The past meets present Summit Hill mansion remodeled to former splendor
AMY MILLER/TIMES NEWS PHOTOS Pam Fludgate, center, an owner of The Mansion House of Summit Hill, stands with James Witherow, left, and restaurant chef and manager Barry Riegel, behind the decades-old bar in the new restaurant in Summit Hill. The bar, as well as many of the other original characteristics of the 112-year-old building, were preserved by the Fludgates while renovating the building.
On the west side of Summit Hill sits a 112-year-old mansion.
Its red brick exterior protects the rich history that has settled into every crevice of the building.
If the walls could talk, they would tell tales of family, the coal mining era, Prohibition and businesses from generations ago.
Now, another family is writing a new chapter into the building's story by reopening it as a restaurant.
Pam and Mark Fludgate of Lehighton took ownership of the building at 271 W. Ludlow St. in August 2012 and officially opened it as a restaurant on Nov. 18, 2013. They purchased it at auction.
Pam said that Mark, who is originally from England and also is president of Elk Lighting in Nesquehoning, always wanted to own a small-town restaurant and bar.
The pair, with the help of staff, friends and area contractors and businesses, restored the building, which had deteriorated since the last restaurant closed in 2008, to its original beauty.
Pam credited James Witherow, who oversaw the renovations, and Barry Riegel, the chef and manager of the restaurant, for organizing everything that needed to be done. She thanked the borough for being so supportive with the whole process and state Rep. Doyle Heffley and his staff for helping to obtain the liquor license that had lapsed.
A number of items, including the wooden bar, tin ceilings, hardwood floors, woodwork and stained-glass entry windows were preserved during the renovations as a way of marrying the present to its past.
"We tried to preserve the building's history," she said, adding that the only thing they had to change was the front entrance on Ludlow Street to make the building handicap accessible. "The community is very happy."
Now when patrons visit the restaurant, they are greeted by rich browns and red color palettes, a gold-leaf tin ceiling and deep wood tones throughout.
The restaurant is the third in the building over the years and serves up various dishes, from pub fare to chef's specials.
Riegel called the types of food available "conventional fare with modern flair."
He noted that he marries Americana foods and higher-end cuisine to create unique dishes that you may not typically see in the area. There is also a trained pastry chef on staff who bakes all breads and pastries daily.
The group hopes to expand on the restaurant by opening the second floor to small dinner parties, wine tastings and more.
The best thing about owning the building, Pam said, is hearing about its past.
"It's fun to hear how this building has impacted people over the years," she said. "We're proud and honored to be part of that now."
A number of old bottles adorn the walls, and Pam said that they are mostly from privy digs she did years ago.
She added that she would love to see any old bottles, photos or memorabilia from the Mansion House's history.
Witherow, who is also a privy digger, showcased a number of bottles he dug up in the area that were from the early 1900s, when the building served as a bottling company.
The history of the Mansion House began in 1902 when John Zerbey built the mansion on Front Street, now Ludlow, to use as a whiskey and beer manufacturing and bottling business.
According to "Images of America: Summit Hill" by the late Lee Mantz, "the Zerbey family drew up plans for one of the finest buildings in town. The walls were made of brick four layers deep, and all the lumber was hand cut."
The bottling occurred in the basement, and the whiskey and beer was stored on the first floor.
History records are sketchy as to the exact date Zerby sold the building to its next owners, the Lisella family.
According to Mantz as well as "The History of Carbon County" anthology by the late Thomas D. Eckhart, Guido and Guida Lisella purchased the building in 1920, during Prohibition, and then continued bottling operations after Prohibition.
Following Prohibition, the first-floor storeroom was converted into a barroom, which remains today.
Pauline (Lisella) Raftopoulos of Summit Hill, a former owner, as well as a granddaughter of Guido Lisella, said recently that she doesn't remember much of the early history of the building, but said that in addition to a bottling company and barroom, the building also served as a furniture store for a while.
According to Mantz, the furniture business, which was operated during Prohibition in the 1920s, was only one of the businesses inside the building during those years. It is rumored that a speakeasy was run in the basement as well, and "some of the finest beer and whiskey was made."
The building eventually was passed down to Guido's son, Robert A. "Tony" Lisella, who, Raftopoulos said, ran a beer distributorship next to the Mansion House.
Raftopoulos took ownership of the building from her father in July 1961, and according to Carbon County deed records, owned it until February 1975, when she sold it to John Fada.
Fada continued the beer distributorship and opened the bar for customers.
In November 1980, he sold the building to Richard and Joanne Swarcheck, who operated The Mansion House restaurant for nearly two decades before closing it.
In September 2005, Jill and Terry Wadsworth of JK Wadsworth LLC purchased the building and reopened the restaurant under the name JT's Brick House Tavern.
The restaurant closed in 2008, and the building went into foreclosure in 2009, when it was owned by Coba Inc., where it sat silent, locked up and exposed to the elements until the Fludgates purchased it.