Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

History Burns at Century Inn an Overnight Blaze Guts a Washington County Inn Opened in the Early Days of the Republic, and Destroys Many of Its Historic Artifacts

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

History Burns at Century Inn an Overnight Blaze Guts a Washington County Inn Opened in the Early Days of the Republic, and Destroys Many of Its Historic Artifacts

Article excerpt

Skyrocketing flames, kindled before midnight in a furnace room, heavily damaging the Century Inn along the National Pike, or Route 40, in Scenery Hill, Washington County, brought an end to the landmark's 221 years of continuous operation.

The bed and breakfast, tavern and restaurant, with 20 rooms in the ridge-top village in North Bethlehem, caught fire at 11:57 p.m. Monday in a rear wood-frame addition to the stone inn.

State Police Fire Marshal Chad Scrip said the fire was accidental. It quickly spread from the furnace room through the back additions before consuming the interior of the structure, made of stone quarried at the site, with large hand-hewn walnut beams and front windows with upper and lower sashes, each with 12 panes of glass.

The entire structure also served as a museum of early architecture, antiques, important artwork, framed historic photographs, tools, guns and glassware, most of which are believed to have been damaged or destroyed.

Clay Kilgore, executive director of the Washington County Historical Society, said the inn was "one of the most iconic buildings in the county," especially considering it opened in 1794, more than a decade before federally funded construction of the National Road started.

"When you walked into it, you got the entire history of the National Road, as it went through the middle of Washington County," he said. "It was kind of a timeline. It has seen the history of Washington County from the beginning."

His reaction to the fire, he said, "is the same sickness in the pit of my stomach you get when you find out a family member has passed away. For Washington County history, it truly is a day to mourn."

Megin Harrington and her husband, attorney Gordon Harrington, who died in an airplane crash in 1987, began running the inn in the early 1970s after inheriting it from his parents, Gordon and Mary Harrington, who bought it in 1945. Ms. Harrington lived in the inn.

"Luckily we're closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so no guests were in the six rooms here in the building," she said.

Her 35-year-old son Gordon, scheduled to be married there on Sept. 17, had stopped by for a brief visit and was about to leave when he encountered billows of smoke. He used his cell phone to summon his mother upstairs to "get out right away. …

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