Mystery solved

September 15, 2013
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The coffee shop of the George Washington Hotel as it appeared in February 1923
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Park Burroughs / Observer-Reporter
The former Pioneer Grill as it appears today Order a Print

We received more than three dozen phone calls and emails in response to this week’s Mystery Photo, and nearly as many different guesses at the location of the restaurant.

The leading vote-getter was Stacks Cafeteria, which was across South Main Street form the Washington County Courthouse and located below ground. Almost as many readers guessed it was the old Washington Restaurant on North Main Street, with its long lunch counter. And three other suggested that the photo was of the Hartley Inn in Carmichaels.

All of them were wrong.

Jeff Widdup of Waynesburg sent us an old postcard of the Frank Silveus Dining Room above Citizens National Bank in Waynesburg that shows a restaurant and lunch counter that is intriguing in its similarity to our Mystery Photo. Similar, but wrong.

Among the other possible locations were Isaly’s, in both Washington and Waynesburg; McCann’s Market in Pittsburgh; the old bus station in Washington; Chicken House Restaurant, in Waynesburg; Club Brazil, at Willow Beach near Houston; Woolworth’s; a restaurant on Pike Street, Canonsburg, and another in Bridgeville. Someone even suggested Shorty’s on West Chestnut Street (really!).

They were all wrong.

A few readers thought the restaurant might have been where Taylor’s Pharmacy was later, which was in the George Washington Hotel. They were close.

Just to the south side of the hotel’s South Main Street entrance are the Bradford Inn and the former Pioneer Grill, and they occupy the same space that the restaurant in our Mystery Photo did when the George Washington opened its doors on Feb. 22, 1923.

Bonnie Post of Washington, Mary Frances Babish and Rick Evans were correct with their guesses. Formal dining took place then in what is now the Washington Room of the hotel, but quicker, more informal meals were eaten in the coffee shop.

The evidence is clear. The height of the ceilings, the placement of the pillars and beams, the location of the light fixtures and the design of the floor tile match the current room. What’s more, one can see where tiles have been replaced to cover where stools were bolted and plumbing and electrical lines emerged to serve sinks and appliances behind the counter.

So, what happed to the coffee shop? In an article in The Reporter marking the 25th anniversary of the hotel, Earle Forrest wrote: “Improvements are constantly being made, and the management has kept up with the times. The Pioneer Grill, which was opened in 1934 when the former coffee shop was completely remodeled, is one of the most popular eating places along the line of the old National Pike. The historical murals by Malcolm Parcell, Washington’s artist who has gained international fame with his paintings, are known from coast to coast.”

The Pioneer Grill was closed earlier this year, and the room is now used only for special events.

We regret that time did not permit us to return all of our readers’ phone calls and messages, but we appreciate their desire to reconnect with our area’s past.

Look for another Mystery Photo in next Monday’s Observer-Reporter.

Park Burroughs has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1972. He is the winner of numerous state and regional awards for feature, column and editorial writing. He is the author of two books, “Enter, With Torches: Recollections of a Grumpy Old Editor,” and "Washington County Murder and Mayhem." He retired in September 2012 but continues to contribute to the O-R’s news pages.

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