The Gillum House Offers First Class Experience at Affordable Rates
By Mark Hallburn
"Weekends In West Virginia" Nestled in the downtown village of Shinnston is one of the jewels of The Mountain State. The Gillum House is a vintage 1912 home that has been lovingly restored into a wonderful Bed and Breakfast by Hostess Kathleen Panek, and her husband, John. The Paneks bought The Gillum House eight years ago after Kathleen returned to her native West Virginia with the dream of providing a first-class Bed and Breakfast in a quiet small town for guests to enjoy. "For me, it's simple. You ask, 'What would I want?'" says Kathleen. "'How would I want to be treated?' And that's what I do. West Virginia has such a bad rap, that I want to show that we have wonderful people, we have beautiful scenery, and so many things to see and do. West Virginia is America's hidden treasure."
Owning a Bed and Breakfast is a dream come true for Kathleen. A dream that started when she was a guest in a Bed and Breakfast years ago. "We stayed in one, and I realized it was something I could do," recalls Kathleen. "And it was something I could do into my old age. Meeting the people is so interesting. The things that they do, their life experiences, I have people from all over, in just about every profession imaginable, and though I know the 'Guest from Hell' is out there, I haven't met him yet." Because The Gillum House is her home, Kathleen is literally letting strangers into her home. But she says that has never been an issue. "Bed and Breakfast people are not the same types as the 'Hit and split' motel people," says Kathleen. "They are usually better educated, more affluent, and a more relaxed traveler. They aren't trying to make 500 miles today. They get off the road earlier, and they leave later."
At the Gillum House, you will quietly step back in time, with first-class service at affordable rates for families and other travelers. The charming home is a two-story wood-frame structure filled with hardwood floors, antique furniture, candles, quilts, and extremely comfortable pillow-top mattresses with Egyptian Cotton sheets that sent this writer directly into dreamland. In a cute touch, the three guest bedrooms of The Gillum House are named after The Gillum's The Harris Family, which owned the home prior to The Paneks, and Rosi, a Harris granddaughter, who grew up in The Gillum House.
John Panek is a lifetime painter, so you will find pieces of his own work hanging on the Gillum House walls throughout the Bed and Breakfast, giving the place another personal touch, and the feeling of a home, instead of a sterile hotel. While the Gillum House is a step back in time, all rooms have individual climate controls, updated electrical systems, and depending on the room, a TV, VCR, or telephone. The community bathroom has plush bath towels and cloths, more candles, and an old-fashioned bathtub. But for the traveler of today, the Paneks have provided ample electrical outlets for blow driers, electric razors, and curling irons, as well as modern shampoo and soap dispensers at the bathtub and sink. Because Kathleen Panek is an avid reader, books abound through the house, from old novels to Readers Digest, and many other choices. The quiet of the house lends itself to reading, and Kathleen has one hard and fast rule that you won't likely find anywhere else. If you like the book, and you aren't finished with it, take it home with you-on the house. That's right, at The Gillum House, you're actually encouraged to steal the library.
The Paneks live full-time at The Gillum House, and do everything possible to make their guest's stay a highlight of their vacation. So Kathleen is there constantly to dote on your every need. "We offer Greenbrier service without having to give up your firstborn," Kathleen quips. And she's right. Long before guests awake, the Paneks are hard at work cooking a full breakfast in the kitchen, provided as part of the stay for everyone. (Special needs diets are accommodated with advance notice.) Breakfast is served in The Gillum House's formal dining room, filled with antique furniture and a collection of dolls from women that used to live in the home. Jams and jellies come from the nearby West Virginia Fruit and Berry Farm. A variety of juices are served in colorful goblets. Homemade breads come from the work of John and Kathleen.
You might wonder what you would do in Shinnston for fun. I did. It turns out there's more to do than you have time for. Within 60 miles (mostly less) of the Gillum House are 9 of the 17 covered bridges in West Virginia, eight state parks, 10 rail-trails (including one only 50 feet from The Gillum House), a pair of wineries, two drive-in theaters, historic sites, Fort New Salem, Prickett's Fort, Coal Country Miniature Golf, and much more. Shinnston also has the only Chapel of Perpetual Adoration in West Virginia. The 24-hour, seven day a week vigil is kept by Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians, including an hour a week by John Panek. Kathleen will happily customize an activity itinerary for all of her guests, complete with computer-printed precise directions, down to the 1/10 of a mile to make sure you never get lost. With her endless enthusiasm for sharing West Virginia with her guests, Kathleen is a wealth of knowledge about sights and history of the area, and can keep guests happily busy for weeks.
We started our Saturday by visiting the Simpson Creek covered bridge just north of Clarksburg, then headed to the Meadowbrook Mall where my wife, Dolores, did some shopping. From the mall, we were off to the West Virginia Fruit and Berry Farm. Along the way, we stopped at the Trinity United Methodist Church, a Sanctuary right out of Norman Rockwell, which just celebrated it's 100 year anniversary. Founders Bob and Becky Tichenal live at The West Virginia Fruit and Berry Farm nestled in a lush West Virginia Valley near Bridgeport. There is a cute gift shop all year 'round at the farm. During the summer, visitors can venture into the vineyards and farm to pick their own fresh berries to take home with them, or purchase jars of the Fruit and Berry Farm's delicious jellies, including some no sugar added flavors, to take home with them. Should you run out, don't stress. In a great home-town success story, the Tichenals have managed to work their products into 90 Kroger stores throughout West Virginia, so from Huntington to Bluefield, you can stock up when you aren't in the area of their farm. Or you can order their products from the farm's Web site, at www.WVFruitandBerry.com, or by calling 888-WV-BERRY.
After eating some wonderful jams and jellies, we headed up to Fairmont to "Coal Country," a cute and challenging Miniature Golf course built around coal equipment. I'm not allowed to tell you whether I beat Dolores or not, and she won't show me the score, but it was the toughest Miniature Golf Course that we've ever encountered. Leaving Coal Country, we grabbed some KFC, and headed to Valley Falls State Park for a fun picnic and a view of the waterfalls along the Tygart River. The power of the water and rushing river reminded us of how frail a human could be if he were to try to venture into that river.
Next was a trip down the road a few miles to Grafton, where Mother's Day was started back in 1908. We stopped by the Mother's Day Shrine where the first-ever Mother's Day Service was held at the request of Anna Jarvis, to honor her mother, as well as others. Special commemorative historical markers and plaques mark the old brick Methodist Episcopal Church, and a modern day statue of a mother and her children is in a small park next to the sanctuary. Tired, but happy, we finally headed back to The Gillum House to show off our pictures and share a cake we'd picked up along our way with the Paneks. Sunday morning, after another wonderful night's sleep and a delicious breakfast, we ventured over to the Chapel of Perpetual Adoration.
The Gillum House offers a variety of package stay plans, as well as individual night stays. From Dinner packages to Bike Trail plans to Bird Watching plans, to Basket Making packages, overnight horse stabling can be accommodated, Kathleen can work up a way for you to enjoy The Gillum House and the many sights around Shinnston no matter how varied your interests may be. Children are welcome, though pets are not due to allergies. The Gillum House is a smoke-free environment, though a crystal ashtray is provided on the front porch for guests that smoke. Personalized Gift Certificates are available, as well as anniversary, Valentines, and holiday gift packages. Master Card, VISA, checks and cash are accepted.
For more information about The Gillum House, you can reach The Gillum House online at www.gillumhouse.com, or by calling 304-592-0177.