Clarysville Inn Fire

The Clarysville Inn 1807-1999
Articles from the Cumberland Times-News
Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Photo-Steve Bittner/Times-News

The historic Clarysville Inn goes up in flames early Wednesday as firefighters work to bring the blaze under control. Flames escape from the front door of the structure, while the fire lights up the sky.

Thursday - March 11, 1999

Building used in Civil War

Times-News Staff Writer

CLARYSVILLE - People with ties to the historic Clarysville Inn said a million memories went up in smoke early Wednesday morning when the historic structure was lost to a fire.

Pinto resident Naomi Nicholas, who with husband Wilbert Nicholas celebrated her 60th wedding anniversary in January, said that she is the last local representative of 11 generations of Clarys.

``My great-great-great-uncle Gerard Clary was a rich Missouri land owner who bought 325 acres in what is now Clarysville and he built the inn in 1807 and operated it as a tavern during part of the Old Pike days," said Nicholas.

``When Gerard died, his nephew Aden Clary owned it up to the Civil War," said the 78-year-old woman who published a Clary family history, sale copies of which were lost in Wednesday's fire.

``I don't care that the books were lost - it was the old inn that I'll miss," said Nicholas."I was so upset when I found out about the fire that I said, `Oh why didn't it wait until I had died?" she said, her voice filled with regret.

Potomac Park resident Harold Scott knows quite a bit about the Civil War history of the old inn because he researched and authored a 1995 book,"The Civil War Hospitals of Cumberland and Clarysville, Maryland."

``There were many hospitals in Cumberland, but the big one at the Clarysville Inn was interesting for several reasons," said Scott, who spent four years researching locally and at the National Archives.

``The Army evicted out the tenant (the wife of a soldier who later sued the Army), took over the property, and built wooden wards to treat sick and wounded soldiers," he said, noting that the majority of patients were sick and not wounded.

An 1864 lithographic reproduction on file at the Allegany County Historical Society shows at least 10 hospital wards and a half-dozen other outbuildings surrounding the inn with an adjacent railroad when it was a U.S. Army General Hospital.

``Published accounts from the 1862 to 1865 war years show there were at least 1,000 to 1,500 soldiers hospitalized there at most times and probably as many as 2,000 at some times," said Scott.

``There was a graveyard next to the hospital, but after the war they moved the Union dead to the Antietam cemetery and a half-dozen Confederate dead to Rose Hill Cemetery in Cumberland," said Scott.

According to Scott, and contrary to rumors at the time, no Civil War graves were covered by the construction of the Interstate 68 roadbed just south of the inn, which included the highest bridge over a road in Maryland at the time.

``Conditions were very primitive at the hospital because they didn't know about bacteria and modern sanitation," said Scott, who noted that many local doctors served there under Army contracts.

``Recovering soldiers served as hospital stewards and cooks and some local women from Pompey's Smash (now Vale Summit), Eckhart and Frostburg were hired as `matrons,' whatever that was," he said.

Scott grew up in nearby Vale Summit and remembers walking down to the Clarysville Inn in the late 1940s to take a Route 40 bus to Beall High School."I remember a time when you could get a room, a bath and a chicken dinner there for a buck-fifty," he said.

In 1935 the inn became the property of Cas Taylor Sr., who opened the Clary Club there on Dec. 15, 1936."I remember growing up there from the age of 1 to 14," said House Speaker Cas Taylor Jr., speaking from Annapolis.

``The Clarysville Inn was a very large place and it was like living in a hotel," said Taylor."There was always a lot of activity there and I liked the outdoors and open space there," he said.

``We have lost a priceless piece of history in Western Maryland," said Taylor."There aren't too many like it left," he added.

Frostburg resident Doris Lancaster remembers well the old inn because in 1948 she married Joseph Lyons, who had bought the place from Taylor Sr.

``Oh, it was full of memories because we lived there and operated the place until 1980," said Lancaster."We raised our three sons, Ed, Charles (now deceased) and John there before Joseph died in 1971," she said.

Lancaster remembered an April 1949 electrical fire at the inn and not many vacations or days off in her 31 years there."We used to get big bands to play there, like Guy Lombardo and Charlie Spivac," she said.

``We used to cater to a lot of parties and employed a lot of local people there," said Lancaster, who said she and her husband added to the structure and rebuilt other parts.

``We operated the Crest Room as a cocktail lounge and later owners called it Memories and there sure were a lot of memories as people had a great time there with all kinds of socials and dances," she said.

``It was a wonderful neighborhood to live in - the kind where you could leave your doors unlocked, your kids played together and there were nice people living all around," she said.

``We worked long hours but we were raising our kids and we were happy. Those were wonderful years." Maryland Office of Planning Regional Director Al Feldstein said that most sources date the original construction of the old inn to about 1807. It served several functions through the years - tavern, stagecoach stop, road house, inn, hotel, hospital, club, restaurant and motel.

``The Maryland Historical Trust also cites the same 1807 construction date, however, they also note that several architectural details in the building are consistent with the mid-19th century," said Feldstein.

Firefighters spent hours extinguishing those architectural details with the rest of the grand old structure Wednesday morning.

Wendesday - March 10, 1999

Fire guts old inn

Clarysville structure dates back to 1807 JEFF ALDERTON
Times-News Staff Writer

CLARYSVILLE - An apparent accidental fire destroyed the 192-year-old Clarysville Inn early Wednesday and left a family of five who operated businesses there for the past four years homeless along with two other tenants.

``I've never been in this position before," said Tom Pecora, who operated the businesses at the Clarysville Inn since March 1995, when he and his family left behind a successful catering business in Baltimore for a new life in Allegany County.

Pecora sipped hot coffee and soup as he collected his thoughts, dressed in clothes given to him after he and his family escaped with only the clothes on their backs. They lost all of their belongings, including wallets, eyeglasses, prescription medicine, and countless irreplaceable items such as wedding photographs.

``It's crazy. I can't do any of the things I did yesterday. I can't go into my own bathroom, I can't use my computer, I can't check my e-mail," said Pecora, as he sat in the living room of the Ed and Connie Lyons' residence on Vale Summit Road, across the street from his business.

The cause of the 2:30 a.m. fire, which resulted in a property loss estimated initially at $500,000, appeared to be accidental, fire investigators said.

``The origin of the fire has been located in the Memories nightclub. We are still working on the exact cause of the fire but it does not appear to be suspicious at this time," said lead investigator Deputy Fire Marshal Bruce Shafer. The night spot adjoined the three-story inn that housed three apartments, the Clarysville Inn Restaurant and Tom's Beef & Brew, which featured barbecue pit beef sandwiches.

Minor injuries occurred to two volunteer firefighters who were treated at the scene by Frostburg Area Ambulance, according to the Allegany County Office of Emergency Management. Their names were not available.

``The fire never went out. It's still burning back there. It's unbelievable," said Pecora at about 9:30 a.m. He and his wife Melissa, daughters Amanda, 23, and Alissa, 15, escaped the fire without injury. Son Aaron, 18, was at a friend's house, and sons Adam and Andrew were at Adam's residence in Frostburg when the fire broke out.

``Tom and I were talking in bed and Tom was coughing getting over the flu. I was just getting to sleep when Alissa came running in and said her room was all filled with smoke," said Melissa.

``Tom ran out and saw black smoke coming up the steps. It was like a haze. The smoke detector and carbon monoxide detectors were going off and the smoke started stinging my eyes right away. We tried to call Russell but the telephone lines were dead," she said.

Second-floor apartment tenant Brad Stubbs also escaped the fire. Russell Horning and Mary Clausen were asleep in the third-floor apartment along with Horning's German shepherd Rox, unaware of the emergency until a shoeless Tom Pecora showed up.

``We were asleep. Tom broke the door down to get us out of there," said Horning, who worked at the Clarysville Inn Restaurant as a waiter since the business began. "If it weren't for Tom, we wouldn't be alive.

``Tom is definitely a hero," Clausen said. "He had to run through 30 feet of thick black smoke to get to us."

Tom Pecora brushed off the hero talk and pointed to a practical lifesaving device."We had a smoke detector that worked. We did and it saved our lives. It also saved Russell and his girlfriend by alerting us in time to get them out," he said.

Pecora's thoughts turned to his business obligations. "I've got customers out there that I have booked engagements with. I need for them to call me and they need to know what has happened to our business," he said.

Efforts are under way by friends to assist the Pecora family. It was not immediately known how much of their personal loss may be covered by insurance.

Shafer said the Clarysville Inn property was insured. The property is owned by Paul Green of Cumberland. Green said he purchased the property in 1980 but he declined further comment.

The State Fire Marshal's Office is continuing its investigation with the assistance of the Allegany County Combined Criminal Investigations Unit, according to Shaefer, who was assisted at the scene by Deputy Fire Marshals Steve Wendling of Garrett County and Jim Woods and Bob Maddox, both of Washington County and John Brazil.

About 75 volunteer firefighters from 18 companies responded to the three-alarm blaze and were hampered in the firefighting operation by insufficient water supply, freezing cold and steady snowfall.

Melissa Pecora recalled standing inside the Lyons' living room looking across the street with husband Tom as firefighters battled the blaze."It was snowing. It was surreal. White all around us and then all these flames. Tom and I just looked at one another.

``We lived with our business every day. It was there for us. It was our house. It was our work," said Melissa Pecora choking back tears."It was our life."

Photo-Steve Bittner/Times-News

This is a rear view of the fire that destroyed the historic Clarysville Inn Wednesday morning.


Reprinted with permission.
Copyright 1999