The national road, America’s first federally funded road, was built from 1811 to 1834 at the urging of former President George Washington and then-President Thomas Jefferson. It connected Cumberland, Md., and the Ohio River in Wheeling, W.Va., as a gateway to the West. The road was once a stagecoach route where towns had sprung up about every 12 miles, the distance a team of oxen could travel in a day.
The Century Inn is the oldest continuously operating inn on the National Road (Route 40). Built in 1794 on 27 acres in Scenery Hill, an hour south of Pittsburgh, the sturdy stone inn sheltered Presidents Washington, Jackson and Polk, as well as Gen. Santa Anna and countless other historic personages. It’s believed that President Lincoln made the 12-mile trek from meetings in Washington, Pa., for the inn’s famed breakfast.
Today, owner Megin Harrington cares for the Century Inn. Her in-laws purchased the property in 1945, and she and her husband took over in the mid-1970s. After her husband died in a plane crash in 1987, Harrington stayed on with their three young sons. She frequented antique stores, garage sales and flea markets, acquiring the period antiques and collectables that fill the inn. History is everywhere, from the Whiskey Rebellion flag in the McCune Saloon (authenticated by the Smithsonian Institution and believed to be to the only one surviving) to a tall, mid-1700s chest of drawers. Walls display calligraphic historic documents on sheepskin, paintings and Harrington’s collection of cross-stitched samplers.
The inn has six unique bedrooms, and three more across the street at Zephanie Riggle’s House of Entertainment, a former bordello. All are furnished with period pieces and have private baths. There are working gas fireplaces throughout both properties.
The five dining rooms accommodate 150 and include the charming Keeping Room, which is the original kitchen, complete with massive fireplace. Chef Ryan Racicot (well-known Pittsburgh chef David Racicot’s younger brother) creates seasonal menus focusing on fresh local ingredients, many coming from the inn’s garden. From the signature peanut soup to duck and seafood to game dishes in the fall, the menu teems with tempting options. The tavern offers many selections and has an extensive single malt scotch collection.
The Century Inn has numerous events that support and showcase the arts, from an art exhibition in March to a music fest and pig roast in August. Monday evenings in the summer feature tacos and music jams at the gazebo. The inn is also available for special events such as showers, weddings and corporate retreats. And the village of Scenery Hill is dotted with shops featuring antiques, crafts, teas and coffee and more. Most of these stores are open seasonally.
Today, hurried travelers take Interstate 70 instead of the bucolic National Road, missing out on the charms of places such as Scenery Hill. For a historic trip back in time, the Century Inn is definitely worth the drive.
The Century Inn, 2175 East National Pike, Scenery Hill, PA 15360, 724-945-6600, centuryinn.com, varied hours, reservations highly suggested.