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‘It’s important to capture these stories.’ Book tells 200-year history of Boalsburg tavern

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There’s one big difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day, though the history of each is rooted in the history of our country’s wars.
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There’s one big difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day, though the history of each is rooted in the history of our country’s wars.

Few things go as well together as Memorial Day and Boalsburg, the self-proclaimed birthplace of the holiday. That’s why the Centre County Historical Society recently published a book to commemorate the 200th anniversary of a Boalsburg staple, the Duffy’s Tavern building.

Author Cathy Horner began the book writing process about two years ago, but her inspiration was hatched in the attic of the Centre County Library and Historical Museum about 10 years ago.

After selling her State College business, Tadpole Crossing, Horner volunteered at both the library and the Centre County Historical Society. She was one of two people asked to organize the library’s archives.

The longtime Boalsburg resident’s initial discoveries included documents, books and deeds written on animal skin, but then she stumbled upon a “really old” photo album. She leafed through the pages filled with black-and-white photos and realized they depicted what has now become Duffy’s Tavern.

The album originally belonged to Roanna “Billy” Winsor, who bought the tavern for $500 after a fire in 1934 left the building in ruin.

“She took pictures of the destruction and then she took pictures of the reconstruction when that was happening in the 1930s,” Horner said. “I had that in the back of my mind all those years. I thought, ‘Gosh, what a cool story,’ because, unfortunately, a lot of times in our history, the women’s stories haven’t been told as often as the men’s stories.”

Boalsburg Tavern reconstruction
Reconstruction work was performed at the Boalsburg Tavern in 1937 after a fire ravaged much of the building three years prior. Centre County Library and Historical Museum Photo submitted

The library is still in possession of the photo album, though it is not on display. It is only available to be viewed by appointment by emailing paroom@centrecountylibrary.org, according to Robbin Degeratu, administrative director of the library and historical museum.

“Cathy has been a longtime friend of Centre County Library and Historical Museum, and we were pleased to allow her to use historic photos of the Boalsburg Tavern (Duffy’s) to facilitate her research for her book,” Degeratu said.

The concept lingered in Horner’s thoughts for several years until she looked at the tavern’s facade in 2017 and saw its date stone from 1819. Horner then knew she wanted to finish the book in 2019 to commemorate the tavern’s 200th anniversary.

The book highlights the building’s beginnings — it was a stagecoach stop — its ownership changes and Winsor’s restoration efforts.

“The most important thing she did was salvage every single original architectural element from 1819,” Horner said. “She saved everything that she could and reused it then in the reconstruction.”

The Centre County Historical Society commissioned Horner to write the book. While the book may only appeal to niche audiences, CCHS Executive Director Mary Sorensen stressed the importance of writing about local history.

“It’s important to capture these stories that are there, especially when it commemorates an anniversary like this does,” Sorensen said.

“The History of the Boalsburg Tavern and the Woman Who Saved It” is available at the Centre County Furnace Mansion, Duffy’s Tavern and online at CentreHistory.org/about-us/store/.

Horner is scheduled to sign copies of the book between 11 a.m. and noon Monday near the establishment she credits Winsor for saving.

“In my mind, she saved the little village of Boalsburg,” Horner said. “The Duffy’s Tavern building really is the centerpiece of the diamond. It’s a stately building and it’s where — prior to the fire — everybody socialized and met. Since the fire, it’s where Boalsburgers go and have dinner and have business meetings and banquets and hang out in the bar. I think that she was instrumental in helping to keep Boalsburg what it is today.”

The tavern has changed hands several times over the years is now owned and operated by Tracey and Darren Moriarty.

Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.
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