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Man pursues dream to restore old Pa. hotel

December 11, 1999|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

McCONNELLSBURG, Pa. -- It's been years since McConnellsburg has enjoyed the amenities of a fine downtown hotel and restaurant, a situation Donald L. Peck hopes to soon change.

Peck, 59, grew up in McConnellsburg, left in 1959 for military service and a career in the aerospace industry and came back to retire in 1989.

He dabbled in a few ventures - an income tax business and rental property and then, he made his big move. He bought the old Henry Hotel at 215 Lincoln Way East in McConnellsburg and jumped into his newest venture, a dream really, to renovate it into an classy, upscale restaurant and bring the hotel back to glory days.

The hotel goes back to the 1840s, Peck said. He is trying to learn all he can about the building by talking to former owners, local historians and old timers in town who remember it.

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"I talk to anyone I can about it. It has changed hands a lot over the years," he said. He said he is also researching public records.

In its later years, the three-story building was called the Glen Nell Hotel. It rented rooms on the second and third floor, featured a small restaurant in the back on the main floor and a tavern in the basement. It was rundown and tired out and its reputation had become tainted.

This is what Peck bought on Sept. 1. He figures he'll spend about $500,000 buying and restoring the building, mostly with his own hands.

If Peck is anything, he's optimistic. But some of his work is already beginning to show.

The front and sides of the building have new brick steps and the steps leading to the basement tavern are new. New awnings proudly display the hotel's new name -- "Peck Wood Restaurant and Lounge."

Peck has started to tackle the interior.

The side facing Lincoln Way East has new windows, and he bought out a commercial kitchen with its stainless steel exhaust hood, three gas stoves and some big coolers and moved them in. He has started redecorating the main dining room and has it to the point where he is serving dinners evenings Thursdays through Saturdays.

He said he wants to save as much of what is architectually valuable in the building, including the tile floors and fine oak flooring on the first floor, and the embossed ceilings which have long been covered over with ceiling tiles.

He already boasting of his "regular" customers who come for dinner on Saturday nights. "Our prime rib is second to none," he said.

He hired a part-time chef, kitchen help and wait persons for the restaurant.

None of the renovations will require expansion of the building.

"I'm using the space I have," Peck said.

The main dining room now seats 70. It will be expanded to banquet size to feed up to 100 at one time, he said,

The lounge off the dining room will be redecorated and new restrooms will be built. The basement tavern is in line for some major renovations as well.

As for the rooms, when Peck is finished, he will have refurbished nine single rooms and one suite. Several of the rooms are occupied by residents, who he has kept on to bring in some income during the renovations, he said.

He thinks his motel guests will include tourists passing through, especially in the fall foliage season, hunters in season and, possibly, a few long-term residents. "This town has needed a hotel for a long time," he said.

When he started, Peck estimated it would take him two years to complete everything he has planned. Now he thinks it could be as soon as August.

"I'm doing this because this town needs a good hotel and restaurant. I'm tired of having to drive to Chambersburg or Hagerstown for a good meal," he said.

"I'm also doing it because I'm an investor. I invest in the future and I see things that other people don't see. If it doesn't work out as a hotel and a restaurant, I'll turn it into a bed and breakfast."

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