Frankly, my dear, you won't give a darn ... about the outside world when you treat yourself to a night at Tara - A Country Inn or its sister inn, the Buhl Mansion, in Sharon, Pa., just a bit more than two hours from Wheeling.
The inns are both owned by Jim and Donna Winner, who also own the Winner Department Store in downtown Sharon. The store is billed as the "largest off-price department store."
Big is important in Sharon - Reyer's, the world's largest shoe store is just across the way from The Winner, while up the street from The Winner, and next door to the Buhl, is Daffin's, the world's largest candy store.
Tara — A Country Inn
And both of the inns are big on elegance, romance, pampering, service as well as history.
Tara - A Country Inn - Where you can think about real life tomorrow ...
Step inside and you enter another era, a time when life was slow and elegant. You can just hear Scarlett and Rhett in the next room, speaking in their southern drawls. Women in long gowns greet you at the door. Hospitality is not taken lightly at Tara.
Indulge in a sumptuous tea spread in the parlor or have a glass of sherry before you dine at Stonewalls Tavern, a casual tavern, or at Ashley's, a jacket-and-tie kind of place where seven courses are served at dinner.
Take a walk around the property, inside and out, and you'll wonder if you are in a museum or a southern country inn.
Collectibles abound, both from the Civil War and "Gone With the Wind" memorabilia. Also, more than a dozen original Frederic Remington bronze statues line a hallway leading to Stonewalls Tavern, while outside, several life-sized Remington casts dot the grounds.
Jim Winner is a Civil War buff, and his collection of Civil War guns is one of the largest of its kind outside of Gettysburg, Pa., Laura noted.
Scarlett's bed jacket from the honeymoon scene in "Gone With the Wind," as well as Rhett's honeymoon robe are on display in "Scarlett's Room," on the first floor, just inside the front door. Throughout the inn are photos, letters, plates, posters, etc., with a "GWTW" connection. Any aficionado of the romantic classic would be in heaven.
The Winners also are avid antique collectors, and Tara holds many they've found over the years.
Each room in the inn is named appropriately: the Carpetbagger's Vacation, Confederate Getaway, Twelve Oaks, Fiddle Dee Dee, Miss Melanie's Room, Mason-Dixon Room, to name a few of the beautifully appointed 27 rooms. Every room is different, but they all offer over-sized Jacuzzis, and lovely wallpaper and window treatments. Some have gas fireplaces.
The king-sized beds in all of the rooms welcome guests with feather beds, elegant comforters and a gaggle of pillows.
"Gone With the Wind" getaway packages include a welcome tray with fruit, cheese and champagne, afternoon tea, a champagne reception, evening turndown service, a full breakfast and use of the indoor and outdoor pools.
If a room is not booked for the night, the door is open, making it available for viewing.
Tours of Tara for guests and the general public can be arranged.
The Buhl Mansion Guesthouse and Spa ... "It's all about
pampering and romance"
Multiply your vision of elegance by a gazillion and you've got the Buhl Mansion.
No detail is left unattended here. We were pampered by the friendly staff as soon as we walked in the door.
They wanted to retrieve our luggage, park our car and serve us champagne, immediately upon arrival.
"I think I'm going to like it here," I thought to myself, feeling much like poor little orphan Annie when she arrived at Daddy Warbucks' mansion.
"We do lots of champagne," Laura said. "It's all about pampering and romance."
I gasped as Laura showed us the 10 guest rooms, and was pleased to know we'd be staying in the Artist's Loft. A fireplace, a bottle of champagne, comfy bathrobes, soft music, a tray of fruit and cheese ... no wonder The Buhl was rated "one of America's most romantic inns" in 2008.
The towels were plush, the shampoo, soaps and shower gels were spa-quality, and the Jacuzzi situated in the bathroom's turret was inviting. (There are three turrets in the house, with the tallest measuring 28 feet in the room named The Grand Turret.)
Also included in your getaway is afternoon tea and a champagne reception on Fridays and Saturdays, complimentary limousine service to Tara for dinner and evening turndown service, when the staff put out clean towels, a little box of chocolates, bottles of water and mats at each side of the bed.
Upon returning to the room after dinner, we were greeted with a postcard wishing us a good night's sleep and a menu for our breakfast the next morning. We were offered breakfast in our room or in the sunny breakfast room on the first floor. We could also order coffee in our room before we went down to breakfast.
And if champagne and a Jacuzzi are not enough, the Spa at the Buhl offers more than 100 treatments, Laura noted, including side-by-side massage therapy for couples. One of the featured treatments is a Swedish relaxing massage performed under the waterfall of a Vichy shower, along with the use of aromatherapy oils.
And even if guests don't take advantage of a spa service, they may use the steamroom, sauna and monsoon shower during their stay.
Jim and Donna Winner opened the Shenango Inn in Sharon, a 72-room inn, in 1979. In 1984, after Jim took Donna on a "Sunday drive," where they ended up in front of what would become Tara - A Country Inn, they bought the place at auction for $70,000. It was in "substantial disrepair," said Laura Ackley, marketing director for the inns as well as general manager of the Buhl Mansion.
Standing outside the inn with their Shenango Inn manager, Debbie DeCapua and Donna, Jim looked at the building and said, "It's Tara," Laura said.
Laura, who is Donna's niece, worked 40-50 hours a week helping in the 18-month restoration of the property.
Tara was built in 1854 by Charles Koonce, who claimed to own all the land as far he could see - about 1,500 acres. It was built for his third wife, Mary. Originally it was a Federal style red brick farmhouse.
Koonce's grandson, Samuel, fell in love with the Greek Revival style of architecture, and whitewashed the brick and added the ionic columns in the late 1920s, Laura explained. The Koonce family owned the building until the early 1960s.
In 1985, the Winners added the south wing, then five years later added the north wing.
The Buhl Mansion came under the Winners' ownership in 1996. They were in Florida, when the mayor of Sharon called and asked if they were interested, Laura explained. Sight unseen, they bought it.
It was in horrible shape; the previous owners had removed all the stained-glass as well as the staircase.
The home was built in 1896 by Frank Buhl, a steel baron. Laura likes to say the house "was built on love," which is why it's been named the "most romantic inn." Buhl built it as a wedding gift for his wife, Julia. Julia could not have children and turned down Buhl's marriage proposal several times before she finally said yes. His mother suggested he build her a castle, and so he did.
The Romanesque stone castle, designed by Charles Owsley, took six years to build at a price tag of $60,000.
Sharon, Pa. -
Biggest ... in the World
If you can pull yourself away from the pampering at the spectacular inns, head out to Sharon, Pa., for some of the biggest stores in the world ... the biggest shoe store, the biggest off-price department store and biggest candy stores. Check out www.worldslargeststores.com for links to all three - Reyers Shoe Store, the Winner Off-Price Fashion Store and Daffin's Candy.
Reyers is the largest by square footage, an employee explained - 36,000 square feet, to be exact. They have more than 150,000 pairs of shoes in stock, with hard-to-find sizes such as women's sizes 4 to 14, AAAA-EE and Men's sizes 6 to 22, AA-EEEEEE. The store has been family owned since it opened its doors in 1885. Personalized service is one of its features, as well.
Daffin's is home to the "Chocolate Kingdom," which features a 400-pound chocolate turtle and other solid chocolate creations.
The Winner boasts "four floors of savings ... great customer service ... better than outlet prices ... over 100,000 square feet of merchandise ... no seconds or rejects."
Year-round cruise-wear and special occasion gowns and dresses are specialties of the Winner.
But the best part? Besides the live music on a beautiful grand piano on weekends, it's the gentleman's lounge right next to the main floor dressing room. Here, guys can go get a beer and some popcorn while watching television.
"Sure honey, take your time!" .... what better arrangement can a shopping woman ask for!
For vintage guitars, check out a most interesting store, right across from the Buhl Mansion, Rosewood Vintage Guitars.
Tom Sed, owner, offers mandolins, dulcimers, banjos, ukuleles, harmonicas and more, all tucked away in a beautiful "painted lady" Victorian. It doesn't claim to be the biggest vintage guitar store in the world, but the Web site does say it's "coolest music store between Cleveland and Pittsburgh! Maybe between Chicago and D.C." www.rosewoodvintageguitars.com.
Also in Sharon is the original Quaker Steak and Lube - a franchise of which recently opened at The Highlands in Triadelphia - celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. It was opened in 1974 in a vacant automobile service station that was converted into a restaurant, explained Marla Pieton, senior director of marketing. www.quakersteakandlube.com (Check out my blog, "Revved Up for Wings," www.news-register.net/ page/blogs.detail/display/902.html)
If the world's largest stores don't satisfy the shopping urge, the Prime Outlets are just a few miles away in Grove City, Pa., with more than 140 outlet stores. www.primeoutlets.com/locations/grove-city.aspx
If you are a Wendell-August fan, the forge is located in Grove City. Visitors can tour the "oldest and largest continuous operating forge in the United States." Skilled craftsmen create metal giftware as shoppers watch. www.wendellaugust.com.
For more information about the surrounding area, check out www.VisitMercerCountyPA. com.
Accompanying photos by Phyllis R. Sigal and provided by Tara - A Country Inn and the Buhl Mansion