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Volume 3, Number 1: Winter 2002
SCHELLSBURG, Pennsylvania - The Ship Hotel, a 69-year-old historical landmark located on the side of Allegheny Mountain on Route 30 in Juniata Township, was destroyed by a fire early Friday morning.
The hotel was famous for people climbing onto its deck to get a grand view of "3 states and 7 counties." The saying was emblazoned onto the side of the hotel from its construction.
Lt. David Hershberger, Shawnee Valley Fire Co., said the building was fully involved when the fire company was dispatched about 2:15 a.m. Shawnee Valley was one of nine fire companies in Bedford and Somerset County to respond.
Dan Datesman, emergency services director, said the fire was reported by an unidentified person on a cellular phone, likely a person driving by the hotel.
Tpr. Mike Eppolito, a state police fire marshal from Hollidaysburg, was called to the scene, but said he could not determine the cause of the fire Friday due to several hot spots. He left the scene early Friday afternoon and the fire was still smoking heavily.
Eppolito said he will return to the scene Saturday in hopes the fire has cooled off, and he can investigate the cause more thoroughly. He didn't want to speculate whether the origin of the fire was electrical, arson or some other cause until he looked over the scene better.
News of the blaze spread quickly throughout the surrounding area, and people stopped along Route 30 Friday to take quick snapshots of the hotel's remains. Many were people who recalled the heyday of the once booming establishment.
The Ship Hotel was built by "Captain" Herbert Paulson, a native of Holland. It was dedicated in May 1932, an addition to the pre-standing Grand View Point Hotel, which was designed as a castle.
Paulson's granddaughter, Clara Gardner, 70, of Bedford, said her grandfather built the original hotel like a castle because of his Dutch heritage. However, she said he also loved the ocean and the Allegheny Mountain area reminded him of the ocean because of the way the mountain tops stuck out above the fog and clouds on some days.
Construction then started to add a bow and stern to the hotel, which turned it into the S.S. Grandview Hotel. Over the years, it became known as just the Ship Hotel. The ship hotel was finished and dedicated on May 29, 1932.
The hotel is held in place by three steel I-beams that run under Route 30 and 18 steel piers that are anchored 30 feet down into the ground.
Olga Herbert, executive director of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor, said the loss of the Ship Hotel is a great loss for the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor. Even with it burning down, she expects people will still visit the site.
She said the hotel was a landmark and icon along the entire Lincoln Highway, which stretches from New York to San Francisco. Herbert, who is based in Greensburg, said of all the historical sites which turned her group deals with, the Ship Hotel elicits the most phone calls.
Herbert said the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor tried to purchase the Ship Hotel about three years ago to restore it, but a deal could not be struck. She said Loya was asking $900,000 for the structure, but an appraiser Loya chose had the building coming in much lower than that. Herbert said no deal could be made, so the group moved onto other projects.
Herbert said an estimate was done about six years ago, which said it would cost about $2.6 million to restore the structure. She said that type of money would be hard for an individual to come up with, but a non-profit foundation could through donations. Loya himself said he didn't have the funds to restore the hotel.
Herbert said the group is planning to erect a weather-resistant exhibit on PennDOT right-of-way near the site of the hotel in the future. She said the exhibit has nothing to do with Friday's fire and was planned some time ago.
She said the said the exhibit is part of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor's "Interpretive Plan." She said the series of exhibits will consist of pictures and narratives about the site and explain why it was built so people will better understand its history.
Lou Balya, Schellsburg, and her daughter, Debbie Nelson, Buckstown, both came to the see the fire scene Friday morning. Balya said her late father, Joseph Oravec, helped to build the Ship Hotel with the Paulson family back in the 1930s. She said four generations of her family were associated with the hotel and wanted to come see it one last time.
Assisting Shawnee Valley at the scene were fire companies from Alum Bank, Bedford, Hyndman, Imler, New Baltimore, Central City, Shanksville and Jennerstown.