CLARYSVILLE – The Clarysville Inn stands at a historic crossroads. Right now, so does its owner.
“I don’t know,” said Paul Green, in the aftermath of a March 10 fire that gutted his 192-year-old Allegany County inn. “They might have to tear it all down.”
The final verdict from building and insurance inspectors is still out, but the Cumberland resident does not hold much hope.
“At the very best, we could save some of the walls — the whole floor and roof were destroyed,” said Green.
The extent of the damage is evident in a walk around the burned-out hull of the old inn.
Of three dormer windows that lined the roof of the once-stately, three- story building, only the center, arched dormer still stands. Sunlight runs through the gaping hole where one of the other dormers stood, while the third, although still visible, has sunk back upon itself.
Police tape is draped across the front portico and debris litters the grounds of the inn. Bricks were ripped from the wall in the blaze, revealing almost 200 years of paint. The fire was so intense — 1,400 degrees, fire officials estimate — that Green said it melted the inn’s stainless steel sinks.
“That one hurts,” said Al Feldstein, a local historian, surveying the damage to the inn.
He said the inn, built by Gerard Clary in 1807, was originally known as the Eight-Mile House because it was eight miles west of Cumberland. It soon became popular with travelers heading west on the National Road, which started in Cumberland in 1811 and reached Wheeling, W.Va., by 1818.
A small number of houses and shops grew around the grounds of the inn and lore has it that Gen. George Custer’s father ran a blacksmith shop there.
During the Civil War, the inn served as a headquarters for one of the Union’s largest field hospitals, coordinating a compound for as many as 1,500 sick and injured Union — and occasionally Confederate — soldiers, according to local resident Harold L. Scott Sr.
The site also had a cemetery for soldiers, who where later disinterred and reburied at a national cemetery at Antietam, said Scott, a retired elementary school principal who researched and self-published a book on the inn’s role in the war.
After the Civil War, the inn remained a fixture on the National Road. By the 1920s, it was advertising a room, a bath and a chicken dinner for $1.50, Scott said.
The Clarysville Inn changed hands several times this century. In the 1930s and 1940s, it was owned by Casper Taylor Sr., the father of Maryland’s current House Speaker. The elder Taylor opened a popular nightspot, the Clary Club. He later sold the inn to Joseph Lyons, who ran it until 1980 when Green bought it.
The inn had been closed for almost a year and a half when Tom Pecora and his family moved in. The Pecoras, who ran a catering business in Baltimore, remodeled the place and reopened the restaurant.
The older section of the inn housed the main restaurant and the family recently added a barbecue sandwich spot. They also ran an under-21 nightclub in the large, architecturally mismatched wing that jutted out from the side of the main building.
The Pecoras dreamed of building a banquet business in the old inn. All but the oldest son in the family of seven lived at the inn and helped out in the restaurant, keeping them busy enough that they rarely had a chance for a meal together.
Except for the night of the fire.
Alissa Pecora, the youngest member of the family, remembers that since it had snowed that night, the restaurant closed early and the family enjoyed a rare opportunity to eat dinner as a family.
“It was weird, we never really got to sit down together” for meals when the restaurant was open, said Alissa, 15. “We were all sitting around making ski plans and everything was just dandy.”
She went to bed with everything just dandy, only to be awakened by a loud buzzing sound around 2 a.m.
“The first thing that hit my mind was that it was a burglar alarm,” she recalled. She was standing in the hall standing in her pajamas before she remembered saying to herself, “Wait a minute we don’t even have one.”
Alissa realized what was happening when she saw smoke rolling up the staircase. She woke her parents and the tenants of an apartment on the top floor of the inn and soon they were all outside standing in the snow in their pajamas, watching their home and business burn wildly.
Fire department logbooks show that the fire was called in at 2:27 a.m. March 10. It raged for four or five hours, said Ted Meminger, acting deputy chief fire marshal for Western Maryland.
“I don’t know if it was ever under control,” Meminger said.
Ten different fire companies from Allegany and Garrett counties and neighboring Pennsylvania were eventually called, he said, but they could do little more than watch and try to contain the blaze.
Ironically, the solid construction of the inn — incorporating brick, stone and concrete — made the blaze harder to fight, Meminger said. Warped structural steel beams indicated heat in excess of 1,400 degrees, he said, and the old building “acted like an oven.”
Meminger said the investigation is still open, although it is already clear that the blaze began in the inn’s nightclub.
For local historian Scott, the loss is devastating.
“You have kind of like an empty feeling to go and see the shape it’s in. You think things like that should last forever,” he said.
But for some, the glory days the inn once knew had long since passed.
“Don’t get me wrong, (the loss) is sad,” said a downtown Cumberland shopkeeper, who asked not to be named. “But it was kind of in the middle of nowhere and people had forgot about it until it burned down.”
For the Pecoras, the loss is substantial and personal. They lost their restaurant. They lost their belongings. Alissa said the family lost everything in the fire except for a few pictures and an antique cash register that firefighters pulled from the inn on the night of the blaze.
Little else has been recovered from the charred skeleton of what used to be their home. When family members do brings old belongings back, Alissa said, “I have to leave the room — the smell is traumatizing.”
Since the fire, the family has moved into a friend’s apartment in Frostburg while they focus on future plans.
Alissa said her friends have surprised her with new clothes and other gifts. She seems optimistic and said there has been at least one benefit from this tragedy for the family.
“I’ve had more family dinners in the past month than over the past four years,” she said.