worked tirelessly for over a year to convert the colonial-style home into a suitable bed and breakfast.

Now, the Hornsby House Inn has become the epicenter of socialization and hospitality within the Yorktown Village community.

Hodson said that she remembers the first time that Phil waved her over to join the “daily wine and cheese happy hour” the brothers hosted for their guests.

The first invitation inspired a dozen more to surrounding neighbors. Because of one man’s hospitality and generosity, the whole neighborhood now has a long email list of correspondences and newsletters.

“You could usually find him playing backgammon on the porch, drinking from a red solo cup filled with his drink of choice,” Hodson said.

Backgammon was the brothers’ usual way to pass the time.

Dave Bowditch said that both he and his brother would place bets on their games, keeping a cup labeled “The Cup of Shame” close by for the loser. The real winners were always the guests who stayed at the Hornsby House.

“That’s the thing about bed and breakfasts. No two are the same,” Dave Bowditch said. “They are a reflection of the people who create them.”

The Hornsby House is the best mirror in this case.

The brothers served dishes straight out of their mother’s cookbook, “From the Kitchen at Hornsby House in Yorktown, Virginia.” Phil would make her sausage, egg and cheese casserole, and Dave would serve a French toast casserole.

While Dave entertained guests with stories of the house and of local history, Phil would leave a gold dollar coin on guests’ pillows if they made their own beds ––– leaving behind an amusing token while establishing a long-running joke.

Just shy of his 69th birthday, Phil Bowditch passed away after a courageous battle with lymphoma cancer.

After his death, there was a memorial toast at the Hornsby House where family, friends and neighbors raised a red solo cup in his memory.

Dave said that even though his brother has passed on, the Hornsby House Inn is not going anywhere.

“The inn was done out of legacy,” Dave said. “And for the future, it will be whatever works for them.”

The Hornsby House Inn is located at 702 Main St., across from the Victory Monument in Yorktown.

For more information about reservations and events, please visit the bed and breakfast’s website. To see a list of Hornsby/Bowditch family recipes you can try at home, click here.


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