The former McGinnis hospital, as seen in its day as home to the Seger family. Plans are being made to reopen it as Thistledown at Seger House, a hotel.
By Dave Zuchowski
Michelle and Adam Gardner always loved the red sandstone Victorian mansion that stands at 221 W. Main St. in their hometown of Ligonier. So when the property went on the market in the fall of 2011, they decided to take a quick look at the house that got its start in 1915 as a home for widower John Seger and his three children.
"We had no plans for the house and weren't ready to jump in and purchase it, but we started to think about what we might do with it," Mrs. Gardner said.
Time passed and the building remained unsold, its "For Sale" sign advertising periodic price reductions. Deciding to take a second look, the Gardners liked what they saw and purchased the building in January for $265,000 from Excela Health. The mansion had stood vacant since June 2011, when Excela closed the facility that had served as its Ligonier SurgiCenter.
"We called in some experts, who gave the house a thorough looking over, and they confirmed that it's in great shape," Mrs. Gardner said.
Now, the couple are moving ahead with plans to convert the mansion into a small hotel, which they hope to open this summer.
The house remained in the Seger family from 1918, when it was completed, until 1945.
John Seger had made his fortune in coal and timber. When his wife, Elizabeth, died in 1897, he was left to raise three children. In 1915, he started construction on the house with six rooms on the first floor, four bedrooms on the second and four more on the third floor, one of which served as a billiard room. The servants were housed in rooms above the carriage house, which sports the same red sandstone exterior and green tile roof as the main house.
John Seger died of pneumonia in 1930, and in 1945 the estate sold the house to the Sisters of Mercy to be used as a satellite hospital. Two years later, Helen Newlin McGinnis bought the property, again for use as a hospital.
"The Westmoreland Hospital bought the facility in the late 1980s, and it became part of Excela Health when the company rebranded in 2004," spokeswoman Robin Jennings said.
On Feb. 25, the Gardners took their plans to the Ligonier Borough planning commission, which voted unanimously to recommend that council approve the hotel plan.
A public hearing on the issue will be held next Thursday prior to the council meeting at the Ligonier Town Hall. In the meantime, the Gardners are preparing to open what they call Thistledown at Seger House by the end of July.
"Adam's family has a Scottish background, and the thistle is the national flower of Scotland," Mrs. Gardner explained. "When we named the house, we also wanted to include the Seger name for historical reasons and felt the title Thistledown at Seger House has a nice ring."
The Gardners plan to restore the house to its original look as much as possible. With the help of architect Loren Wright, they opened up the main staircase, repaired the roof and took down a few interior walls.
The original hardwood floors and a number of period light fixtures and sconces remain intact. The house has six fireplaces with either oak or glazed ceramic tile mantels. Several three-panel, stained-glass windows are being restored.
Plans call for the hotel to have eight bedrooms, four on each of the second and third floors. Each room is to have a private bath, Wi-Fi access, a satellite-sourced television and a working fireplace. The Gardners plan to install central air conditioning but will leave the existing boiler intact to heat the house.
"The furniture will be contemporary elegant and will evoke the feel of an old house," said Mrs. Gardner, who plans to move her knitting shop, Bo-Peep Fine Yarns, from its current home nearby to the first floor of the hotel.
The mansion is centrally located in the borough, across from the Ligonier movie theater and close to the town's signature square called the Diamond, which puts it within walking distance to restaurants and shops. The hotel already is booked for the first weekend of October, and Oct. 11-13, when Fort Ligonier Days will be held, is fast filling up.
The planned room rates for the summer season range from $175 to $275 a night, with lower rates during the winter.
The Gardners will continue to live in their current home, which is about a mile from the mansion, and they will hire a night manager to oversee the property in the evening. Mr. Gardner plans to continue to operate his business, GOG Paintball, a manufacturer of paints for sporting paint ball games, in Loyalhanna.