Sue Smith knew it could be done, but the rebuilding of the John I. Thompson Grain Elevator and Coal Sheds, the last standing granary elevator in Pennsylvania, wasn’t easy.
She recalled the challenge Wednesday while turning on the building lights, illuminating a two-decade long and nearly complete rebuilding project — one about to receive a boost from a benefit dinner.
The previous owner allowed the Granary, built in 1885 and once a bustling hub of agricultural commerce where grain was loaded onto railroad cars, to decay. The rotted ceiling allowed rain to soak boats, canoes, refrigerators, magazines and other items hastily stored inside.
In the mid-1990s, the Lemont Village Association acquired the property.
“When we bought it, it was really ugly,” said Smith, the LVA executive director. “We had a great, committed group of people that wanted to rebuild it. We had Philip Hawk and Alan Popovich help us, and together it was amazing what we did.”
On Sept. 13, the Granary will come to life again as the site of the 11th Annual Gourmet Granary Candlelight Dinner, an LVA fundraiser for the Granary’s ongoing renovation. The next steps in its restoration may include adding gutters to the roof and building a new stairwell to the outside.
Smith said the dinner will seat a maximum 56 guests. Tickets are still available at $85 apiece until Saturday.
For more than a decade, the Granary has become a site for community events, though Smith said it is generally used between April and October. Smith said the granary has played host to weddings and haunted houses.
It is closed during the coldest months of the year, except for a Christmas Market in early December, because it lacks insulation.
Michael Beck, an LVA board member, said he will donate coffee for the dinner from Café Lemont. He’ll also be a guest at the dinner with his business partner, Jodi McWhirter.
“It’s just to basically have dinner with neighbors and be active in the Lemont village,” Beck said. “It’s a neat place. It’s where we’ve had the farmers market the last few years. It’s neat having a historic piece of Lemont rebuilt, but that’s really how I see all of the Lemont village. All of Lemont has a historic tie.”
Cathy Cohen, vice chairwoman of the LVA, said the association has worked to build the Granary for the public to enjoy it.
“It’s beautiful, and I think that’s why we call it the crown and jewel of Lemont,” Cohen said. “Between the Granary and the Village Green, it’s a gathering place. It’s a great place to have, because there is a great sense of community in Lemont, and I think that extends to State College and beyond.”
Cohen said being inside the Granary is a unique experience.
“I love being inside it,” Cohen said. “It’s hard to put into words, because there’s a lot of charm and history there that’s unique. It’s beautiful, historic and grand all at once.”