inn, in Great Britain, any hotel, public house, tavern, or coffeehouse where lodging is provided. In American usage, the inn is generally a small rural lodging house for transients. Among the earliest public houses were empty huts placed at caravan stops in the Middle East for the shelter of traders and travelers. To pilgrims, temples and religious houses gave rest and refreshment—a custom that still lingers in some Alpine hospices. The Romans maintained post stations on their great highways for the use of messengers of state and those especially privileged. For the accommodation of ordinary transients, stabularia were kept for man and beast. In the Middle Ages hospitality was observed as one of the Christian duties by the establishment of hospices in cities and by the entertainment of travelers at monasteries. Inns kept for profit appeared in Europe about the 15th cent. and gained a reputable standing in England, often being named for the powerful family on whose holdings they were established. They were usually built around a courtyard, approached by a wide, covered entry. In America, colonial inns similar to the English hostelries sprang up along the great turnpikes.
See W. C. Firebaugh, Inns of the Middle Ages (1924); H. A. Monckton, A History of the English Public House (1969).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.