a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Satisfied with the dust in my home

By Scott Beveridge

WEBSTER, Pa. – It struck me yesterday while cleaning my old kitchen hutch that I had waited entirely too long to perform that task.

The date was 1997 on the yellowing newspapers that were used as shelving liner in the rustic wooden furniture. And then the date struck me that I had just surpassed the 25th anniversary of having moved into this century-old fixer-upper in Webster, a Mon Valley village, which has often been considered "the other side of the tracks" by snooty people.

I would have told someone he was crazy had he suggested to me in my teens that this Pennsylvania town would remain my home into my 50s. I had dreams then of someday living in a lofty New York art studio or maybe somewhere beside the water other than this town along the murky Monongahela River 30 miles south of Pittsburgh.

But this big house offered itself to me in 1987 for $4,000, a price that I couldn't resist, even though the floor was rotten below the bathroom commode and everything was covered with a decade 's worth of grimy dust.

The real lures were the facts that the house's faux oak graining on the woodwork hadn't ever been painted over, the two pocket doors on the first floor hadn't been removed and the two main ornate fireplaces still worked. There was something here worthy of preservation.

Over the years, though, a sense of community in this small town has thankfully survived, as well. Otherwise cranky people will offer smiles at the post office in perhaps unconscious efforts to keep peace and get along with everyone. Others who live here tend to hold their tempers when someone else runs a stop sign they are approaching rather than curse obscenities at the thoughtless driver.

And sure, most of us here have relatives, coworkers and met strangers who live elsewhere and make it obvious, almost immediately, they think they are better people for where and how they live. That would be living anywhere in the "Mon Valley," where some people are viewed as being no better than a river rat.

However, one thing I have learned in certainty from my travels is that people are people and the mix of good and bad among them seems to be pretty well balanced regardless of a zip code.

I know people from out of town who spend too much time in front of their computers drafting conspiracy theories to back up their kooky opinions. I sometimes get their emails.

And I also know people over the hills who, like the guy who lives across my street, will brush the snow off their neighbor's car on a freezing cold morning for no other reason than to be kind. Here is this tiny town neighbors still take time to pull off the road to return wind-tossed garbage cans to their owners or keep a watchful eye over others' property when a stranger loiters.

Its reasons like those that make me satisfied at having never left the dust that settles here. Well maybe it's the cheap taxes, too.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The long way home

The aging and historic Donora-Webster Bridge, shown from the hillside in Webster, Pa., is slated for demolition. (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Annie Schempp

DONORA, Pa. – They closed our bridge! And, now we hear that it's slated for demolition.

We moved back to Donora, Pa., in 2006. I was raised here and my first 17 years included an almost daily trip over this wonderful Donora-Webster Bridge. The surface was always a surprise - even if you're accustomed to driving over it. As an open-grate bridge, you can see through it down into the very clean waters of the Monongahela River.

Daddy and I used to walk across the bridge over to Webster and down to the river to sit, to fish (we never caught anything and I'm not sure we really tried). How I loved to look through the grates where the cars drove. We'd drive over the bridge to get everwhere - to Bill's Dari-Delight, to Sweeney's Restaurant, to Pittsburgh (via the naughty Route 51).

The first time I drove over the open grates I thought I was driving on ice - it's a special experience and easier than expected - and the sound is so unique it stays with you forever.

Now we have to drive all the way to the other end of town to cross the New Bridge - the Donora-Monessen Bridge. It's not really that new, but it will bear that name forever. Functional as it may be, it is merely concrete with no real beauty. Then - to go to the Webster river entrance that my Dad and I used to enjoy, we have to drive all the way back plus some - it's walkable if we had hours to walk, shortening our sitting and fishing time.

Believe it or not, the old bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places - it even boasts some significant technologies. The details can be found at the Historical Bridges website.

The bridge just turned 100 years old on Dec. 5, 2008. Scott Beveridge created a nice video, with the whole story featuring our good neighbor Dr. Chuck Stacey.

The bridge opened originally with a wedding. In fact, the parents of my Mom's very good friend, Helen Herk, were married on the bridge on Dec. 8, 1908, when it was dedicated.

Of course it's inconvenient. And it's old-fashioned. And, maybe it's hard to fix. But, it's special to those of us who grew up here and even more special to those of us who moved back.

The New Bridge can take me anywhere I want to go. But, only the old bridge can really bring me back home.

Annie Schempp is co-owner of SilverCrow Creations in Donora, Pa.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

High-style Victorian retreats in SW Pa.

Montgomery Mansion Bed & Breakfast, decorating for Christmas 2001 along the historic National Road in charming Claysville, Pa. (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Karen Mansfield and Scott Beveridge

CLAYSVILLE, Pa. – Some guests at historic Montgomery Mansion Bed & Breakfast have the luxury of relaxing their tense muscles in a shower, whose stall also doubles as a sauna.

“People swear by that. They say, ‘Oh, my God,’” said Shirley Smith, who, along with her husband, Butch, owns the more than 120-year-old, High Victorian house hugging the National Road in tiny Claysville, Pa.

If the suite with the shower and Jacuzzi is occupied, the three-story house offers the Holly Room, with an adjoining bathroom boasting a copper tub beside a rare antique shower complete with jets that pulse the body from all sides.

“It’s supposed to be one of only three or four showers like that in the country,” Shirley Smith said.

There is one just like it in Henry Clay Frick’s Clayton in Pittsburgh and at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, she said.

The Montgomery Mansion isn’t the only bed and breakfast in Washington County, Pa., that offers couples a relaxing retreat. Grammy Rose’s and Rush House are both on East Maiden Street in Washington, and Cabin Fever Inn Bed & Breakfast sits on 20 wooded acres in Coal Center, 45 minutes from Fallingwater and Ohiopyle State Park.

Grammy Rose’s and Rush House are Victorian-style homes that provide cozy, quiet bedrooms with private baths, fresh breakfasts and easy access to local activities.

Madonna Maroulis, owner of Rush House, said she pampers guests by using crystal and fine linens, providing soft robes and bath products such as bubble bath and scented soaps, and having several books on hand. Fresh roses are found in every bedroom, and wine glasses add a warm touch.

Around Valentine’s Day, Maroulis makes it a point to place chocolate in the rooms.

“It’s a relaxing getaway,” said Maroulis, whose Rush House has a unique 
architectural feature: It was built over a stone-lined creek bed, and the creek still flows through a stone tunnel under the kitchen and dining room. 

Tim and Rose Davis Grammy, owners of Grammy Rose’s, offer warm hospitality, relaxing amenities and all the comforts of home in their inviting bed and breakfast, whose four guestrooms are named after their granddaughters.

Trip Advisor reviews tout Grammy Rose’s hospitality, decor and grounds, which include a gazebo, pond and gardens.

Rose, a former florist, and Tim, a tavern owner, added the gazebo to host small social events, including outdoor weddings and showers.

Cabin Fever is owned by Harry and Linda Torbert, who enjoy hosting guests, especially during special occasions, such as New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day.

“I think we’re in an ideal location, and it’s very relaxed out here,” said Harry 
Torbert. “Because it’s two bedrooms, we host mostly families, and we are in 
proximity to many activities.”

Robert Porter, a once-prominent lumber mill owner in Claysville, built Montgomery Mansion in the 1870s to show off his woodworking skills in the ornate house trim trade.

“He wanted to make it as fancy as he could,” said Butch Smith, referring to the mansion that has been called one of the most-recognized houses along the two-lane road also known as Route 40.

John Nelson Montgomery Jr. eventually took possession of the house in 1906, and it remained in his family for decades.

Today, with a fully restored and partially renovated interior, the house features hand-stamped period wallpaper, 14-carat gold stenciling, and mantels and trim constructed with rare wood.

Each morning the Smiths serve their guests a full breakfast of eggs, bacon, 
sausage, waffles, Danish, juices and fresh fruit.

(This story first appeared in the January, February 2012 issued of Living Washington County, a magazine published by the Observer-Reporter)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Too many hands didn't spoil this soup

By Scott Beveridge

WEBSTER, Pa. – It would be impossible to serve up the exact recipe for this most-excellent potato cheese soup because there were too many hands in this pot, and, in a good way.

But here is how in went down last Sunday.

Three great friends invited themselves over for dinner. I offered to cook the soup. They agreed to bring the beer.

To get it going, the onion and garlic were fried until translucent in some extra virgin olive oil (first and cold pressed) in a large pot on the stove.

The stock went in next and was brought to a boil.

Into the pot next went five or six medium sized Idaho potatoes, cut into cubes, after they were soaked a bit in a bowl filled with cold salted water.

Those potatoes were slow boiled until they began to disappear into the stock, while we tossed in some bacon, chopped celery and carrots along with some of the grated cheese.

At one point one of my friends added half of one my best 12 oz. bottles of India Pale Ale.

"Whoa. Whoa. Whoa," I said. "That's enough."

Really, he could have wasted some of the Yuengling.

Next we added the remaining potatoes, bacon, cream, cheese and spices until the soup tasted right to us, and continued to simmer the pot until the potatoes became nice and soft.

We also added some grated potato to thicken the soup and a whole lot off great memories along the way, paring them with a fantastic loaf of garlic and onion bread from Sunseri's in Pittsburgh's Strip District.


1 lb. thick sliced bacon, peppered, fried well and drained on paper towel
Enough Idaho and red potatoes to get it right.
1 - 32 oz. Emeril's chicken stock
1 - 32 oz. Emeril's vegetable stock
I large white onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, pressed
1/2 pint of half and half
1 - 8 oz. package of expensive, creamy sharp cheddar cheese, grated
Six or seven stalks of celery.
1/2 of one of those bags of slivered carrots stores sell
Some beer
4 - Tbsp. butter
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Tabasco, to taste
Fresh grounded chili pepper corns, to taste
A big pinch of chopped parsley