Historic Century Inn rebuilding after devastating fire
With reminders of a heartbreaking fire all around, Megin Harrington sits in the shell of the burned-out Century Inn and talks of resolve and rebirth — for her family, their storied historic property and Washington County's Scenery Hill community.
“At this point, I'm really excited,” she says. “I think I'm over the sadness. I hope I am.”
About two months ago, crews began the arduous task of rebuilding and restoring the nearly 230-year-old federal-style stone building that suffered major damage in an August 2015 fire . Work is expected to continue through the fall, when a sign out front along East National Pike promises a grand reopening.
“The game plan is Thanksgiving,” says Gordon Harrington, who was at the inn with his mother the night of the accidental fire that started in a back utility room. “Who knows? But we're really pushing for that.”
“We'll be open then, even if we only serve peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” Megin Harrington says, half jokingly.
As the Harringtons stand in the gutted confines of the original 1788 home, power saws buzz out back. Bird chirps float through window openings as masons chisel stones originally quarried on the 23-acre property to reconstruct an exterior wall and chimneys, having already brought life back to a pair of indoor fireplaces.
The home's grand staircase, along with its interior walls once covered in horsehair plaster, have been removed due to damage from fire, smoke and water.
The skeletal remains include a continuous walnut beam, added during the original construction in 1788, that spans more the 40 feet, separating what was the music room from one of the dining rooms.
“It's so spacious this way, but it makes you truly appreciate the construction,” Megin Harrington says. “This beam above us is massive, and it survived.”
Across the open first floor is an open space once occupied by the McCune Saloon — one of the country's longest-operating taverns and a descendant of Hill's Stone Tavern, which opened in 1794.
Storied guests of the Century Inn included presidents George Washington, Andrew Jackson and James Polk, as well as Revolutionary War military officer Marquis de Lafayette, Mexican general and President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, Chief Black Hawk and Whiskey Rebellion leader David Bradford.
The Harringtons pulled a framed Whiskey Rebellion flag — depicting an eagle and 13 stars — from the saloon wall as they escaped the fire. The only known surviving flag from the 1790s Western Pennsylvania uprising over a federal excise tax on distilled spirits will be returned to its spot once construction is finished, Megin Harrington says.
Between now and then, she will continue selecting wallpaper and fabrics for the renovation of the property added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, as well as collecting antiques and art to replace all that was lost.
“Everyday, I think of something we lost in the fire,” she says. “But it's getting easier, and I can see an end to this project — and that is invigorating.”
In addition to auctions, Harrington says local residents have offered family heirlooms and antiques.
“Everybody feels the loss of the inn,” Harrington says. “It means a lot to so many people here.”
The first floor will look as close as possible to the original house, with a few upgrades — such as central air and heat as well as modern electrical outlets.
A new commercial kitchen will replace the one added in the 1950s and destroyed by the fire. Upstairs guest rooms will also be modernized.
Leading the project are general contractor Waller Corp. of Washington and Margittai Architects of Pittsburgh.
“It's certainly an opportunity,” Gordon Harrington says.
His grandparents — Dr. Gordon Harrington and wife Mary — bought the property in 1945. Megin Harrington married their son, Gordon Harrington Jr. She continued to run the inn after he died in a 1987 plane crash and raised their three sons on the property.
Leaving after the fire wasn't an option, she says.
“I think we always knew we would rebuild. This was home,” Harrington says. “There really never was a question.”
Jason Cato is a Tribune-Review assistant city editor. Reach him at 724-850-1289 or firstname.lastname@example.org.