By Dave Zuchowski All photos by Bill Rockwell
|The Facade of Tara|
Take a deep breath outside Tara, Pennsylvania’s answer to the film “Gone With the Wind” and you can almost smell the scent of magnolia blossoms wafting in the breeze.
A fan of the film, Donna Winner and her husband, Jim, a Civil War buff, had a long pent up desire to own an inn that resembled the one made famous by Margaret Mitchell’s novel on which the film is based.
After looking at properties across the eastern seaboard, the couple found a run-down, rambling mansion in Mercer County, Pennsylvania, with a history that dates back to 1854.
The structure had enough of a resemblance to Scarlett O’Hara’s family plantation in rural Georgia, a prominent feature of the film, that the couple bought it in 1984. Two million dollars and countless hours of renovation later, they opened Tara, a to its first guests on June 1, 1986.
|Another View of Tara|
When checking in at registration at Tara, the antebellum Greek Revival mansion that got its start in 1854, I found the gracious receptionist dressed in period clothing that could have been right out of the film, “Gone with the Wind.” Well, Fiddle-dee-dee, I exclaimed, registering my surprise.
“The idea of Tara was to embody the grace, grandeur and romance of GWTW and the era in which the film is set,” said Laura Ackley, the Winner’s niece with a love of the property. “A quick look around and you’ll see that we make an attempt to theme everything here as much as possible.”
Each of the 27 guest rooms have names borrowed from the film, such as Belle’s Boudoir, Master Gerald’s Room and Fiddle Dee Dee, Scarlett’s favorite expression of frustration.
Although each of the rooms is furnished with armoires, fireplaces and jetted tubs, they all come with a unique décor. Butler’s Room, for instance, has a gas fireplace, a king size brass bed, a super large armoire with a mirrored doors, a jetted tub and separate shower.
|The Parlor at Tara|
The parlor, named after feisty, appropriately named Scarlett, has on display the bed-jacket worn by Vivian Leigh in the film’s honeymoon scene. The flashy silk garment trimmed in white mink sits next to the Jenny Lind bed, whose headboard is topped by a hand-carved figure of the famous Swedish singer.
The long robe that stands out nearby is 100 percent silk and was worn by Clark Gable. The phonograph on the table is a Thomas Edison original.
Jim Winner was a Civil War buff, and guests will find in the common areas a large case filled with Civil War era pistols, powder horns, knives, fifes and more.
|Some of Jim Winners’s Collection of Rifles|
Mr. Winner was also a collector of antique guns, which you’ll find nestled behind floor-to-ceiling glass cases in a room called the Old South Armory, where Sunday brunch is served. Just outside the room, you can find some of the Remington bronzes that constitute one of the largest Remington collections in the nation.
Other notable items at Tara include a table that belonged to President James Buchanan, a copy of the April 18, 1865 edition of the New York Tribune announcing the assassination of President Lincoln, and a collection of the Encyclopedia Britannica dated 1865.
|A Look at the Library|
Besides gazing at the museum quality objects, things guests can do during their stay are using the indoor and outdoor pool, playing billiards in the Billiard Room, kayaking or canoeing on the nearby Shenango River, hiking on the trails at Buhl Park, sitting on the veranda reading or enjoying a bit of conversation or simply walking the beautifully landscaped grounds.
Even if billiards are not your thing, you’ll probably enjoy looking at the photos of the Beatles with Mohammad Ali and of Marilyn Monroe posing with Joe DiMaggio (it‘s autographed by the couple), and getting a look at a pair of boxing gloves signed by Muhammad Ali.
|The Billiard Room|
Outdoors, guests can sit and relax in a gazebo, enjoy the large old trees that dot the property and meander down the red brick walkway to see some of the statuary and bronze sculptures on display. At the bottom of the slope, a graceful swan skims over the water in the pond underneath the spray of a large fountain. At dusk, the grounds take on a magical glow from the light of numerous globe lights on poles.
|A Statue on the Grounds|
The in-house restaurant, Stonewall’s Tavern, is appropriately named for the famed Civil War general as well as its thick stone walls. Cozy and casual, the tavern is believed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad. My hostess showed me the trap door that led from the floor above the could have been used to hide runaway slaves.
|The Dessert Tray at Stonewall’s Tavern|
The mansion’s original owner, Charles Koonce, was a Pennsylvania Representative who claimed his proudest accomplishment was his vote to amend the Constitution to abolish slavery. It’s not that unlikely, then, that his home could have part of the famous Underground Railroad.
Each morning guests are served a complimentary upscale breakfast in Ashley’s, where a mural depicting a scene from antebellum South runs around the room on all four walls.
|Tara in the Evening|
Tara is a place that embraces the notion of Southern hospitality, 130 miles north of the Mason Dixon Line. For more information, visit www.tara-inn.com or 724-962-3525.
A few of the Surrounding Attractions in Sharon, PA and Mercer County, PA.
|Get Ready for Candy|
Daffin’s Candies, 496 E. State St. in nearby Sharon, has been making candy sine 1949. The store is huge and features chocolates, fudge, nuts and nostalgic candies as well as gift items. Not to be missed is the Chocolate Kingdom display made up of chocolate sculptures, www.daffins.com.
|For those with a Sweet Tooth|
Kraynak’s, 2525 E. State in Hermitage, is huge and holds three distinct divisions. The first is the main retail store, the home of Santa’s Christmasland and Easter Bunny Lane, whose walk through displays have become a tradition for many families.
|Time to Go Shopping|
The store stocks an astounding array of Christmas and Easter decorations, toys, gifts, potted plants from the greenhouse and fresh cut flowers from the floral department.
The second division, Kraynak’s Lawn and Garden Center, is located 1000 feet behind the original store and is full of trees, shrubs, garden supplies, and outdoor furniture.
The third division comprises six nurseries where trees and shrubs are grown for retail and wholesale sales. Phone 724-347-4511 or www.kraynaks.com.
|Quite a Sight to Behold|
Another attraction, the Avenue of Flags was erected during the Iran hostage crisis of 1979–1981 to honor the American diplomats held hostage in Tehran, Iran. The memorial began as a single American flag but was eventually expanded to 444 flags, one for each day of the hostages’ captivity. 2619 E. State St. in Hermitage
724-346-3818 or www.avenueofflags.com.
For more information on other nearby attractions, go to www.visitmercercountypa.com or 724-910-2269.