Even its name is charming.
That was my thought upon visiting Sharon, Pa., a quaint town that features the Buhl Mansion Guesthouse and Spa, listed among the “Top 10” romantic inns by iloveinns.com. That was reason enough to visit for a story that would run the month of Valentine’s Day, I reasoned.
Doing research beforehand, I also found out that the mansion, an imposing structure, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But otherwise, I knew little else about the tiny city about 75 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.
My first surprise occurred early on when we pulled up to the driveway of the Buhl Mansion, which is located in a residential neighborhood. Until then, I had envisioned a mansion situated in the rural hills of a remote countryside. After I got over the initial shock, I can’t say that I was disappointed. The location turned out to be convenient to downtown shops and other areas of interest.
The handsome, 2½ -story residence, built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, is crafted of ashlar sandstone and features round arches and several turrets with copper-capped spires. It was built in 1891 for the Buhl family that ran Sharon Iron Works.
Yale-educated Frank H. Buhl left Detroit to assist his father in running the business, which turned out to be a good move on his part. In just one year, the company grew to become Mercer County’s largest employer. Buhl then went on to found the Buhl Steel Co. in 1896, and Frank became known as the “Father of the Industrial Shenango Valley.”
Since Buhl and his wife Julia Forker had no children of their own, the couple used their considerable fortune to help support the children of their community with philanthropic endeavors.
Decades after, when the mansion fell into disrepair, the property caught the eye of Jim and Donna Winner, a local couple with a passion for saving historic landmarks. In 1996, they purchased the structure and restored it to its former splendor with a multi-million-dollar renovation. Today, the inn features 10 guestrooms, a full-service spa and elegant sitting areas among bronze sculptures and many attractive works of art.
Deal of a Lifetime
It’s a short way from Buhl Mansion to the shopping district.
Daffin’s Candies is one popular stop for gifts, chocolate, cards and sundries. The business dates back to 1903, and the 20,000-square-foot store with a mid-century modern flair serves as the flagship location. Daffin’s makes more than 1 million pounds of chocolate annually and sells about 600 variations, including Caramel Pecanettes, followed by Melt-A-Ways and Cordial Cherries in popularity.
Kids, in particular, enjoy its “Chocolate Kingdom,” which includes a 400-pound turtle, a 125-pound chocolate reindeer and a 75-pound chocolate frog.
The mid-century modern theme continues in downtown Sharon with more shops located a short drive from the mansion.
Reyer’s Shoe Store anchors a small downtown shopping center evocative of the 1960s. The sign out front reads, “America’s largest shoe store.” I can’t verify that claim, but I can attest to the fact that they offer a large selection in many different styles and sizes, along with clothing, jewelry and accessories. And when was the last time you saw shoe salespeople roaming the aisles with foot-measuring devices?
This old-fashioned customer service experience continued across the street at a ladies clothing shop called, “The Winner.” The department store reminded me of the days of yore when saleswomen were poised at the ready to make suggestions and offer help. I learned later that Jim and Donna Winner modeled the store after Nordstrom and Saks. It isn’t often you see a grand piano and chandeliers in a department store these days. Men who are kind enough to join their wives on a shopping trip can take advantage of plump, comfy La-Z-Boys, a flat-screen TV and a supply of newspapers and magazines. Why doesn’t every store have one of these?
A short drive away in Clark, Pa., the Winners also own a unique property called “Tara, A Country Inn.” They purchased the 1854 property at auction, calling it the “deal of a lifetime.” The inn opened to the public in 1986, after two years of extensive renovations. It features 27 guest rooms and is chockablock with antiques and “Gone with the Wind” memorabilia.
“Stonewall’s Tavern,” located on the lower level, is a must visit for its cozy ambience alone. With exposed stone, copper-and-wood bar and old, high-backed wood seating, it’s like stepping back in time. Menu items include prime rib, New York strip, chicken Marsala, ribs, scallops and more. Also notable is a Wine Spectator “Award of Excellence” recognizing the establishment for “having one of the most outstanding restaurant wine lists in the world.”
The Sharon area may not be considered “affluent,” but what it lacks in money it more than makes up for in charm. Much of it can be credited to Jim and Donna Winner’s hard work and dedication to their community.
While researching the couple, I stumbled on an interesting detail that likely afforded them the financial wherewithal to undertake so many projects. It all began with an unfortunate incident involving Jim Winner’s car, which turned up missing one morning. The entrepreneur began thinking of ways to solve the problem, which set the wheels in motion for the creation of “The Club,” the popular anti-theft device that has sold millions of units. Jim was able to make lemonade from lemons. The couple began to buy area landmarks and put their own unique spin on them, while giving back to their community.
Speak to residents of the area, and you’ll get a strong sense of community pride, with people working hard together to create a welcoming environment. For out-of-town visitors, this promises many happy returns.
To learn more about the Sharon, Pa., area, visit www.sharonpa.com. For more about Buhl Mansion, visit www.buhlmansion.com.