Ever heard of the "grand porch hotels" in the United States? Me neither. Until John and I hit the Summit Inn last weekend. It was in the Inn's brochure where I came across that term, describing itself as "one of the last remaining grand porch hotels of the United States." I googled the term "grand porch hotel" and, amazingly, got no results. So that just goes to show you, the internet doesn't give you access to EVERYthing. Of course, you may respond, "That only proves that there is no such thing as a 'grand porch hotel.' " I am happy to report that you would be incorrect about that, you old cynic, you. However, I grant you that there may be only one other historic grand porch hotel in all of America, that being the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan, boasting the longest front porch in the world, 660 feet.
John and I had driven past the Summit Inn, just east of Uniontown, PA, on the historic National Road, U.S. Route 40, at least 15 years ago. I thought it was stunning.
In fact, I was so intrigued by my first view of the Inn that I begged John to turn around and go back to see if we could have lunch there. Even though it was a cold, foggy day, we had lunch in a huge white dining room with white linens brilliantly lit by daylight filtering through the long wall of hundreds of windowpanes.
My recollection is that we were the only people in the dining room, except perhaps for one other couple, which explains why the waitress last weekend told me they haven't served lunch in that dining room for 15 years. But it was the memory of that dining room that drew me back.
When I mentioned to a friend that we were going to try to get reservations for a night at the Summit, she told me that it might not be open, because it closes during the winter. So I called and found out that they were going to be open that weekend. But I was lucky I wanted to do stay there that particular weekend and not later on, because they were closing for the season after that. And although we'd be able to have breakfast at the Inn on Sunday morning, no other meals were being served, since they were closing, not to reopen until mid-April. That was no problem for us since they assured us that there were plenty of decent restaurants nearby. And so we were on our way.
Our home in Wheeling, WV, is only about 75 miles from the Summit, but because we were driving the convertible and wanted to avoid the interstate, we took National Road all the way over. It took almost 2 hours. We drove through Uniontown and began the ascent up what used to be known as Mt. Summit, according to one of my friends who remembers vacationing there as a child.
On the way up that long stretch of Rt. 40 which snakes up the mountain, we stopped at a roadside overlook.
Although we couldn't see The Summit Inn ahead of us, we could see Uniontown in the valley behind us. And we were surrounded by the magnificant Laural Highlands.
A short distance away, we came upon our destination. I had forgotten how closely the Summit Inn sits next to the roadside. We practically stumbled into the front door as we crested the mountain and rounded the bend in our vehicle.
After the Hotel opened in 1907, it became a destination for the rich and famous, like Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone and Thomas Edison. But within a few decades it was outshone in elegance by other fancier resorts and hotels and began welcoming the middle class and its families. The Summit itself has been owned by the same family since 1963, and as such has maintained a laid-back comfort, not the spit and shine sparkle and polish of the nearby Omni Bedford Springs or Nemacolin Woods. And the prices reflect that. For the cost of one night at either of those other two resorts, you could spend 2 or 3 nights at the Summit. While once in awhile I like that posh pampering of self one can experience at an Omni, I prefer the heavy dark wood and fieldstone decor and friendly staff and clientele of the Summit. (I'll never forget the sidelong look of distaste a skinny chic 20-something tossed at my husband as she passed him in the lobby of the Omni Bedford, where he was sitting in a wheelchair, breathing from his oxygen tank, bundled up in his puffy down jacket, because he is usually freezing, wearing his faded-to-pink OSU cap, waiting for me. I couldn't help myself: I enthusiastically spoke louder than I needed to as I sauntered past her, "Hey, honey! I'm back! What shall we do now?" and kissed him on the cheek. I just wanted her to know that he wasn't a homeless man in the wrong place.)
It was funny being at the Summit on the last day of their season. The outdoor pool, which looked inviting, seemed to be open, and the indoor pool and excercise room were closed. By the way, Olympic gold medalist Johnny Weissmuller used to perform at the Olympic-sized outdoor pool. Yes, I do mean Tarzan.
But the grand front porch was open for business.
Even though he's usually searching out heat, John couldn't help but accept the invitation of the grand front porch to pull up a rocker, take a load off and set a spell.
After he got warmed up, we had a drink in the jewel of a bar snuggled between the lobby and the ...well, another big room with easy chairs and lots of windows. The bar is called the Wunder Bar Lounge. I loved it because it was so small that there was only room for 5 stools at the bar, and 4 little high top tables with a total of 10 stools around them. Being a family resort, the Wunder Bar was not designed as a place to hangout for long, but its coziness was inviting.
We ended up at the Uniontown Mall for dinner. Now, think what you like, that is not a negative. There were plenty of nice places to choose from on a list at the Hotel, but we pulled our usual and waited too late to make a reservation on a Saturday night. So we went to this little Italian place in the Mall called The Grotto. It had a dark cozy atmosphere, good food, good wine, and not terrible prices. So we were happy with it and would go again, I think.
Our room at the Inn was spacious, sparcely furnished but with good quality furniture. The bed with its memory foam mattress topper and feather pillows was very comfortable. Not much more to say about it, except that I am totally spoiled by hi-def TV, which the Summit does not have.
At dawn on Sunday morning I explored the grounds. I found a path beside the pool that went up behind the Hotel to a little picnic area with an outdoor stone fireplace and a charcoal grill. I followed the path until it diverged in the wood and I took the one more travelled, up to the Summit Golf Course, a 9-hole, par 35, whatever that means. True, I'm not a golfer, but I loved the scenery up there.
It was quite a steep trek to get there. I don't think golfers walk to it. I think they have those great little carts that keep them from getting any exercise from the waist down, because I saw some paved paths up there. Anyway, once I made it up to the golf course and caught my breath, I was treated to a sunrise which became more and more glorious over the 20 minutes or so I spent up there.
I came back down the path toward the outdoor pool at the Inn and saw, in the magnificant bank of windows between the indoor pool and the outdoor pool, the reflection of the pink morning sky over Uniontown in the valley below. And the front porch over the carport was beautiful in the morning sunlight.
It was a brief stay, but one that intrigued us enough to plan a return visit to experience the little resort in the summertime. There are several nearby attractions, such as Fallingwater, the Laurel Caverns, Ohiopyle, Fort Necessity, and the Clay Winery. But I do need to remember some things for our next stay. The Inn does not provide some of the amenitieswhich we have come to expect as standard in hotels: elevators, hairdryers in the rooms, a warm bathroom (to be sure, each room had its own very nice tiled bathroom but it was not warm by any stretch of the imagination), and, most difficult for us to do without, a bellhop or at least a luggage trolley, a front entrance without steps, and automatic front doors. In other words, for the disabled, the Summit Inn is not conveniently accessible. On the other hand, one of the things I liked best about the Inn is that for a $20 fee, it is pet friendly and I got to meet Tootsie (see below).