The Summit Inn is one of the last remaining grand porch hotels in America. The history of The Summit Inn really begins in 1806 when Albert Gallatin, the Secretary of the Treasury under President Thomas Jefferson, suggested a National Road “to connect the East with the West”. Albert Gallatin lived only twenty miles from the present day Summit Inn.
Construction on the National Road began in 1813 and was made public in 1818. It remained one of the largest internal improvements made by the Federal Government until the Civil War and was the principal way west for at least 50 years. The road was justly renowned for the great number and excellence of its inns, and taverns. As the road wound through the Laurel Mountains nearly every mile had it’s own tavern.
Atop the Summit Mountain of Chestnut Ridge was one such tavern. It was known as the Fayette Springs Hotel and sat across the road from the existing Summit Inn. In the second half of the 19th century, both the National Road and the Fayette Springs Hotel fell into disrepair. In the early 1900’s, the State of Pennsylvania took over the road and the improvements made the idea of a hotel inviting once more.
It was with this in mind that some of Uniontown’s wealthiest men got together and formed the Summit Hotel Company. (It may be hard to believe now, but due to the coal industry, in the early 1900’s Uniontown boasted one of the highest rates of millionaires per capita in all the world). Their goal was to build a mountain resort of “exceptional quality and durability”. They succeeded with the Summit Hotel.
The Summit Hotel was first opened to the public in 1907. Due to its excellent facilities, it’s location on Chestnut Ridge, and the beautiful views, the resort was an immediate success. The original hotel register, proudly displayed in the lobby, dates back to 1917 when Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and Thomas Edison brought the American Science Wizards here to test their inventions up and down the mountain. In 1924 the worlds first all steel olympic outdoor pool was added. In 1930 a colorful German named Leo Heyn purchased the complex and helped the Inn gain national recognition. The German influence of Leo Heyn can still be seen in our Baron Munchausen Room, a hoffbrau style pub.
Mr. Heyn also displayed advertising boasting of home-grown vegetables and chickens raised on the property, as well as elite table water, from the same “Summit Spa”, used by General George Washington and his army. Taxi service for 0.50¢ a person was available for those wanting to venture into the city of Uniontown to shop, and a “spacious, clean garage” was available for those wishing to house their vehicles.
In the 1950’s the Summit began to fall on hard times. The coal industry was moving away from the area, and so too were the hotel’s rich clientele. In 1957 Don Shoemaker and Eunice Shoemaker were recruited from The Bedford Springs Hotel in hopes that they could help turn The Summit Inn around. Not long after their arrival, Don told the present proprietors he was planning to leave because of the state of neglect the hotel was in. Mr. Shoemaker had proven himself so valuable to the business that the owners begged him not to go, with their help, and the help of Mr. Eberly at the Fayette Bank, Mr. Shoemaker purchased the Summit Inn Resort in 1963 from the Abbell Corporation. (At that time the Abbell Corporation also owned: The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, CO; Willard Hotel, Washington, D.C; Paramount Hotel, NY,NY; Congress Hotel, Chicago, IL; and the Alexandria, Los Angeles, CA.)
The Summit Inn would not have survived all these years without the Shoemakers hard work and dedication. Over the next several years, Don and Eunice made numerous major improvements to the Inn. Neither took a salary for several years, instead investing everything they had back into the property. Over the next several years, another wing was added, all the rooms were updated to include on-suite bathrooms, there was an addition of an indoor swimming pool, and the ballroom was expanded to accommodate up to 500 people. They added a video game room, billiards area, gym, shuffleboard and volleyball to keep guests occupied, as well as updates to the 9-hole golf course.
They would arrive every morning and continue working long after every one else was in bed. The Shoemaker’s only daughter, Karen, worked along side them until Don was diagnosed with cancer 1994. Karen took over the daily operations of the hotel and became owner in 2000. She and her husband, Randall Harris, have worked diligently to improve the business. The hotel is now being managed by the third generation. Karen’s Daughter Amanda and her husband, Jeremiah, have joined the family business. Don’s nephew Sam Shoemaker is also a critical member of the team. The importance of family and history prevails at the Summit. The reassuring sense of being part of a family unit and working together as a team generates a unified and goal oriented group.
The job of maintaining a property of The Summits age, is not an easy one, but for 65 years it has been a labor of love for the Shoemaker family.
Preserving tradition, service, and friendliness are foremost for our guests. Our staff is well-versed in the tradition of the great hotels. With this in mind, the Summit Inn Resort is proud of its past and looks forward to the next century as the place “where guests still meet like yesterday’s elite.”