Old Hickory – F.W. Knox Villa Set to Be Restored in Coudersport, PA

A long-abandoned Italianate house on Coudersport’s main street is being repaired by a family that intends to offer the historic home as a venue or potentially a bed and breakfast. The Old Hickory – F.W. Knox Villa was built in 1880 for Franklin W. Knox and was once known as the Old Hickory Tavern. According to the Potter Leader-Enterprise, the 5,070-square-foot square foot home had multiple owners until being acquired by the Mauser family of Lehigh Valley in 2016 for $58,100.

The previous owners, the Rigas family, gutted the house in the 1980s with the intention of turning it into a bed and breakfast. The plans fell through, and the building stood vacant for several years. The Potter Leader-Enterprise also noted that the present owners intend to reinstall the porch on the side of the home, restore the roof to its former condition, and replace numerous deteriorating windows. A 55-foot tower with views of Coudersport, two spiral staircases, and several bay windows are among the architectural highlights. The owners have shared the rehabilitation process on social media.

Check out the Old Hickory – F.W. Knox Villa on Facebook and Instagram. Photos found on Google and Old Hickory – F.W. Knox Villa’s Facebook Page.

There’s no romanticism in a majestic old ruin in the middle of town. Coudersport’s Old Hickory, an Italianate mansion built in the 1870s, is startling in its decay. The south face’s siding was removed years ago, and what remains peels gray paint. Several windows are filled with weathered plywood, but not all. Only pigeons live there.

This town’s lumbering boom icon—once a popular tavern—survived many owners and years of neglect and is now a fixture on Internet sites devoted to “scary homes.”

“It’s been hard to witness,” says Potter County’s senior judge, John B. Leete.

The sight of breakdown, however, is about to alter.

In August, the Old Hickory changed ownership again, and the current owner is already hard at work renovating it.

According to County Commissioner Susan Kefover, Wasyl Mauser, who has long maintained a neighboring camp, is a Northampton County contractor with restoration experience. She recently viewed the building with Mauser, who claims he intends to transform it into a bed and breakfast and wedding venue, which will be handled by his daughter, who is undergoing a dentistry residency in New York City.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” adds Kefover.

The mansion was built in the 1870s by F.W. Knox, an attorney and one of the region’s early industrialists who earned money in lumber and railways and supported the establishment of the Potter Enterprise newspaper. It was one of the town’s first genuinely great constructions.

In 1928, the house was renovated into a travel inn and christened the Old Hickory Tavern, which it retained under numerous owners until it closed in the late 1980s.

“It was such a significant part of the community,” Leete says of the welcoming establishment where attorneys, teachers, businessmen, and craftsmen mingled after work on Friday nights and took their children for lunch on Saturday afternoons.

An attorney who moved to Coudersport in the early 1980s, George Stenhach, says he’s never seen anything like it before or since. The Old Hickory, he recalls, was “a location unique because, within very narrow boundaries, political rivals, individuals of different socioeconomic strata, people who loved one other but didn’t all gather.”

Stenhach recalls a local chiropractor stealing a Viking helmet from the wall, placing it on his head, and leading the bowling team around the bowling alley while chanting “We are the Champions.”

“And I recall a genuine Viking, Helge Lien, hurling axes at the dart board as church-goers applauded,” he says.

“The first place I met him—of all places—was the Old Hickory Tavern…it was just an important part of the community,” Leete remarked, recalling visiting there with his kids on a Saturday afternoon and meeting the guy who turned out to be the new preacher.

The Old Hickory’s demise is ironic in that it occurred when it was owned by the county’s wealthiest family.

The Rigases, who developed and controlled Adelphia Cable Communications, bought the property in 1987 and sold it to Adelphia in 1995. Adelphia’s corporate headquarters were right across the street from the Old Hickory, and as the firm evolved into a multibillion-dollar conglomerate, pigeons took up residence in the vacant bar.

That became a dark joke among the organization. An Adelphia executive once referred to the blight across the street as “the monument of corporate indecision.”

“We wanted to think that something would happen,” Leete recalls.

Maxine Shear, a local artist who had illustrated all of the important buildings in town, attempted to shame the Rigases into action. She drew editorial cartoons of the Old Hickory for the Enterprise (Knox’s newspaper), with a sign in the yard that read “Help me! ”

There was no assistance.

Before John and Tim Rigas were convicted and sentenced to jail in a $3.2 billion federal accounting fraud scam in 2002, prosecutors presented the Old Hickory as an object lesson for jurors. More than half a million dollars had been charged to the business records for antiques meant for the Old Hickory, but when a photo of the neglected and decrepit structure was shown on a screen, laughing erupted across the courtroom.

Adelphia sold the building to new owners from outside Harrisburg in 2004, but they did not repair it.

With the sounds of long-awaited renovations ringing through its emptiness, the Old Hickory has a fresh lease on life, and Coudersport locals have renewed optimism for Main Street resurgence.

“We all know it’s not going back to what it was,” Leete adds, but the news of restorations is encouraging.

“It’s the restoration of a treasure in all of our hearts,” adds Kefover.

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