Thursday, February 22, 2018

Stepping Back in Time to a 1700s-era Tavern in Bedford, Pa

Old Tavern
Bedford's Jean Bonnet Tavern

I'm a fan of old taverns and, as such, the Jean Bonnet Tavern located in Bedford, Pennsylvania has held a bit of an allure for me, but it just never seemed convenient to make a special trip there until recently when we decided to visit Omni Bedford Springs resort (more to come on that in a future blog post.)

Many insist that the old tavern is haunted.  For me that adds to its appeal, but as usual, I can't attest to it firsthand. I can, however, provide this link to an interesting video shot by local paranormal investigators.

A Rich History

The exact age of the Jean Bonnet hasn't been quite pinned down. The earliest record on the property is a title transfer of 690 acres from the William Penn family to a land speculator by the name of Hans Ireland, who then transferred it to Indian trader Robert Callender in 1762. Callender was a commissary for troop supplies and later a scout for George Washington. Many of the features you'll see today like the tavern's stone walls, its impressive fireplaces and the chestnut beams were constructed while Callendar owned the property.

The structure, which served as a respite for settlers who made their way west in wooden wagons,  is located along the Lincoln Highway and Route 31. Early on, it served as an French fort and trading post. Old accounts by trappers and traders refer to the building as being on the way to the Old Shawnese Cabins, today known as Shawnee State Park. General John Forbes was said to have stopped at the tavern to await reinforcements before continuing westward in his quest to take Fort Duquesne from the French.

In 1779, Jean (John) Bonnet and his wife purchased the property and shortly thereafter was issued a license to keep a Public House. 

One of the most notable developments after the Revolutionary War was the imposition of a federal excise tax on whiskey, which enraged farmers. The "whiskey tax" was the first tax imposed on a domestic product in the United States and was part of Hamilton's plan to help pay down the national debt caused by Revolutionary War expenditures. The farmers, who would distill their surplus grain and corn into whiskey and sometimes use it in trade instead of money, met in the Jean Bonnet Tavern and raised a "liberty pole," which was a common form of protest during colonial days. 

An example of a "liberty pole" posted on the John Bonnet website
from a Wikipedia image.
Painting by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  
George Washington lead a group of militiamen to help quell the rebellion and many of his troops camped at the John Bonnet on their way to Pittsburgh in 1794.

Over the years, the property changed hands many times and was also used as a private residence.

Dining at the Jean Bonnet
I suggest making reservations to dine at the Jean Bonnet Tavern. When we arrived during a weekday, the place was doing a brisk business, but I did manage to snap a few pictures surreptitiously, while trying not to disturb anyone. 
The front seating room of the Jean Bonnet Tavern. 

tavern booth
One of the few seats that weren't yet taken when we visited. 


We found the low-lit atmosphere warm and inviting and if you've ever visited The Dobbin House in Gettysburg, it was reminiscent of the Springhouse Tavern. Menu items included a variety of soups, sandwiches and salads, with more substantial dinner offerings. You can view a menu here
Mike perusing the lunch menu on Valentine's Day 2018. 

One of the tavern's many fireplaces. 

tavern sign

Another shot of a fireplace in the dining area. 
After we finished our lunch, I ventured upstairs to have a peek and was surprised to see another seating area and a rather large bar. Once again, I tried to be a bit sneaky while snapping a few pics, but this time I didn't quite succeed. As you can tell by the faces of the patrons in the pictures, they weren't very kindly disposed towards me, so the shot could be clearer, but I just found myself wanting to move on. Perhaps they were fugitives, or worse, they may have preferred to protect their identity. One item of note, however, is the impressive fireplace behind their glares
historic bar
Large bar upstairs where yet another fireplace is a focal point.
Unfortunately I didn't have the opportunity to see any of the Inn rooms, but you can have a looky look by clicking on this link here.
Stairs behind the bar lead to the rooms upstairs. 
On the way out, we stopped inside The Cabin Shop, which sold a selection of crafts made by local artisans, including candles, jewelry, accessories and home decor. 
The Cabin Shop on the grounds of the Jean Bonnet Tavern features a variety of merchandise ideal for gift giving.
It might have been a cold, cloudy day when we visited the Jean Bonnet, but the atmosphere was both warm and welcoming and evidently others feel the same. TripAdvisor has awarded the Tavern a Certificate of Excellence Award for its hospitality.

If you'd like to consider visiting, the tavern is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to  9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Small Town Fun from Shepherdstown to Boonsboro

Saturdays are made for exploring and I try to do that as much as I can, schedule and weather permitting. Luckily, I live within a two-hour drive of many interesting destinations, so there are still some "new-to-me" areas I've yet to visit that require relatively little time spent on the road traveling.

Shepherdstown made its way onto my radar when I was flipping through television channels and was intrigued by a show titled, "The Ghosts of Shepherdstown." It occurred to me that I'd never been to that particular area of West Virginia, so my husband and I executed a plan to find out what the buzz was all about.

One thing I especially dislike about winter is that many destinations are closed for the season, so options are somewhat limited. For that reason, we planned a short, overnight stay, with the intention of returning at a later date when more attractions (like the Historic Shepherdstown and Museum) are open.

As we browsed nearby accommodations, we learned about a Bed and Breakfast in nearby Sharpsburg, MD and as luck would have it, we were able to secure a last-minute reservation. The Jacob Rohrbach Inn dates back to the year 1804 and has a rich history. You can read more about the structure and those who once called it home by visiting the website here
Our room at the Jacob Rohrbach Inn.
When speaking with the proprietors, we broached the subject of the town's paranormal reputation, but it was soon obvious that they really weren't all that interested, choosing instead to focus on the history of the area. After all, the Battle of Antietam, also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg, took place only a mile or two away, with some fighting occurring in the town itself. The historic confrontation  became known as the bloodiest, single-day battle in American history, with a combined tally of 22,717 dead, wounded, or missing.

History buffs have been known to spend many hours at the nearby battlefield. Grounds are open for touring from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, year round. The National Park Service provides helpful information on planning a visit via their website. Details are available here.

Dining at the Bavarian Inn
A light snow began to fall as we made our way to the alpine-style Bavarian Inn's Hunt Room for lunch. The cozy restaurant, which features roaring fireplaces and antlered chandeliers, was an ideal respite from the frigid weather.

Perched on a scenic bluff overlooking the Potomac River, the AAA Four-Diamond property is comprised of 72 rooms situated on 11 acres. Additional options include casual dining in the Rathskeller, or more formal dining in the Potomac Room overlooking the grounds.
The grounds at the Bavarian Inn.

Dining at the Hunt Room at The Bavarian Inn.

The Bavarian Inn's Hunt Room decorated for Christmas

Stepping Back in Time at O'Hurleys General Store
After lunch, we decided to drop by the Shepherdstown Visitor's Center on Princess Street to pick up a few brochures. While there, an ambassador recommended a trip to O'Hurley's General Store. When we pulled up to the inauspicious building, we couldn't help but wonder what we had gotten ourselves into, but it turned out to be a very charming experience. A wood-burning stove keeps the place warm and cozy and a big, furry feline oversees operations.

Visitors can choose from a array of merchandise, from books, to tools, to jams, jellies, hats and hardware, some of which I understand dates back to the early 1900s. You can visit their website to see all they offer here, but you may end up scratching your head like I did when you see coffins among the items listed. I'll admit I didn't spot any of those while touring the rooms full of merchandise, but then again maybe I overlooked them since I'm not quite old enough to be in the market for one just yet. Nonetheless, I'll keep the place in mind for later consideration. Maybe I'll get a good deal.
Come and get yer coffins here at O'Hurley's General Store. 
The owner of O'Hurley's poses for a photo.

Goods sold at O'Hurley's

O'Hurley's General Store decorated for the Christmas season. 

This sign spoke to me--perhaps I was possessed.
The kindly old owner posed for a picture for me and handed me a brochure. "That's me, in the same place, just 30 years earlier," he said, with a chuckle.

A Stroll through Downtown Shepherdstown
After our visit to the General Store, we headed to the heart of downtown where several blocks of shops offered a variety of merchandise from jewelry, to antiques, wine, crafts and clothing.
Four Seasons Books is a family owned bookstore dating back to 1991.

A helpful employee at Grapes and Grain Gourmet assisted us with a wine purchase.

Creative Procrastinations claims to have "a little of everything."
Some of the downtown structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Of all the buildings located downtown, I believe the one below was my favorite. Built in the Beaux Arts style, it was constructed in 1906 and once served as a bank. I was disappointed to see that the restaurant that operated there recently went out of business; hopefully someone with a vision will fall in love with it and purchase it soon.

The Yellow Brick Bank Building.
This following building is listed as belonging to actress Mary Tyler Moore, who is known for purchasing old structures that once belonged to her family. When we visited Winchester, we learned that she bought Stonewall Jackson's headquarters, because it once served as her ancestral home.
The George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War, Shepherd University.

McMurran Hall
Located on the corner of NE German and King Streets is a Greek Revival structure erected in 1859 by Rezin Davis Shepherd. Its initial purpose was to serve as a town hall. After the Civil War it operated as a county courthouse and by 1872 it became part of a teacher's college known as "Shepherd University."

Another stop on the walking tour is the Entler Hotel and Shepherdstown Museum located at the Northwest corner of German and Princess Streets. The structure operated as a hotel in 1809 and in later years served as a dormitory for students, WWII Navy and Air Force cadets and college faculty. Today it operates as a museum from April through October.
The Entler Hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
During our walk, we took a break to indulge in a libation at Bistro 112. The building was originally constructed in the 1830's as a haberdashery and cigar shop with the residence upstairs. Today the charming boite attracts customers from miles around for its outstanding French cuisine.
Bistro 112 is located at 112 W. German Street in Shepherdstown

Inside Bistro 112
Further down the road is another popular restaurant known as "The Press Room." The Press Room was once the base of operations for The Independent, a newspaper which operated from the 1900s to the 1970s. Today it operates as an eatery, offering a selection of soups, salads, grilled seafood, meats and pasta.

The Press Room
Next door to The Press Room is the Opera House. The current structure was built in 1909, replacing a 100-year-old building. Moving pictures were shown here through 1956. Approximately 35 years later, after extensive renovations, it reopened as a movie theater. These days it serves as a venue for film and live music.

Another building of note on the walking tour is the old "poorhouse" which tended to the elderly and poverty stricken. Dating back to 1805, the poorhouse started out as a log cabin before being enlarged and upgraded with wooden siding. Iron rings in the attic rafters cause some to speculate that residents may have been restrained.
"The Poorhouse" where kids of a certain vintage were accused of "putting" their parents.
These are just a few highlights along the Shepherdstown Walking Tour. If you're interested in taking the self-guided tour yourself, you can download a more comprehensive listing of all the historic structures here.

Dinner at an Old Inn

For dinner, we headed to Old South Mountain Inn in nearby Boonsboro. People come from miles around to visit the historic restaurant. On the night we visited, the extremely large parking lot was packed, making finding a spot rather difficult. Thankfully, there were only a few people waiting in line inside and we were seated in just a few minutes.
The exterior of the popular Old South Mountain Inn
Interior of the Old South Mountain Inn

Bar area of the Old South Mountain Inn where patrons can wait for their table while enjoying a libation.
Located atop historic Turner's Gap, the Old South Mountain Inn is said to date back to 1732. Over the years, the Inn was visited by Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and several presidents. Its long history is detailed on the website here.

Boonsboro Antiques

Antique trunk spotted at Market Place Antiques in Boonsboro.
On the way home, we stopped at Market Place Antiques in Boonsboro where I spotted this cool, old trunk. What made it unique is the hinged lid, with a picture of whom I assume may once have been the owner. Unfortunately, my husband talked me out of spending the $100 they were asking for it. Take note the bonnet and heels were part of the deal--problem was, he wasn't buying. I suppose if I bought all of the old trunks I've been attracted to over the years, we'd have a hoarding problem, so I let it go. (Note: I have yet to buy a trunk.)

Trunk aside, the shop was a great place to browse, with scores of vendors under one roof and was a nice way to end our visit to the historic area.

And just in case your wondering, no, I didn't experience any paranormal activity. Oh well, there's always next time.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Sharing the Charm of Sharon, Pennsylvania

A trip to Sharon, Pennsylvania had been on my list of places to visit for quite some time for no other reason than the fact that the Buhl Mansion Guesthouse and Spa is located there. Other than that, I knew little about the small town located approximately 75 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. 
As I considered visiting the mansion, I embarked upon a bit of research and learned that the imposing, fortress-like structure is not only listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but is also among America's Top 10 Romantic Inns.What's not to love? 
Over the years, I'd forget about it, only to be periodically nudged by a Facebook post here and there. Eventually, I decided to drop a few hints to my husband. He demanded to know more about why we should visit the area and I came up lacking. All I know is that I adore old castle-like structures and witnessing its elegance firsthand would be a lovely anniversary present, so, like the sweetheart that he is, he gave in and we set out to explore the area this past October.
It turns out that the little town of Sharon holds many surprises. 

History and Hospitality at the Buhl Mansion
Buhl Mansion (front view)
Buhl Mansion (Greenhouse and grounds)
Buhl Mansion (Back entrance)

When we pulled up to the Buhl Mansion, I was stunned to learn that the B&B is situated in a residential neighborhood. And to think that all this time I was envisioning a rural, out-of-the-way area in some remote countryside. It's difficult to conceive of it any other way when viewing the website, but this turned out to be a good thing due to its proximity to the downtown shopping area.

The Buhl mansion was built in 1891 for the Buhl family that ran Sharon Iron Works. Yale-educated Frank H. Buhl left his home in Detroit in 1887 to help his father run the business. It turns out that Frank had a certain business savvy because just one year later, the company became Mercer County's largest employer. Buhl then went on to found the Buhl Steel Company in 1896, which merged into the National Steel Company three years later. He eventually became known as the "Father of the Industrial Shenango Valley" and shortly before his retirement, the National Steel company merged into the United States Steel Corporation.  

Buhl and his wife Julia Forker had no children of their own but were happy to use their considerable fortune to help support the children of their community. A list of their philanthropic and business endeavors hangs on the wall near the dining room of the mansion.
Julia Forker
The 2.5-storey residence is done in Richardsonian Romanesque style and made of ashlar sandstone, featuring round arches and several turrets with copper-capped spires. Unfortunately, the home fell into disrepair after years of neglect. The property caught the eye of Jim and Donna Winner, a local couple with a passion for saving historic landmarks. In 1996, they decided to restore the structure to its former splendor and embarked upon a multi-million-dollar renovation. Today the beautifully appointed inn touts 10 well-appointed guestrooms and a full-service spa.
Coffered ceiling
The foyer of Buhl Mansion.

A stained-glass window on the second floor. 
Bronze statues in the first-floor sitting area. 

Buhl living room
First floor sitting area.

Manet's "Nana." 

Renoir's "Spring Bouquet."
Photo taken from the second floor.
First course at breakfast. 

Mike relaxes in a comfy, over-sized chair in the breakfast room. 
After settling in, we ventured out to explore Sharon. We began by visiting a nearby candy shop, intrigued by its mid-century modern flair.
mid-century modern
Daffin's Candies was established in 1903.


I learned that Daffin's candies is a local favorite and that the original family store opened in 1903 in Woodsfield, Ohio. Today's 20,000 square-foot store in Sharon now serves as their flagship location. Daffin's makes more than one million pounds of chocolate annually and sells approximately 600 different candy creations, including their Caramel Pecanettes, which are followed by the Melt-A-Ways and the Cordial Cherries in popularity.   
Daffin's in Sharon is also known for its "Chocolate Kingdom," which includes a 400-pound turtle, a 125-pound chocolate reindeer and a 75-pound chocolate frog. The store carries a selection of cards and unique gifts, as well.
Daffin's Chocolate Kingdom
Daffin's is within walking distance of the Buhl Mansion, but if you care to explore downtown, it's but a two-minute drive away. There you'll find a variety of stores selling everything from shoes, to jewelry, home goods, furniture and apparel. 
The town of Sharon is known for proudly displaying its patriotism all year round and flags are seemingly everywhere. The one in the above picture welcomes visitors to the area. 
A Monument to Iwo Jima.
Our first retail stop was driven by curiosity. Reyer's Shoe Store purports to be "America's largest shoe store." I can't verify that claim, but I can attest to the fact that they have a nice selection of shoes in many different styles and sizes. They also feature clothing, costume jewelry and accessories as well.  The real surprise, however, was when I learned that employees are on standby to help not only with selections, but sizes as well. They actually measure customers' feet, just like in the "old days." 
The sales floor at Reyer's Shoe Store
That "mid-century" theme was repeated throughout the town as we made our way through the stores and streets of downtown Sharon. 
"It's a Wonderful World" sculpture was made possible by a partnership with artist Alexandra Knight, the city of Sharon and the local school district. 
Donna's Diner has a 1950's malt shop feel. 
furniture store
Laskey's Furniture building with its 1950s-era facade.

I especially enjoyed browsing among the clothing at "The Winner," which reminded me of the department stores of yore where the focus on service was paramount. The 75,000 square foot store features ladies fashions and accessories. I read that Jim and his wife Donna designed it so that it would be an affordable women's wear outlet, but with a more upscale atmosphere like that of a Nordstrom, or Saks. It isn't often that you see a piano and chandeliers in a department store these days. If you visit, be sure to take the elevator to floors two and three to view even more merchandise.  Plenty of saleswomen will greet you as you browse. I took advantage of their keen eye for a bit of feedback on my would-be purchases.
department store
The Winner department store.

The elegant interior modeled after Nordstrom and Saks.

Of course I couldn't leave without buying something. I ended up with this snazzy coat and the icing on the cake was that "The Winner" offers veterans a 20 percent discount, so my husband got a break on the price. Jim Winner was a proud veteran, which leads me to another fun fact. He was also the inventor of the anti-theft device known as "The Club," with sales that exceed 30 million units. Winner came up with the idea after his own car was stolen. Like I've said before, Sharon is full of surprises. 
A Samuel Dong coat I purchased at "The Winner." 

Speaking of surprises, never before have I seen a men's lounge in a department store. Is this another nod to a bygone era? Was this a standard feature in department stores of the past? Maybe someone out there can enlighten me because I really have no idea. Nonetheless, I think every store should have one.

A men's waiting room, complete with television and newspapers so women can get their shop on unimpeded.

A Trip Back in Time to the 1800's

The front of Tara--A Country Inn

Tara--view from the side
Another highlight of our trip to Sharon was a visit to Tara-A Country Inn, in nearby Clark, Pennsylvania. The Winners called it "a deal of a lifetime" when they purchased the 1854 property at auction. After two years of extensive renovations, the inn opened to the public in 1986. Today it features 27 guest rooms and several restaurants, including "Stonewall's Tavern" where we enjoyed a cozy dinner.
Stonewall's Tavern won a "Wine Spectator Award" for having one of the most outstanding restaurant wine lists in the world. 

Stonewall's Tavern is located on Tara's lower level.



Stonewall's Tavern bar
Antiques and "Gone with the Wind" memorabilia were tucked into every nook and cranny, which made the Inn a great place to explore and best of all, no one seemed to mind as I snapped picture after picture.
One of the many antiques at Tara.
A long hallways leading to accommodations.
Sitting areas at Tara.
In keeping (Innkeeping?) with the theme of "Tara," rooms are given names reminiscent of the classic movie like "Rhett's Room," "Belle's Boudoir", "General Robert E. Lee's Room" and so forth.
I noticed that some were open and unoccupied, so I took the opportunity to snap a few shots.


I have to say that Sharon, Pennsylvania might not be the richest area in terms of money, but it more than makes up for that with its quaint charm. And along the way I learned a little more about the history of the area and a couple by the name of Jim and Donna Winner. Thanks to the invention of the "Club," they were able to save historic landmarks and put their unique spin on them while giving back to their community, not unlike philanthropist and businessman Frank H. Buhl, who would no doubt be proud.