Something amiss: National Road Festival goes on without Century Inn

May 18, 2016
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Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter
The Pike Days Festival won’t be the same this year after Century Inn was destroyed by a fire last fall. Still, Scenery Hill merchants and residents say the tragedy has united the community. Order a Print
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Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter
Jan’s Tea Shoppe in Scenery Hill makes its own coffee, branded Second St. Coffee Roasters. Jan’s will be one of the many stores along Pike Street participating in the Pike Days Festival. Order a Print
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Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter
William Harvey, owner of the Elves Lair in Scenery Hill, looks out across the street at the burned Century Inn while he describes what the inn meant to Scenery Hill. Order a Print

The 43rd annual National Road Festival, a celebration of the construction of America’s first interstate highway, kicks off Friday.

And for the first time since the festival began in 1974, Century Inn will not be a destination for visitors dropping by Scenery Hill.

The landmark inn was gutted by a fire in August. While plans call for the tavern, which dates to 1794, to be rebuilt, it is not known when reconstruction will be completed.

Shop owners said it’s too early to tell if the loss of Century Inn will affect their businesses, but they said the fire helped galvanize the community.

“We assume it will have some impact because people liked to go there for a meal and then shop. But it made us realize how much the Century Inn touched people’s lives, and how these businesses affect people,” said William Harvey, owner of Elves Lair, across the street from the Century Inn.

Harvey recalled a letter from a man who wrote that he and his father stopped at the Century Inn the Sunday before the fire, sparked by an electrical malfunction in a first-floor equipment room, destroyed the inn. Days later, his father died.

“It was the last meal they had together. It was the last time they went out together. There were a lot of letters like that,” Harvey said.

Macaque in the trees
Jan’s Tea Shoppe in Scenery Hill makes its own coffee, branded Second St. Coffee Roasters. Jan’s will be one of the many stores along Pike Street participating in the Pike Days Festival.
Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter

Jan Dunker, owner of Jan’s Tea Shoppe, has lived next door to the Century Inn for three-quarters of her life and called it “something special.”

She said the tavern and its owner, Megin Harrington, have made a positive difference in the lives of Scenery Hill residents.

The fire spurred the creation of the Scenery Hill Preservation Committee, whose goal is to build sidewalks on both sides of the historic district and install lamp posts, Harvey said. Other improvement plans are in the works.

Said Harvey, “I think we took it for granted, how special this place is.”

Scenery Hill shop owners said they welcome the additional tourism from Pike Days, and Dunker said the festival is “the best free advertising you can get.”

Macaque in the trees
William Harvey, owner of the Elves Lair in Scenery Hill, looks out across the street at the burned Century Inn while he describes what the inn meant to Scenery Hill.
Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter

Visitors often return days or weeks later to purchase items they noticed during the festival.

Pike Days runs Friday through Sunday along a stretch of Route 40 in Washington, Fayette and Somerset counties. The towns and villages along the road – among them are Brownsville, Claysville and West Alexander – showcase antiques and specialty shops and live bands, re-enactors, food and craft vendors, flea markets and family activities. An authentic wagon train – a nod to the early mode of transportation on Route 40 that enabled people heading west to the frontier or east to bring their lifestock or goods – also rolls through.

For more information on the National Road Festival, visit nationalroadpa.org.

Karen Mansfield is an award-winning journalist and mom of five who has been a staff writer for the Observer-Reporter since 1988. She enjoys reading, the Pittsburgh Steelers, a good glass of wine and nice people.

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