SCENERY HILL – Skip Radford was riding his motorcycle on Route 40 Monday morning when he saw a sign in front of Century Inn announcing that it would reopen this fall.
The notice brought him to a stop to inquire.
“Is it true what that sign says?” he asked Waller Corp. Vice President Greg Kittridge, who was finishing up a tour of the progress of reconstructing one of Washington County’s oldest continuous businesses with a reporter and photographer.
When Kittridge told him the target date would be met, Radford, of Crafton, was elated.
He said he and his wife had enjoyed visiting the Scenery Hill inn over the years and he was saddened when he learned of the fire that gutted the historic site on Aug. 15, 2015.
“It’ll be fun to come back,” Radford said.
The comeback of Century Inn, which opened in 1794 and has welcomed thousands and thousands of guests like the Radfords over the years, is well on its way.
From the vantage point of the entrance to the inn, the building appears to be only a shell of itself, but the sounds of construction coming from behind the front door tell of a major work in progress.
From what Kittridge showed Monday – the company will complete the framing in of the structure next week and electrical and mechanical subcontractors will begin their work the following week – the best guess is that the inn’s restaurant and tavern are on target for a late fall opening.
Waller Corp. began work about three months ago on the structure, spending the first month making the site safe for work. As Kittridge walked through the rooms, he pointed to the progress that’s being made on each of the building’s three levels, as well as in its basement.
“My hopes are that the restaurant and tavern can open by Thanksgiving,” he said.
The new guest rooms on the second floor and the innkeeper’s quarters on the third floor, all of which are being built almost entirely of new construction with the exception of some original fireplaces, will take a little longer to finish.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the project is that the stone used to build the walls of Century Inn – which average 3 feet in thickness – was salvaged.
Stones comprising portions of the gabled ends of the exterior walls were cleaned and put back into place. Masons also found that an interior corridor wall was leaning, so it was taken down and rebuilt with the original stone.
Another wall at the back of the newer portion of the building was blackened by the fire but is being cleaned. The wall formed the back of the inn’s “keeping room” with a massive fireplace. Kittridge said the room will have a plaque commemorating the blaze.
Kittridge acknowledged that the project is a mixture of restoration and new construction as the contractor walks a fine line by working in compliance with the latest building codes that cover the commercial and residential portions of the structure while remaining true to the building’s historical aspects.
Both Kittridge and Gordon Harrington, who owns and operates the inn with his mother, Megin Harrington, declined to discuss the cost of the project.
While Waller Corp. is responsible for rebuilding the structure, the owners will have to replace the furnishings – many of which were antiques – and equipment that was lost.
Gordon Harrington explained that the inn has applied for a historical grant that will provide a tax deduction if it meets requirements for preserving certain historical aspects of the building. He said the inn is working with a grant writer and its architect to ensure that its historical integrity is maintained.
“All of this has to go through a review process,” he said. “The main priority is that we need to keep the historical tenor as close as we possibly can.”
The inn will receive a new kitchen in the same space and dimensions as the one that was lost, and the basement below it is being readied to serve as a large food preparation area, including a place for curing meats, as well as a secure room for storing liquor and another room for the upgraded mechanicals.
The basement was dug down by an additional 3 feet and one of the stone walls was reinforced by poured-in-place concrete.
In the tavern area on the first floor, Kittridge showed the original fireplaces that, prior to fire, had their chimneys covered by plaster, which are now exposed.
“A bar will be built similar to the one that was here,” he said.
While the staircase that led to the second floor was lost in the blaze, Kittridge said research is being done to build a new one that will closely resemble the original.
Custom work was also required to match the ceiling in several parts of the building, but in some parts, timbers that supported floors were salvaged.
While the second floor had always contained guest rooms, Kittridge noted that the floor will contain seven new units, with some being built as suites. There will also be a patio on the second level for guests and a wooden staircase that descends to a courtyard on the east side of the building.
Harrington said he and his mother are now looking beyond the loss the fire created to new opportunities for the inn’s business when it reopens.
“There were things we always wanted to do and we didn’t,” he said.
He said the inn will step up its focus on attracting overnight guests and will also look to redevelop its wedding business.
“We’re better prepared for modern weddings, which have become more intimate,” he said, noting a trend of many brides and grooms who are spending more at smaller venues.
He added that the new kitchen and food prep areas will create efficiencies “that our guests might not notice” but will be a boon to the staff.
He said the inn, which always raised its own herbs, will add more raised-bed gardens for producing vegetables for the kitchen. It will also continue its focus on serving locally sourced products, he added.
On the third floor, Waller is working on a new innkeeper’s quarters that will encompass nearly 2,000 square feet when completed.
Kittridge said next up will be fully enclosing the structure with a temporary membrane on the roof and covering windows to allow the electrical and mechanical subcontractors to go to work in the building, which will happen in the next two weeks.
Harrington said Century Inn wants to return to take its place as a major driver of business for the other shops that line Scenery Hill’s business district.
“This (fire) has impacted a whole lot of people,” he said, noting that foot traffic is down in the town.
“The community here is counting on us.”