PENCE SPRINGS W.Va. (Hinton News) – It is time for another edition of A Peek into Summers County’s Past. Each week, local history collector, William Jones, discusses items from his collection and their significance to local history. In this edition, Jones provides insight into the Riverside Inn in Pence Springs.
To being, Jones said, “This week’s story is a bit different in that it has an emotional connection to me. Not only was Riverside Inn in Pence Springs already historically significant in its own right, but its second life was started by Ashby Berkley in the early 1970’s.”
“This large advertisement sign, which measures roughly four feet by eight feet, was a gift to me from my grandfather Bernard Thompson. Long story short, I was in a terrible automobile accident on July 18, 2017, which resulted in me being in a coma for three months,” Jones noted. “My grandfather purchased this piece of local history for me knowing that anything related to Pence Springs has always been my favorite interest. He had it stored for me in his barn in Talcott waiting to give it to me when I got home from the hospital. The sign was designed as were the ones for Berkley’s other businesses by Mick Eckler in Lewisburg, West Virginia.”
Digging into the location’s past, Jones said, “Riverside Inn has a fascinating history dating back to 1915 when one of West Virginia’s governors, Henry D. Hatfield, had it built as a summer camp on the Greenbrier River. Not the point of interest for this article but I have an interesting piece of history from this building. A pool table that Governor Hatfield had built to go in his camp was given to me around 15 years ago. Famous American Bank robber, ‘Pretty Boy Floyd,’ is rumored to have been a guest of the Hatfield family and played pool on this table while staying in this cabin.”
Continuing the tale, Jones stated, “Fast forward to 1973, Ashby had purchased this log building after graduating from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America with the vision of creating a fine dining experience. He did just that. A restaurant kitchen was added on to the left of the building. The main dining room was on the first floor, facing the river. The second floor porch was screened in so it could be used for private parties or as an area to have a drink. Thus, creating a gourmet supper club with a cocktail lounge. Complete with a six course meal.”
“Berkley painstakingly restored the building to resemble a colonial log home. With meticulous attention to every detail. Such as the hammered tin colonial candle chandeliers that he had crafted just for it,” Jones said. “Although the building had electricity, lighting for dinner at night was provided by either candles and oil lamps on the tables. Period reproduction tables and ladder back chairs were used. The carpentry was fashioned by Jim Settle of Talcott, West Virginia. Authentic period dinnerware was used such as pewter chargers, plates and saucers. And every other piece of wares that would have typically been used during that time was employed to authenticate the experience.”
Jones continued, “Berkley brought with him his knowledge and skills he had recently learned during his time in culinary school. He created a menu that was just as fitting for the establishment. Over the years I have heard countless stories about the various items on the menu such as ‘fricassees’ which is a dish of stewed or fried pieces of meat served in a thick white sauce, scalded slaw, spiced cider and the 18th century duck (which was a favorite for Dr. Camera’s son Mecot. He and his family were regular customers of Riverside Inn).”
“Ashby was before his time meaning the ‘theme restaurants’ were not as popular in the 1970s and 80s as they are today. A theme restaurant has an integrated or authoritative concept. They use architecture, their decorating and other authentic approaches to create exotic environments that are not of the typical dining experience because they either are not accessible or do not exist any longer. Riverside Inn did them all in one location, which was served to you in period attire that was worn by Berkley himself and all of the staff. The 18th century costume was created by George Stinson, a New York City designer that had associations with the Pence Springs Manufacturing Company.”
“Its menu had been written up in publications across the country. My Uncle, Robert Thompson, can recall being on a return flight from Paris in the 1980s. He overheard this couple talking about their favorite restaurant that they had ever eaten at, it was this ‘quaint little restaurant in the middle of nowhere in West Virginia.’ That caught his attention so he started paying more attention to what the restaurant in West Virginia was. It turns out they were referring to Riverside Inn in Pence Springs. Who could imagine you would have heard anyone mention Pence Springs on a flight from another country much less their favorite restaurant was there! The artistic letterhead you can see here was designed off of the large roadside sign. A copy of the original menue can also be seen.”
Jones also said, “During the time it was in operation as a restaurant it faced three destructive floods; 1974, 1985 and 1996. After the flood of ’96 the restaurant (its menu) was moved to the Pence Springs Hotel which Berkley also owned and operated. It was positioned as ‘The Riverside Inn Dining Room.’ It remained in operation until the hotel closed around 2000. During its tenure as at the hotel the building that started and was Riverside Inn sadly burned in 2003. I remember being a senior in high school and hearing sirens one morning and learning it was Riverside Inn. As I looked out the front window of my house I could see the fire that had engulfed the building and the smoke rising from it.”
“I remember being sad that we had lost such an important piece of local history. Like I had said it was first built as a camp for Governor Hatfield. The five houses across the street were cabins for it, one of which still stands and has been restored. In the 1930s it was called Riverside Inn, and was operated by Jim Tolley of Pence Springs before he built his airport. Which is why when Berkeley reestablished it and brought it back to life it was again called Riverside Inn, and was a place for large banquets, parties and Saturday night dances. There was even a skating rink built during this time. The old photo you see here is the huge crowd that attended one of the dances and the skating rink.”
To conclude, Jones noted, “I purchased two of the hammered tin chandlers that were saved from the building after the fire. I also managed to acquire three of the custom built tables and chairs. A few pieces of the pewter dinnerware and the large English copper bed warmer you can see hanging by the fireplace in the photo from one of the early publications that was written about Berkley who you can see here serving the entree on his elaborate 18th century table.”
This is the end of another edition of A Peek into Summers County’s Past. Did you know all of this information about Riverside Inn?
Anyone with a story from the area’s history to share can send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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