Tube City Almanac

July 27, 2007

Valley Hotel Serves Beer, Spirits

Category: History, News || By

When Chuck Corby takes the stage at the Valley Hotel near Clairton tomorrow night, some people say a few of his listeners won't touch a drop of alcohol.

They're not tee-totalers. They're the ghosts that supposedly haunt the halls of the longtime landmark in Jefferson Hills Borough, along Route 837 at Coal Valley Road. Bartenders swear that small items left behind the counter disappear for hours or days at a time, only to reappear when they're least expected, while Jo Ellen Oggier, one of the hotel's co-owners, says she's heard footsteps and seen glowing lights.

Thankfully, most of the visitors at the Valley Hotel are of the corporeal variety --- they're just looking for a cold beer and some conversation, as they have for at least a century.

. . .

How old is the hotel? Oggier, who purchased the business three years ago with her fiancÚ, William "Duel" Deemer, says she's heard it dates to the 1860s, and the rough-hewn sandstone walls in the basement look like they're from the 19th century.

But it's not listed on a 1900 map of Jefferson and Mifflin townships, even though surrounding buildings appear. Historian and photographer John Barna, who accompanied me on a recent visit, suspects the present bar and hotel were built after 1900 on the foundation of an older roadhouse.

The property has a colorful, if checkered, past. Erected by the Granger family of Scotland, who emigrated to the area in the mid-19th century, the hotel served passengers of the Pittsburgh, Virginia & Charleston Railroad, miners who worked the nearby coal veins, and crews of the riverboats that plied the Monongahela between Brownsville and the Ohio River.

According to Barna, at one time a ferry boat plied the river between Glassport and a nearby boat landing; tethered to a cable from one bank to another, it was pulled along by horses on the shore.

Oggier isn't sure how the Hotel Granger survived Prohibition, but she's been told by older residents that the bar was converted into a grocery store. Frankly, she thinks harder refreshments were sold, too, if you knew who to ask, and there are also rumors that the sleeping rooms upstairs were used for paid entertainment by the "world's oldest profession." (No, not farming.)

New England Road originally passed to the east of the hotel, but a road-improvement project sometime before World War II relocated the highway to the west, and the hotel's entrance shifted from the front to the back.

Improvements to state Route 837 and the opening of U.S. Steel's Irvin Works in 1937 provided the Valley Hotel with a steady stream of thirsty and tired truck-driving customers, but the development of "sleeper cabs" for tractor-trailers limited the traffic, and eventually it developed a reputation as a biker hangout.

Deemer and Oggier have told seedier former customers they're no longer welcome. They're cleaning up the rest of the hotel, too, removing layers of plaster, paneling and lath added by previous owners during at least two remodeling projects, one in the 1960s and another following a fire in the 1970s.

One regret is the loss of the original bar, which was torn out in the 1960s. "They probably cut it up for firewood," Oggier says. "It almost makes me want to cry."

Several of the sleeping rooms were unused for years; Oggier found a neatly-folded blanket on one bed that had sat in the same place so long it had gone yellow with age. Those are being renovated, too, and though truckers, railroad workers and tourists are welcome to stay, many tenants wind up being people who need a room but can't afford three months' rent for an apartment.

. . .

Most of the action these days is on the first floor, where the bar is friendly and comfortable, and the beer is cold. The newest addition is the well-lit stage, elevated behind the bar so that everyone in the small dining room gets an up-close and personal view.

Oggier and Deemer kept construction hidden from regular patrons until the stage was finished, then crews worked all night to demolish a wall and unveil the performance area for the next day.

Fridays are "open mike nights," when area bands are invited to try out; the Valley Hotel is booking professional acts on Saturdays. Deemer, a bassist and guitarist of some notoriety around the Mon Valley, is known to take the stage too, using one of his collection of guitars.

As for the ghosts? Volunteer investigators from the Pittsburgh Paranormal Society spent a night there recently. According to their report, the hotel is "definitely haunted," and they contend that a mirror threw itself onto the floor and shattered during their visit.

Barna and I didn't see any ghosts --- perhaps spirits aren't impressed by freelance journalists/historians and didn't think we were worth their time --- but we did enjoy the visit. And while we didn't get a chance to have any food, the Valley Hotel does have a kitchen with "bar food" --- burgers, fries, wings and other specials.

If you're down around Clairton or Dravosburg, you might want to scare up some friends and visit. Maybe the Valley Hotel will become your regular haunt.

. . .

The Valley Hotel will hold a motorcycle "fun run" to benefit the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Free Care Fund on Sunday, Aug. 26, beginning at 10 a.m. and concluding at Clairton Park, Pavilion No. 2, where there will be concerts by Chuck Corby & Quiet Storm, Three-Hour Tour, and the Warehouse Blues Band. There will be food, beer and prizes. People who don't own motorcycles are welcome to attend the concerts, too. Tickets are $20 per person or $30 for couples. Register at the bar, 1004 New England Road, Jefferson Hills, (412) 233-9800.

To Do This Weekend: Chuck Corby at the Valley Hotel, Saturday night. (See above.)

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