Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Hiker Heaven: A break, a bed and a chunk of history await the weary at the Doyle Hotel.

Postcards on display at the Doyle Hotel, sent from hikers who have past through.

Postcards on display at the Doyle Hotel, sent from hikers who have past through.

“Visit the Doyle.”

That’s the word passed among hikers as they traverse the Appalachian Trail. The Doyle Hotel, “on the square” in the small Perry County town of Duncannon, is one of many places on the trail that is a must-stop for hikers, but the Doyle’s been around a lot longer than the trail itself.

Originally a three-story, wooden hotel built in the 1770s, it was a stopping point along the main route going north along the Susquehanna River and has a rich and storied history. It caught fire and burned to the ground in 1803, replaced by the current brick building. In 1880, it was purchased by Adolphus Busch of Anheuser-Busch fame, and it opened again as the Johnson Hotel in 1905. Busch died in 1913, and the building reverted to the Budweiser Company, but was quickly sold off, with many other places, when Prohibition hit in 1920.

The hotel then went through several private owners, finally becoming The Doyle in 1944 after Jim “Doc” Doyle won $444,444.44 in the Irish lottery. Doyle owned and operated the hotel into the 1990s. It again passed through two different owners until 2001, when current owners Pat and Vickey Kelly bought it.

Through the many years, The Doyle has hosted the famous (including Charles Dickens) and many ordinary folks, but its true calling came with the establishment of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, known more familiarly as the Appalachian Trail.

The trail was conceived by Burton MacKaye, a forester from Connecticut, who wrote the original plan in 1921. The first section of the trail, from Bear Mountain to Harriman State Park in New York, opened in 1923. The trail was completed in 1937, from Mount Katahdin, Maine, to Springer Mountain in Georgia. It passes through 14 states, is maintained by 31 hiking clubs and is managed by the National Park Service.

In 1948, Earl Shaffer of York, Pa., became the first person to hike the entire length, walking south to north. He later did it north to south, becoming the first to do it in both directions. Finally, at the age of 82, he completed his third through-hike in 1998.

Approximately 1,200 hikers a year do some section of the trail. This includes between 400 and 500 through-hikers a year (though only 18 percent make their goal of the entire trail). Most hikers do the trail from south to north, starting in March or April and ending in Maine in late summer. An average through-hike takes five to seven months. The current record, posted above the bar at the Doyle, belongs to Matt Kirk of North Carolina, who did the entire 2,185 miles in 58.4 days—averaging an amazing 36 miles per day.

Throughout its course, the Appalachian Trail crosses many roads and through a lot of towns where hikers can stock up on food and supplies. Duncannon is one such town, and, when there, the Doyle Hotel is a must.

The Doyle gets hikers from all over the world.

“Germany is big,” says Pat Kelly, as almost 30 Germans a year stop by, as well as hikers from New Zealand, Australia and Japan—even a Buddhist monk from Korea. And at all times of the year. He had six through-hikers stop by in February.

All the hikers use unique trail names (very few real names are used) and leave and receive messages all along the trail. The Doyle has its own message board, along with a display of postcards sent by through-hikers who have completed the trail.

The Doyle is a no-frills hostel where hikers can get a bed, a shower and something to eat and drink. The food is great, the hospitality is unmatched, and the atmosphere is enhanced by the jukebox (programmed by the owner). There is also free Internet access and a pool table. Since the Kellys took over the hotel, they have been refurbishing the rooms with fresh paint and new beds and linens. There is even a free shuttle for the hikers to the nearby Mutzabaugh Market to stock up on food and other necessities for the trail.

Pat Kelly, originally from Shipoke in Harrisburg, retired from the cable TV industry and began cooking as a hobby. Taking over the hotel, he said, was an opportunity to share his passion with the public, and his mostly southern-inspired menu with daily specials has drawn both hikers and local diners in search of a good meal.

Kelly’s extensive menu includes popular favorites like his handmade one-third and one-half pound burgers, home-cut fries and super wings. He cooks up all his own soups, as well as a “hot” chili. Wife Vickey, a Mississippi native, serves up the generous portions and the warmest of welcomes. There are no tablecloths—just good food, a great selection of beer and fantastic people.

The Doyle Hotel is old, the building is tired, but it’s worth the trip. Rub elbows with the local crowd as well as the hikers. You might even want to visit on the summer solstice—it’s “Hike Naked Day.”

The Doyle Hotel is located at 7 N. Market St., Duncannon. Call 717-834-6789.

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