SCENERY HILL – Firefighters from more than two dozen companies “tried desperately” to save the stone walls of Century Inn, and they succeeded when its interior caught fire in 2015, the owner of the historic Scenery Hill tavern said Sunday.
Tests on the locally quarried stone walls dating to 1788 along the nation’s first interstate highway had to be performed to verify their integrity, Century Inn owner Megin Harrington said.
“They’re fine,” Harrington said to a tour group Sunday when she also announced reconstruction is underway on the building that hosted presidents and other distinguished guests after it opened as the Hill Tavern stagecoach stop along Route 40, also known as the National Road.
The tests were among a number of holdups she faced after her restaurant, most of its antiques and her art collection were destroyed in the Aug. 15, 2015, fire that began in a first-floor utility room and burned for nearly eight hours. She did manage to save a Whiskey Rebellion-era flag that hung in the bar and is now in the temporary care of Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh.
She said Waller Corp. of Washington began demolishing the interior of the two-story mansion and restaurant last week.
“We are hoping, hoping to be open in the fall,” Harrington said on the last stop of the driving tour of Route 40 sponsored by Washington County History and Landmarks Foundation.
“The only thing left is the stone,” she said. “Once they get started, it’s goes rather quickly.”
The event began in Centerville at a stone horse stable that was converted in 1936 into a restaurant now known as Paci’s on Old National Pike. The more than 40 people on the tour also walked through the former Krepps Tavern, a sprawling stone mansion that is now the home of Rosalie Paci-Miller. The tour also passed Taylor United Methodist Church organized in 1772, the town of old Centerville where a 1930s service station still stands and the National Hotel in Beallsville before it ended at Century Inn at 2176 E. National Pike.
“Welcome to Century Inn,” Harrington said when she began her discussion about the inn.
Hill Tavern served a higher class of guests because of its then-gracious accommodations. Stagecoach stops were required because the teams of horses pulling coaches needed to rest after they traveled 12 miles. The inn is 12 miles in each direction from Brownsville and Washington.
Founder Stephen Hill enlarged the inn in 1794 and another 20th century addition created the 20-room mansion.
The inn hosted Gen. Marquis de LaFayette for breakfast in 1824 and Andrew Jackson for the same meal in 1829 before he was elected president, according to a 1955 story in The Washington Observer. Over the years, the tavern served as a popular destination for weddings and other family holidays, while it also became one of the faces of Washington County tourism promotion advertisements.
Harrington said some of the challenges she faced before beginning the project involved hiring an architect and bringing the building up to modern construction codes.
“We have to lower the basement two feet. We have to go down before we can go up,” she said. “We’re real happy with the plan.”
The cost of rebuilding was not revealed Sunday.
Harrington said she has already started to collect antiques to decorate the restaurant, and luckily the prices of them have come down because they are not popular among today’s young buyers. She also said her family has purchased a 150-year-old barn, that some of the wood there may be used to rebuild the inn.
Sandy Mansmann, a coordinator at the foundation, said it’s going to take time and money to save the inn.
“Everyone today is saying they are gratified that it’s going to come back,” Mansmann said.