A Stay to Discover in Tamaqua, PA
Completed in January 2023 at a cost of $1.2 million, this project consisted of the rehabilitation of the main building of a former planing mill and furniture factory located in the Borough of Tamaqua, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. Situated in the NPS registered Tamaqua Historic District, this 0.17-acre property consists of three contributing buildings, including the 2/3-story brick, main factory building, a 3-story framed lumber warehouse, and a 1 1/2-story framed wagon shed. Located in a residential setting, it is the earliest industrial complex of buildings surviving in the district.
Built circa 1872 and run by Conrad Bischoff, a cabinet maker from Bavaria, Germany, it operated as a family furniture business until 1930. They also had a funeral business that is still being run by descendants of the Bischoff family. The main factory building was a general store during the mid-20th century. Later, the buildings were used by the Becker Building Supplies company. The last use for the property was from the 1990s to about 2020 as the Lizard Creek Valley Antique Shop.
Over the last three years, the property was purchased and the main factory building was converted into a bed and breakfast now known as the Bischoff Inn. The project received community support resulting in a $900,000 City Revitalization & Improvement Zone reimbursement grant from the Borough of Tamaqua to rehabilitate the building. This funding source is administered by the PA Department of Revenue, PA DCED, and the Governor’s Office of the Budget. Federal Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credits were also received, and the owner is currently awaiting word if PA Historic Preservation Tax Credits will be awarded. There are plans for the rear outbuildings as rental apartments or artists’ spaces. The former Conrad Bischoff Planing Mill & Furniture Factory stands as a testimony to the early industry of Tamaqua.
Located in the residential west end of the National Register listed Tamaqua Historic District, a former furniture factory from the 1870s now serves as the newest boutique hotel in town. With the guidance of Warehaus, an architectural firm from York, and Gina M. Douty, Historic Preservation Consulting, LLC from Mechanicsburg, owner Maria Stabio, who is also a Barnesville artist and photographer, spent the past few years converting the 6,000-sf building into a five-room venue known as the Bischoff Inn. Rounding out the team was general contractor Heim Construction, led by John Mills.
Once financing was in place, including a $900,000 City Revitalization & Improvement Zone reimbursement grant from the Borough of Tamaqua administered by the PA Department of Revenue, PA DCED, and the Governor’s Office of the Budget, architectural designs were drawn and permitted, and construction work began. Patience, relevant knowledge, and quality materials were essential to a successful outcome of the project for the owner’s vision of the main factory building to become an inviting bed and breakfast where people would want to stay and visit the charming town of Tamaqua.
The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation were consulted as the building went through a Historic Architectural Review Board approval, the PA State Historic Preservation Office and the National Park Service process to claim Federal Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credits. The project is currently awaiting confirmation if it has received the highly competitive and sought after PA State Historic Tax Credits.
The historic value and condition of the structure was defined, as well as current conditions assessed. For the exterior, the ghost writing from historic advertisements of the past life of the building were preserved in its current state. The original wood windows were repaired in lieu of replacements, when possible. Only one or two rear windows needed replacement, and those were carefully matched in material and configuration of the originals. The original, first floor main entry doors were masterfully rebuilt to comply with safety and code regulations and painted to appear as they did in the late 1800s. Stairs leading to the doors were rebuilt to accommodate a safer entrance on arrival to the Inn, and the brick sidewalk fronting the main façade was re-laid to shed water away from the structure and provide a smoother walking surface. The wood shutters on the first floor, windows, and wood trim were repaired in kind and received fresh coats of paint.
The interior space was reconfigured to house bedrooms and individual bathrooms for visiting guests, as well as common space on the first floor, and an innkeeper’s suite on the second. Exposed brick, interior perimeter walls that contained window openings at the north and south were maintained as well as the original flooring to achieve the historic, industrial character of space. The west and east walls as well as the first-floor ceiling were covered with gypsum board where needed to allow for plumbing, electric, sprinkler systems, and HVAC pipes and chases to be concealed. Modern bathroom designs took on a whimsical, old fashion feel with fixtures and finishes complementing the historic character. The enclosed, historic stairs and door to the upper floor were kept in its present state, allowing for the historic character to be maintained along with historic graffiti of previous users and the original family members that still grace that area.
The original wood tongue and groove ceiling was maintained on the second floor, along with the walls, floors, and original tongue and groove dividing wall. Most HVAC equipment was housed in the attic and conduit run through closets and behind the new drywall. Mechanical systems that could not be located in the attic or walls presented a challenge as the original heights of the ceilings were to be maintained as much as possible. Lower profile ductwork and piping was then used and placed tightly between the floor and ceiling joists to achieve desired aesthetic. Another hurdle was designing new structural reinforcement to the framing system and proper restoration of the historic exposed stone foundation walls. The selected solution provided new strength to the building as new timber sections were coupled to the existing structural members.
Lastly, the owner added her artistic touches to the finished spaces with original artwork, historic pieces of Tamaqua history, playful furnishings, and original wood headboards and tables in the bedrooms that were manufactured in the original furniture factory! In January 2023, a ribbon cutting ceremony and public reception was held to officially open the Bischoff Inn for business. It is the hopes of all those who worked on this project and for the town of Tamaqua that the investment in this historic property will be a success and bring people to the area to discover the history and unique experiences the town has to offer.
A later phase of work is planned for the property, including finishing the basement area as an entertainment space for guests, as well as a place to showcase artistic talents, and rehabilitating the rear historic two-story warehouse and two-story former wagon shed into rental apartments and artist community studio spaces. This project meets the criteria for the award category selected because it exemplifies the rehabilitation of an existing, aging industrial historic property.
Mindful collaboration occurred between a motivated and determined owner, historic preservation minded designers and consultants, and builders sensitive and willing to preserve as much of the history and physical structure of the original furniture factory. This resulted in creative, thoughtful designs married to preservation and sympathetic construction methods that best created a purposeful building while deeply respecting its original historic sense of character, place, and time.