FOREST HILL — There’s a place on the eastern edge of the Bald Eagle State Forest where hunters, fishers and locals alike have found food, drink and respite since 1866.
Forest House Hotel counts among Union County’s oldest operating businesses. Located along Route 192 (10410 Buffalo Road), it’s also among the county’s most remote: five miles north of Mifflinburg, nearly two miles west of Forest Hill and six miles east of Raymond B. Winter State Park.
Melanie Page and her husband, Matt Mackley, bought Forest House in May 2016. They were customers and Page worked there occasionally as a bartender.
Both maintain professional day jobs. They’re parents, too. When it comes to the business, Page maintains the books and Mackley maintains the place and finds himself in the kitchen.
“When we took over it was not a good business. The business was failing,” Page said.
“We just knew it was an older place and kind of had a rough-and-tumble crowd way back when. It was obviously cleaned up a lot since then,” Mackley said.
A look through the archives of the former Lewisburg Journal, the former Lewisburg Chronicle and The Daily Item tell a bit of the history of Forest House Hotel. The couple did their own research when they applied for a small business loan.
According to Page, the original structure was built as a cabin in 1864. As family and outdoorsmen visited more frequently, it became a tavern-inn two years later.
The earliest reference in the Chronicle is on Jan. 10, 1868, with the hotel and its surrounding 10 acres owned by Henry Zellers listed for a sheriff’s sale. It’s listed for the same on Dec. 1, 1876, this time owned by George Zellers.
Charles Reish sought a liquor license in 1893 for the Forest House while his brother, Joel, applied to the court for a license to operate a distillery.
A history book first published in 1976, “Union County, Pennsylvania: A Celebration of History,” identifies Benivel Reish as an owner of Forest House. He ran a distillery on the land, the book states, and a son sold their own whiskey at the hotel until the county court put a stop to it in 1913.
Raymond B. Winter himself is credited in the Journal on April 20, 1917, with discovering and helping extinguish a fire ignited near Forest House.
The Journal begins a wild tale on Oct. 2, 1914, its ending continued to another edition. It tells of a hunter named Lewis Dorman who supposedly shot the largest panther taken in the Seven Mountains to that point, visited Forest House shortly after on Christmas Eve and met a woman he married in New Berlin.
“The hide of the panther was given to the clergyman as his fee for performing the marriage ceremony,” the Journal states, explaining that same hide was later kept in a museum at a New Berlin seminary.
Page and Mackley, the present proprietors, have nothing so dramatic to tell in the brief span of their own ownership of Forest House. They’re working to change Forest House’s perception among locals. It’s a bar and restaurant, no doubt, but Page looks to emphasize the latter.
They say hunting season still drives business at the tavern-inn. There are five rooms for rent on the second floor.
“We still have good and bad days but I think we’ve proven we’re doing well,” Page said.