The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

In the Spotlight

April 5, 2013

Housing heritage: Md. couple transform former rectory into B&B

JOHNSTOWN — Dennis and Ginny Fitzpatrick have brought Johnstown’s heritage to life at the Heritage House Bed and Breakfast, located in the former St. Columba Rectory at 916 Broad St. in the Cambria City section of Johnstown.

The Fitzpatricks are from southern Maryland and only knew of Johnstown through Ginny Fitzpatrick’s sister, who lives here.

“My sister kept wanting me to come, but I had heard Johnstown was dirty and tired and everyone was leaving,” Fitzpatrick said.

When she finally did come to Johnstown for a visit, Fitzpatrick, 59, soon changed her tune.

“I fell in love with Johnstown,” she said. “My father was a bricklayer, and I fell in love with the architecture, and the people. Johnstown is a city, but it has a hometown atmosphere and feeling, and the prices are more reasonable than the D.C. area.”

Fitzpatrick and her husband, who is 62 and recovering from knee surgery in Titusville, Fla., where the couple own another bed and breakfast, bought the rectories from the former Immaculate Conception and

St. Columba churches in 2010 and 2011.

“People here have been supportive,” Fitzpatrick said. “We came in after the consolidation of the churches, and the people were grateful we were doing something positive with them. They were afraid we would tear down the rectories.”

The Fitzpatricks put in the sweat equity to get the bed and breakfast into shape first and also are working on the Immaculate Conception rectory, which will be turned into a tea house with some rooms on the second floor that will be run by one of their daughters.

Records indicate the two rectories were built in 1890, and the Fitzpatricks surmise some of the building materials were salvaged from the 1889 Johns-town Flood.

“We wanted to keep it as original as possible and if we could reuse it, we did,” Fitzpatrick said. “It was a cost savings to us. We knew it would be perfect as a bed and breakfast.”

After two years’ work, Heritage House opened as Thunder in the Valley rolled into town two years ago.

Heritage House, which has a four-car garage in back for motorcycles, is now booked a year ahead for Thunder.

Fitzpatrick also gets bookings for Cambria City Ethnic Festival, the Jazz Along the River series and Polkafest.

The bed and breakfast has had bookings from various other states and went international with guests from France, Germany and New Zealand.

“People in Johnstown don’t realize the history we have,” Fitzpatrick said. “There’s so much to do here, they’re booked to come back. We want to have Johnstown as a destination.

“In the summer, we get slammed for reservations. We’re now three times as busy. When it’s slow in the winter, I want to start having scrapbooking weekends. I’ve seen on the Web they’re popular.”

Heritage House is open seven days a week, including holidays.

Its prime season is April through mid-October, plus Thanksgiving and Christmas.

It sometimes gets whole house bookings for family reunions and weddings.

Its highest praise came from a 4-year-old guest who said, “This is just like going to grandma’s.”

“You have to like people to be an innkeeper and like what you’re doing,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’ve met some life-changing people and some characters. People like what we do. It’s hard work, but it’s fun.”

In Maryland, Dennis Fitzpatrick was a construction supervisor, and Ginny Fitzpatrick ran a cleaning service for newly constructed houses.

The Fitzpatricks spend most of their time in Johnstown, but still own their home in Maryland, where they can be found one or two days a week.

They have a home of their own less than a mile away from Heritage House in the West End section of Johnstown.

When the Fitzpatricks aren’t in town, they receive help from assistant innkeeper MaryAnne Lovrich.

The Fitzpatricks became interested in running a bed and breakfast after staying in them themselves.

“We took the best ideas from bed and breakfasts where we stayed and incorporated them here,” Fitzpatrick said.

The bed and breakfast has seven rooms available to book.

The stairway and extra wide upstairs hallway is decorated with photos of Johnstown, some of which are on loan.

An Irish Room, duly decorated in green with its own private bath and a mural painted by Fitzpatrick’s 80-year-old mother, pays homage to the Irish history of St. Columba Church.

The Iron Horse Room, which has its own bath, pays tribute to the area’s railroading history with pictures of steam locomotives and an antique trainman’s lantern and oil can.

The Mill and Mine Room celebrates the area’s coal mining and steel making heritage with vintage photographs and a coal bucket and miner’s hard hat.

Fitzpatrick said she bought the antiques at auctions and estate sales.

The Lodge Room, where the Fitzpatricks hope to install a hot tub, has the winter sports of the region on display.

Two of the rooms have a touch of Maryland.

The Duck Room is light green and decorated with ducks and geese, and the Chesapeake Room is a bayside blue.

Downstairs, there is a Garden Room especially for dog owners. It is located close to an exit for convenience and has a laminate floor for easy cleanup.

Breakfast in the dining room features gourmet French toast and pancakes, eggs, sausage and fresh fruit.

In the Man Cave, complete with a big screen television set, a social hour is held in late afternoon with adult beverages and appetizers.

Homemade snickerdoodles, coffee and iced tea are available throughout the day.

“I want to earn a living and promote local people,” Fitzpatrick said. “When we get busy, I want to hire some more people because we need more jobs.”

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