The cabins out back of the inn recall a mountain getaway that existed here for many years. We think this picture was made sometime in the 1930s. (photo courtesy of Pearl R. Scott)
If you’re driving along U.S. 219 in West Virginia, following the winding path of the Tygart River in southern Randolph County, you may notice the mammoth golden log building on the roadside in the small community of Mingo.
“Sometimes I’ll see folks drive down the road, and they’ll do a U-turn and come back by, driving real slow,” says Irishman Will Fanning, who built and runs the inn. “Sometimes they’ll come in and ask, ‘what is this place?’ I figure the people who see it are the ones who are supposed to be here.”
Will saw it early in the winter of 1998, on the site where the burned out ruins of what had been his home still stood. A carpenter by trade, he had converted a rambling building that had been a restaurant, gas station, and office for a row of tourist cabins beginning in the 1930s, into his house. The building caught fire on the night of December 6, 1997. His father, who was visiting from Ireland, died in it. Will escaped, with the hair singed off his head, a burn on his nose, and the robe on his back.
One winter morning after the fire, he woke up with the remnants of a dream still on his mind. “‘Now that was an interesting idea,’ I said to myself, and I sat down and drew what I had seen. I didn’t exactly know what I was putting down, but I kept drawing. When I finished, it turned out to be an inn, with a restaurant and pub.” He took the sketch to his sons, Stuart and Bryan, who, like almost everyone else in this mountain ski resort area, were working at least one and a half jobs. “What do you think?” he asked. “Let’s do it,” they answered.
Usually when a building burns, they bring in bulldozers to make the cleanup fast and efficient. But Will Fanning doesn’t always do things the way other people do. He and his sons, with occasional help from an assortment of friends, began dismantling the ruins, board by charred board. He salvaged huge wormy chestnut beams from the old building’s foundation. They became the top of the bar in Mike’s Pub. All the shelves behind the bar were salvaged from the original building’s sub-floor. A big mirror and a lithograph of foxes that hang in the dining room both survived the fire. “If you look at the top left corner of the fox picture, you can see where it was beginning to curl with heat,” Will says. He also saved a big china hutch that had a brass plaque on it saying the hutch was made in 1891. “The brass plaque melted off and we never found it,” he said. When he finishes restoring the hutch, it will go in the dining room, too.
Will had money to buy enough logs to build a cabin 32 feet wide, 125 feet long, and 18 one-foot logs tall. In August and September of 1998, he laid the foundation with the building’s original cellar at the center. “On October 17, 1998, we broke the first bundle of lumber on the job. On March 17, 1999, we put our last piece of tin on the roof, five months to the day from when we started the woodwork,” he says. Friends from miles around gathered with the ghosts of many bygone eras at an all-night bonfire on the riverbank, celebrating the beginning of another tradition on these grounds where local history says the Mingo tribe had a permanent settlement of log “long houses,” and where the old restaurant, gas station, and tiny cabins had served tourists since the 1930s.
In the fall of 1997, before the fire, Will, Bryan and Stuart had gone to Dublin, where they visited family and played music all over town. Their favorite pub was The Brazen Head, Ireland’s oldest known public house, with a history that dates back to 1198. As their building went up, Will considered several names for the new inn. It could have been The Phoenix, but he decided he liked the name of the place where he had the most fun in Dublin. So 800 years later, a new BrazenHead was conceived, and on Saturday, October 14, 2000, he opened its doors to the public for the first time.