Written by Danielle Taylor | Photos courtesy of the Ridgway Heritage Council
Directly across from the courthouse in downtown Ridgway, an elegant but neglected brick building sits at the corner of Main and North Broad Streets. First built as a bank in 1889, the property fell into disrepair and disuse in recent years, and locals watched sadly as the once-prosperous establishment at the center of downtown languished without purpose or care. Fortunately, Ridgway native Kim Ezell stepped in last year to breathe new life into the old building, and she hopes the microbrewery and lodging facility she plans to establish there will intrigue more travelers to stop and spend time in Ridgway when they pass through town.
From 1890 to 1966, the Elk County Bank and its successors called the building home, and generations of Elk County residents conducted business within the opulent mahogany-and-marble lobby. Through the second half of the 20th century, the building housed a radio station, a sporting goods store, a senior center, a dance studio, and a jewelry shop, among other businesses. At one point, it housed a fine-dining restaurant in its basement. When the last business closed, however, the building’s owner began to use the prime real estate for storage, and for years his personal effects built up inside and gathered dust.
Ezell, who now lives primarily in Texas but keeps a home in Ridgway, remembered the bright building she gazed upon in her childhood, and she grew weary of seeing the derelict landmark each time she drove through town. “It’s the first thing you see when you’re here,” she says. Last October, she purchased the building and began cleaning it out by early 2018, and its strong bones began to reveal themselves. The marble from the bank was still on the walls, and the intricate woodwork from Ridgway’s famous Hyde-Murphy Company remained intact and in good condition. As she worked, she began making plans for a microbrewery on the main floor and six lodging units upstairs for travelers. Overall, she wants to restore the building to its 1895 grandeur.
So far, Ezell and her contractors have overhauled and redone the sidewalk outside, and they’ve installed all new wiring, plumbing, and heating systems to bring the building up to date. They’ve also demoed walls and reframed rooms upstairs to create two suites plus four rooms, each with a private bathroom, for overnight guests. Right now, crews are working on the exterior, and Ezell plans to restore the building’s original appearance. The microbrewery she plans for the main level will include a small lunch counter, and she hopes to use several local vendors to supply the establishment. With luck, she’ll open her doors as The Brew Bank in spring 2019.
Bob Imhof of the Ridgway Heritage Council, who gathered much of the historical information, commends Ezell for this “visually important economic development project for our downtown and Main Street” and notes that it will “dramatically improve the look of our Main Street intersection.” He points out that Ridgway serves as an excellent midway stopping point for travelers from Baltimore and Washington to Toronto.
“I know there are travelers coming through,” says Ezell. “The traffic is never-ending. It’s a highly visible corner, and I hope people who appreciate the beauty of the building will want to stop.”
“It’ll have modern amenities, but the history of the building will remain,” she continues. “It’ll tell me what it wants to be in the end.”
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