I am super excited! I am only days away from what has become my annual pre-Christmas trek to our beloved hometown Duquesne. I am scheduled to arrive in the area on Friday, December 7th and cannot wait. I will be visiting my daughters in Philadelphia for a few days before I leave their area via the PA Turnpike. I plan on dropping off the turnpike in Bedford and taking the last leg of the trip via Rt. 30. That will take me right past the site where the S.S. Grandview Point Hotel had once stood. It has become tradition for me to stop for a few minutes and snap a couple of pictures of the view before I head over the mountains and through the woods toward my old home.
I am posting an article that appeared in the Post Gazette in April, 2010 that discusses the lure and history of the site. I thought you’d enjoy it for those of you who were lucky, like me, to have visited the hotel when it was still in operation.
I also wanted to remaind you to let me know if there are any special places or photos in the Duquesne, West Mifflin, Homestead, McKeesport, etc. area that you would like to to visit or photograph. Aside from visiting relatives, putting up my Aunt Peggy’s Chirstmas tree AND most exciting, visiting Kennywood for their Holiday of Lights one evening, I have no set plans. Request away, and I’ll do my best! I’ll be in the area until 12-12-12!!
Ship Hotel has sailed, but a jaunty new book honors its history and heyday
The story of the Ship Hotel is one of dreams fulfilled and dreams dashed, of a delightfully preposterous roadside attraction that brought comfort and joy to many before its long, sad decline and spectacular demise.
Brian Butko tells it masterfully in “The Ship Hotel: A Grand View Along the Lincoln Highway” (Stackpole Books, $19.95). Part scrapbook, part family album, part communal memoir, this visually bountiful, right-sized book can be read just about in a single sitting, maybe curled up with a cuppa joe in vintage Ship Hotel china.
Before there was a Ship Hotel there was a Grand View Point, “just one of many scenic spots in the mountains of Pennsylvania where entrepreneurs thought they could sell some pie and cold drinks or pennants and postcards to motorists pulled over to cool their radiators, brakes and tempers,” Mr. Butko writes. “The mountaintop view gave added reason to stop, and soon many stands had lookout towers or telescopes.”
Grand View Point was the name given to a sharp curve 80 miles east of Pittsburgh, 17 miles west of Bedford and a mile east of Bald Knob Summit, at 2,906 feet the highest point on the Lincoln Highway — U.S. Route 30 — in Pennsylvania.
In 1928, Herbert Paulson, a native of the Netherlands, built at the curve the castle-themed Grand View Point Hotel, with rooftop turrets and four floors, three below road level. Three years later, with the help of German-born Albert Sinnhuber as building designer, he enlarged and remodeled it to look like an ocean liner because, an early WPA travel guide reported, the morning mists in the valley reminded him of billowing ocean waves. Mr. Paulson, who made annual or biannual trips to Europe, also had a big love of the sea, Mr. Butko believes.
The Ship’s construction was a suitably quirky feat of engineering, with 18 steel piers sunk 30 feet into the rock and 22 car frames added to the concrete foundation for strength.
Brian Butko, the editor of Western Pennsylvania History magazine, is the author of eight books, including three about the Lincoln Highway. He will speak about and sign “The Ship Hotel” on Friday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Barnes & Noble’s Waterfront store.
He’ll also appear on Saturday at two signings sponsored by the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor:
Coffee Bean Cafe, 5345 Route 30, Greensburg (next to Office Max), 10 a.m. to noon.
Union Hotel, 128 E. Main St., Everett (east of Bedford), 2:30 to 4 p.m.
Even if drivers didn’t stop at the Ship, its shipside slogan — “SEE 3 STATES and 7 COUNTIES” — sparked discussion in carloads of kids and parents headed east or west. For the record, they’re Bedford, Somerset, Blair, Fulton and Huntingdon in Pennsylvania, Allegany in Maryland and Mineral in West Virginia “but these are debated,” the author reports.
Travelers who did stop, for a meal or an overnight stay, could use one of six telescopes on the Ship’s deck to view the unspoiled landscape.
“Regulars reserved rooms for a couple weeks or more,” Mr. Butko writes. “In that simpler time, it was an all-inclusive attraction.”
For the Paulsons — Herbert had a wife, Mitzi, and three children — the Ship was more than a business; it was home. A longtime Ship enthusiast, Mr. Butko first met Herbert and Mitzi’s granddaughter Clara Gardner in 1989, and she proved to be his best source about life on board. She grew up on the Ship and later worked there for 25 years.
In what seems today like top-notch sitcom or ’30s screwball comedy material, Capt. Paulson carried the maritime theme to the max. The Ship had five levels, including “steerage,” as the mostly female help dubbed their living quarters. Upstairs were the staterooms, some with private baths, and two outdoor decks where dances were held on summer nights under striped canvas awnings — and the musical spell of the Ship’s own nine-man orchestra. Life preservers hung on the deck railings and the walls of the main dining room, where the chairs had anchor-shaped backrests.
Staffers did all the cooking, baking, canning and laundry. Many of the cooks were from coal-mining families, “so it was really an Eastern European kitchen,” Clara’s son Ken Gardner recalled. “You can imagine the cookies and other good stuff” they produced for the holidays.
The Paulson family lived in an upstairs suite near the bow; in later years all the children and their descendants would return for Christmas.
“The best memories are of standing by the windows with eggnog in hand at dusk, as the deer came out onto the snow-covered fields, with the Christmas lights in the homes in the valleys coming on as it approached nightfall, and Bing in the background on the jukebox,” Mr. Gardner recalls in the last chapter, “Sailing Into Sunset.” Brimming with memories and photographs from the Ship’s family and patrons, it’s like a wake for a building that was never properly mourned.
Herbert and Mitzi’s descendants sold the Ship in 1978 to Jack and Mary Loya, who changed its name to Noah’s Ark and opened a petting zoo across the road. The business never thrived, nor did it under subsequent owners, a couple whose restoration efforts were hampered by vandalism and safety codes, Mr. Butko writes.
Efforts by the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor in the mid-1990s to purchase and convert it to a roadside museum were thwarted. The derelict Ship suffered one ignominy after another until the ultimate one — a fiery consummation in the early morning of Oct. 26, 2001. The cause was never determined.
The Ship Hotel always seemed a little like an apparition, even more so on foggy days. Now that it’s crossed over into the land of memory, Mr. Butko’s well-researched book is a fitting, tangible monument to the history and heyday of the landfaring liner that clung, magically and improbably, to the side of a Western Pennsylvania mountain for 70 years.
Patricia Lowry: 412-263-1590 or email@example.com.
First Published April 12, 2010 12:00 am
I’m the author of the Ship Hotel book … and a lifelong resident of West Mifflin!
Brian, I am so excited that you have found my blog. You and your books were my source of inspiration for begging this blog over two years ago. PLEASE keep on writing about the wonderful area we grew up in AND please stay in touch. I have placed a link to your site on my blog so everyone can enjoy your writings! – Jim
I have fond memories of the old ship. Visits there in the 1950s with my parents and lunch there with my girlfriend and now wife of 40 years while home on leave from the service in 1969. On one of our last visits there before the fire we met a young woman who along with friends were trying to restore it to it’s former glory,a Herculean task. Sadly there efforts were for not.
Thanks so much for the info on the Ship Hotel. I had been going there since the late 60’s. The Paulson family still owned it. I don’t remember their names bet I think it was two brothers and a sister. After they sold out I could tell it wasn’t going to make it. The last couple that had it were school teachers in Johnstown. They had a handyman/janitor and his wife then. The wife worked in the kitchen when it was open. They lived on the side of that mountain in a school bus. The handyman??, was usually in the little bar just to the left of the entrance. These owners found two old registration ledgers from the 30’s. They left them on the bar for customers to look at. Of course they were stolen. The entries were fascinating, people from all over the USA. The penmanship was wonderful, some of it outright beautiful, and all of it was done in ink and fountain pen. That says something for teachers of the period.
When this placed was torched, so were two others on Rt. 30. The Buckhorn Tavern, at the top of the mountain and the Swiss Chalet near the top of 3 Mile Hill outside Laughlintown, all on the same night. As far as I know, no one was ever caught.
Very interesting facts Larry.
I was not aware of the other places being arsoned. My family signed a registration book every time we visited circa 1947-48-49.
Thanks for your info.
Festival of Trees in McKeesport is a wonderful thing to see while youre in the area!
This Ship Hotel was a regular destination in the Fall for our family and my Grandmother.
We never stayed overnight but always ate a meal there and enjoyed the views of the brilliant leaves on the trees in the adjoining mountains.
As I got older I would pass the hotel on the way to my hunting destinations and watched its gradual decline. It was really spectacular for its time in history.
I last saw it in approx. 1958 and it was still majestic in its own way.