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Merwinsburg Hotel's former owners attend historical society meeting

  • ROBERT ELY/Special to the Times News After three workdays by the Chestnuthill Township Historical Society, the Merwinsburg Hotel is "looking dramatically different."
    ROBERT ELY/Special to the Times News After three workdays by the Chestnuthill Township Historical Society, the Merwinsburg Hotel is "looking dramatically different."
Published November 23. 2012 05:02PM

The left side porch on the hotel in Merwinsburg is in poor condition, members learned at the Oct. 17 meeting of the Chestnuthill Township Historical Society. At a recent clean up it was looked at to determine what is needed.

Bill and Barbara Shiffer, who were the last owners before the township bought the hotel, attended the meeting and gave as much history as they knew.

The oldest part, built of stone, was in the center of the building. It was constructed in the 1700s. The first two stories were built in 1840, with the third floor added in 1890. It was always a boarding house, stagecoach stop and bar. At one time it was the post office, but lost out to Effort when a new post office was built. The post office was in the living room.

A judge, John Merwine, had a business venture that failed and the hotel changed hands. Alexander Gould from Hickory Run came and took it over. Another owner was Clark Gould, who was Bill Shiffer's grandfather. The Shiffers had brought some paintings from the area of the hotel. Some were painted by A.J. Faas.

One picture showed a sawmill on the property near the stream. Another is a picture of a barn, but only the foundation remains of the house. The main road past the hotel was dirt and there were open fields surrounding it. Now the area is grown up to brush and trees.

Stills were hidden along the stream. The revenuers came frequently to look.

Thirty-five to 40 people would stay at the hotel during the summers. There were 12 guest rooms, not including the back section. The cost was $35 a week and included three meals a day. They raised chickens and had a truck patch for vegetables. The guests looked forward to helping with the work.

Barbara Shiffer gave the names of some people who worked at the hotel. There were dances on Saturday nights. They were in competition with other local hotels that served as resorts.

John James Audubon, the ornithologist, and Horace Greeley of "Go West, young man" fame, stayed at the hotel.

It was the Easton-Wilkes Barre Stagecoach Line that stopped at the hotel. Horses were changed at the hotel and by the time they went up the hill through Sun Valley, they had to be changed again.

Barbara Shiffer is trying to gather recipes that were used at the hotel to put a cookbook together. It would include such recipes as huckleberry pudding with vanilla sauce.

"We had hotel registers, but they 'walked away,'" she said.

Some apparitions have been seen. Bill Shiffer's daughter saw a figure in white wearing a dunce cap.

"My great grandfather died there, and a couple of guests died while at the hotel," he said.

In 1927 there was a fire, but the stone center protected the front. The back was rebuilt.

Dr. Seip, an eye doctor, stayed at the hotel. A box containing eye glasses is in a room on the upper floor.

Barbara Shiffer said Bill's uncle built a boat in the basement, but it didn't fit out the door. She thought that if the story is true, it could be why the cellar door is extra wide.

In 1920 there was a swimming pool, but it was taken out when the state demanded a filter be put in.

W. Tid, an artist, painted the sign for the hotel. It is now at the Monroe County Historical Association Museum. An Indian artifact collection was loaned to the museum but when the Shiffers went to see the exhibit, the artifacts were found tossed in a box in the basement.

The hotel closed in 1961.

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