Ship Hotel: Afloat with the Lincoln Highway's Most Unusual Landmark
The S.S. Grand View Ship Hotel in 1956. Photo by Bob Will

By Brian Butko
This article originally appeared in Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine
Volume XL, Number 2 - Spring 2014

In 1931 the first and only baby was born at the Grand View Point Hotel, 18 miles west of Bedford, Bedford County. Little Clara was the pride of her grandfather Herbert J. Paulson (1874-1973), a Dutch immigrant who had built the hotel on the side of a mountain along the winding, two-lane Lincoln Highway. Clara grew up in the hotel, which "Captain" Paulson turned into the ship-shaped S.S. Grand View Ship Hotel as a nod to his love of the sea.

Like its creator the ship was larger than life - a whimsical monument to grand ideas and to the dreams of a roadside entrepreneur who longed for the sea. Who couldn't love the white steamship-out-of-water with telescopes on deck and flags snapping in the breeze? In darkness and bad weather its lights appeared like a welcome mirage among Pennsylvania's rolling hills. Clara lived and worked at the roadside novelty for decades, and would ever after tell the story of her family's famous roadside attraction.

The Lincoln Highway was similarly the fulfillment of those who dreamed big. When automotive industry pioneer Carl G. Fisher proposed a coast-to-coast highway in 1912 the idea had been around for more than a decade, but Fisher knew how to get things done. He knew the individuals who could supply materials, funds and promotion on a nationwide scale: men like Henry Bourne Joy, president of the Packard Motor Car Company, Frank A. Seiberling, inventor and cofounder of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and just about every manufacturer of automobiles and parts and highway materials, save Henry Ford.

The Lincoln Highway was to be a memorial to the nation's martyred president, to a boyhood hero. It was no coincidence that the officers incorporated the Lincoln Highway Association (LHA) on a date linked to President Lincoln - July 1, 1913, the 50th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg and what was also the largest-ever gathering of veterans of the American Civil War. For $5 anyone could join LHA and receive a certificate and pamphlets extolling the road and its goals. LHA hoped its efforts would not just improve the Lincoln Highway but educate the public to the benefits of improving all roads.

The Lincoln Highway, linking existing roads and emigrant trails farther west, became the "Main Street of America" along its 12 states and 3,389 miles. Its name was used for songs, cigars, tires, gasoline pumps, radio shows and half the garages between New York and San Francisco. Some, such as the Lincoln Highway Farm near Schellsburg, proudly announced their location on the road.

Someone climbed the steep mountain face opposite the Grand View Point Hotel in 1931, at the time the largest version of a castle with turrets. courtesy the gardner family

The highway from New York City through Trenton, N.J., to Philadelphia was already known as the most congested road in the country. From Philadelphia westward across Pennsylvania, the Lincoln followed a series of old turnpikes beginning with the Lancaster Pike. These toll roads had languished for nearly a century after the coming of canals and railroads, but by the 20th century the trickle of automobiles had begun to revive business.

After passing through York, Gettysburg and Chambersburg, motorists met their first major challenge, the Appalachian Mountains. For the next few hours engines would overheat on the way up and brakes would overheat on the way down. At each summit roadhouses sprang up to offer gasoline, food and lodging while steaming radiators cooled before drivers once again took to the road.

The route west of Bedford had been carved out of the wilderness as the Forbes Road in 1758. It made a direct ascent over Bald Knob Summit but by the 20th century, earth-moving equipment allowed what had been a turnpike to follow a more gradual climb along the face of the mountain. It was at a bend about 1.3 miles below Bald Knob Summit that travelers stopped for the grand view. In a 1916 report Lincoln Highway Association secretary Arthur Bement wrote, "I know of no view from the Lincoln Highway in California which surpasses that to be obtained from a point known as Grand View near Bedford, Pa., where the Highway circles around a high point of rock, and the tourist is treated to a panorama of the smiling valleys and wooded mountain ranges of three states."

The Lincoln's popularity spawned hundreds of other named trails, creating a nightmare for marking and navigating. In 1926 the federal highway system was established to replace trail names with numbers. Much of the Lincoln from Pennsylvania to Wyoming became U.S. 30. Because the Lincoln had been so crucial to the Good Roads movement, permission was given to mark it one last time, ostensibly as a memorial to President Lincoln. The Boy Scouts of America installed 2,400 concrete posts bearing a Lincoln Highway logo along the route in September 1928.

"Captain" Herbert Paulson

Little Clara poses with her grandfather, "Captain" Herbert J. Paulson (1874-1973) in front of the Grand View Point Hotel in the mid-1930s. Paulson later reinvented the popular attraction on the Lincoln Highway in Bedford County as a steamship that offered sensational, sweeping views of the terrain below. courtesy the gardner family

Born in the Netherlands Herbert Paulson grew up in an orphanage. He and his wife Maria (also known as Mary or Mitzi) had a son Walter in 1906 and daughter Erna Louise in 1909.

In the United States Paulson found employment at the bustling Westinghouse Electric plant in East Pittsburgh. He also operated clubs and hotels before building a food stand atop Grand View Summit, a small rise between Grand View Lookout and Bald Knob Summit, in the mid-1920s. There had been a stand at the curve but it wasn't long before Paulson moved there. "My father paid $3,200 for 13 acres on that hillside," remembered Paulson's son Walter in 1989. "When the state widened the curve, they covered the Lincoln Highway all the way to Bedford with the crushed stone they quarried."

During his first year on Grand View Summit in 1927, Paulson rebuilt the wall with two castle-like turrets at the ends and four at an opening in the center. He built a new tiny stand at the opening, then replaced that the following year with a castle-themed building with four floors, three of them below road level. The new building had castle turrets too, as did a gasoline station built across the road. Room rates started at $1 and the 24-hour restaurant featured chicken and waffles, a German specialty of chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy on a waffle. Paulson didn't hesitate to tout the "3 states and 7 counties": Bedford, Somerset, Blair, Fulton and Huntingdon in Pennsylvania; Allegany in Maryland; and Mineral in West Virginia.

The next few years were spent expanding the castle stand but Paulson realized a much larger building was needed. With roadside novelties such as coffee pots and wigwams the rage, Paulson thought of making a larger castle or making it look like a giant fish. Then came his idea for a ship.

Paulson invited contractors Emilio Rosso and Louis Franci to expand the hotel into a steamboat. They began in October 1931, after the summer season had ended, and the race was on to open on Decoration (now Memorial) Day - less than eight months, most of them cold and snowy.

Three steel I-beams had been buried in concrete under the curve when it was widened, and connected to the building. "The state was afraid it would slide," Walter recalled, "but my father told them ‘It's my property: either you let me build [on] it or you buy the property.'" Eighteen steel piers were sunk 30 feet into the rock to keep the site firm, and 22 car frames were added to the foundation for strength. The exterior was covered in 3/4-inch wood overlaid with 1/16-inch metal siding processed from junked auto bodies. The bow and stern made the landlocked vessel 120 feet long, and with the addition of an upper floor, the Grand View Point Hotel now contained 42,000 square feet.

The two turrets at the wall ends were covered to look like lighthouses. Smokestacks on the roof and a large anchor at the prow completed the look. The tilted smokestacks indicate the prow, or bow, was at the western uphill end of the ship.

At noon on Decoration Day in 1932 the Bedford American Legion Junior Band kicked off festivities. At 1 p.m. a flag was raised, the ship christened and the crew presented to a curious public. Guided tours commenced at 2 p.m. The Bedford High School band and a local German band played throughout the day. A stilt-walker entertained guests but the highlight, recalled Walter, was an airplane dropping a bouquet of flowers onto the ship's deck.

Overseeing each and every detail was Herbert Paulson, called Captain now that he was commanding a boat. The day was capped by a midnight Balloon Dance with a local comedian as master of ceremonies and performed by a local crooner with the ship's own orchestra in full uniform.

Upon entering, a gift shop was to the right, the bow, filled with knick-knacks from around the world, including American Indian jewelry and moccasins Paulson especially liked. To the left was the main dining room and marble-topped bar and soda fountain. Linoleum flooring resembled waves on water, life preservers hung on sea-green walls and the room was painted with murals recalling the captain's trips to Holland. A smaller dining room at the far corner was reserved for banquets and parties; it featured a mural of eleven sailors said to be the Grand View Orchestra. Both rooms boasted the fabulous and famous view.

Paulson purchased furnishings from the Joseph Horne Company, an iconic department store located in Pittsburgh. Oak chairs had green leather seats and a green-painted anchor in the back rest; costing $9 each when new, they now sell for hundreds of dollars to collectors.

An aerial view shows the ship perched on the cliff. The Grand View Point gasoline station is across the road against the mountain. courtesy the author

The triangular-shaped decks upstairs had metal rails ringed with life preservers and covered in canvas. Dances were held on the decks during evenings in the 1930s and early 1940s. Inside were the fourteen elegant "First Class" staterooms measuring about 8-by-12 feet, including four suites with private baths. The Paulsons - including Clara, her mother Erna and her uncle Walter - used a three-room suite in the front toward the bow.

Below the main floor was the second floor with "Second Class" rooms in addition to storage areas for dishes, canned goods and a walk-in cooler. Rooms were $2, or $4 for one with a private bath. All rooms, even those on lower floors, had steam heat and hot and cold running water. The employees - about 40 young women at the hotel's peak - lived on the next floor down in dormitory-type rooms they jokingly called steerage.

A typical summer day would find dozens - sometimes hundreds — of automobiles, lining U.S. 30. Regular guests often reserved rooms for several weeks or more for their entire vacation. In that simpler time it was an all-inclusive attraction.

The ninth log book, kept from September 1936 to June 1938, contains more than 102,000 signatures, including tourists from every state and 72 foreign countries. Signatures of celebrities of the day can be found in the ledgers, although it's questionable whether the most famous are authentic or the work of pranksters. Among them are John Barrymore, Clara Bow, George Burns, Calvin Coolidge, Joan Crawford, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Greta Garbo, Lillian Gish, J.P. Morgan, Rudy Vallee, Mary Pickford and Buddy Rogers.

Pennsylvania Turnpike

The ship was remodeled five times, the grandest in the late 1930s when the bar and soda fountain were removed and the outside front pillars enclosed to create the Coral Room, a fashionable cocktail lounge. New Wurlitzer "bubbler" jukeboxes were installed in the lounge and dining room. Walter engaged a decorator to select the colors, resulting in most of the chairs being painted a lurid "Pepto-Bismol pink."

A new fold-out brochure advertised rooms for $3 to $4, doubles at $4 to $6 and doubles with private bath ranging from $6 to $7. A new menu listed hot dogs at 20 cents and hamburgers for 25 cents. Dinner prices began at $1.85 for pork or roast beef, half a "southern fried golden brown chicken" for $2.35 and Grade AA T-bone steak for $3.

The reason for the remodeling, new menu and fancy brochures could be seen being built about four miles to the south. The four-lane Pennsylvania Turnpike would become the first long-distance, limited-access highway connecting Carlisle, Cumberland County, to Irwin, Westmoreland County. Realizing it would siphon traffic, locals organized groups to address the threat but it did no good; when it opened in 1940 the Turnpike was even more successful than expected. There was no speed limit at first, grades and curves were gentler, rest stops were standardized and, most of all, there were no communities to crawl through and no reason to ever be stuck behind a truck again. "America's First Superhighway" cut three hours off the 160-mile trip - and drew traffic from every town and city along the way.

The hotel remained busy in the 1950s but increasingly served local residents. Tourists were less impressed by a view of "3 states and 7 counties" nor were they as excited by the prospects of sleeping in a small room and sharing a bathroom. Those who stopped often just snapped a picture or only wandered inside to use the restrooms.

Herbert Paulson retired in 1953 after suffering a heart attack and moved to Richmond, Va., turning over the reins to his daughter Erna and his son Walter and his wife Catherine, known as Kitty. The senior Paulson returned regularly and in the 1960s began spending summers there again. The family also gathered every Christmas at the hotel. If visitors did show up they were invited to join in the holiday festivities. "No one was turned away or got charged on Christmas Day," Clara recalled. "We always had T-bone steak, ham, fried or cocktail shrimp, macaroni and cheese, barbecued baked lima beans, relish trays, pies, cookies and eggnog."

After marrying and leaving while a teenager, Clara returned to work at the ship for 25 more years. Her son Ken was born in 1950 and daughter Julie in 1958. Grandmother Mitzi, crippled with arthritis, died in 1966. By 1970 the captain could be found most any summer day in the dining room. "I love to sit by the windows in the restaurant of my ship and read from morning till night," he said, "looking out at the fantastic view which I have put my heart and soul into, so that I may share it with my fellow man for many generations." He had just turned 99 in 1973 when he fell and died at the property. With the family aging and customers declining, Clara's mother and uncle sold the ship.

Noah's Ark

The wooden planking of Noah's Ark never was finished, and by 1991 the ship and its lighthouses were deteriorating. photo by brian butko

In 1978 Jack and Mary Loya purchased the ship and two acres for $37,000 plus 75 adjoining acres for $40,000. The second day they owned it the couple painted the peeling and rusting white metal exterior but the rust resurfaced within a week. Jack Loya recalls, "We wanted a farm but couldn't afford one, so this was a way of getting acreage and thought I could learn to run it."

When he had to rename the bank account, off the top of Loya's head came Noah's Ark, "then we tried to make something of it." He began covering the building in hemlock boards to cover the metal, but instead of painting them white, he coated them in creosote to resemble an ark. Loya even petitioned the Commonwealth to rename the point Mt. Arara, the location mentioned by the Bible where Noah's Ark came to rest after the great flood. A nearby wildlife park that had closed in the early 1970s supplied 25 species for a petting zoo across the road. Room rates had risen to $15 and $25.

With a remote location for a roadside attraction the Loyas fared no better, and in 1986 put the hotel up for sale for $135,000. "I planned to fix it up," says Jack, "but no matter how much you cleaned it wouldn't shine. It became a hardship for my family." New owners likewise had similar hopes but too few customers; to make things worse, when they couldn't pay the mortgage they refused to leave.

In 1994 the bank returned the property to the Loyas but everything inside had been sold off. To this day, pages of the logbooks can be found blowing around swap meets. Vandals began breaking in so Loya allowed a homeless family to live there in hopes that at least the place would be occupied.

Despite the deterioration, in 1997 the ship was entered in the National Register of Historic Places, prompting hopes of revival. The Loyas repaired what they could, but in the early hours of October 26, 2001, they were awakened by a startling telephone call: their ship was ablaze. A fireman said that even six miles away the fire burned so brightly that it looked as if the sun was rising. By morning all that was left was twisted, smoking framework. The cause could not be determined because of the extensive damage, but eight days later two more abandoned roadhouses burned on the Lincoln Highway in the dark of night. Regardless of how it started, there was nothing to be gained by Loya - he had no fire insurance and still owed on the mortgage.

Fading from View

Clara's daughter Julie says growing up at the ship was priceless. "I was eight years old before I realized how odd, special it was to have a grandmother [Erna] who lived in a ship on a mountain. My Grams was a blast, a child could not have asked for a better grandmother. My great-grandma Mitzi died when I was five but I remember her distinctly too... Mom worked on Sundays as a waitress and I was required to go with her. The staff was like family. I remember the smell of the kitchen and the sound of the semi trucks as they braked for the turn, then the swoosh as they passed by. Also because the neon sign was just outside her window her bedroom had a pink-red glow about it. I remember staying there from 1962 to 1970 at least. It was heartbreaking to watch it falling apart. I do stop at least once a year at the site and remember. It is almost easier to not see it there."

For Clara's son Ken Christmas left the strongest impressions. "My mother would paint the windows and mirrors with winter scenics... The jukebox would be reloaded with all of the post-war favorites, so anytime I hear White Christmas it takes me back to the ship. The jukebox was one of the bubble top Wurlitzers.

"Dinner was a formal affair. We dressed in suits and ties and the women dressed in their Sunday best. Herbert and Mitzie would be in the center and by order of age and family each of us would sit in assigned position...

"The best memories are of standing by the windows with eggnog in hand at dusk, as the deer came out onto the snow-covered fields with the Christmas lights in the homes in the valleys coming on as it approached nightfall, and Bing [Crosby] in the background on the jukebox.

"Mother has passed but when I make the trip home I still visit the ship. I hear the voices in my head of all the family and friends and fondly remember the best Christmases a young man could have wanted."

A whitewashed wall is all that remains of the ship, where for a century carloads of visitors stopped for a spectacular view of three states and seven counties. Motorists still stop, some crawling around the hilly debris field to carry off bits of concrete and charred metal. Others stand quietly, trying to recall the grand liner.

Herbert Paulson would understand. In 1970 the captain stopped to express the ship's allure. "Some days, the sealike mist comes rolling in and envelops the entire ship with so heavy a fog and low-hanging clouds that I almost forget myself and my location, and fancy for a moment that I have gone again to sea."

Kevin Kutz


Artist Kevin Kutz

For decades Bedford artist Kevin Kutz has set up his easel at the Coffee Pot, Dunkle's Gulf, Grand View Point and various offbeat or distinctive places. Year after year he faithfully returned to paint the ship until it burned. Afterwards he stopped again to paint it. "I had some watercolors and paper," recalls Kutz, "and some water from a mud puddle sufficed to start painting. A little blue car stopped and a young woman got out and stood there for 20 minutes. I could tell she was crying... Nothing ever lasts. Nothing ever ends." Kevin Kutz's Lincoln Highway: Paintings and Drawings was published by Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, in 2006.


Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor

The 200-mile-long Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor (LHHC) follows the famed roadway through six counties in southcentral Pennsylvania, from near Gettysburg, Adams County, in the east to near Irwin and Pittsburgh in the west. Since 1995 the not-for-profit LHHC has worked with local, state and federal partners on heritage preservation, sustainable community development and responsible land conservation. Tourists will find vintage cafes, fruit stands and roadside attractions near the site of the ship, including the art deco Dunkle's Gulf service station in Bedford and the Lincoln Motor Court atop Tull's Hill. LHHC has lined the corridor with stunning murals, interpretive panels and whimsical reproduction gasoline pumps. A new visitors center housed in an 1815 stone house and inn features an orientation video and artifacts from the road.

Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor
3435 U.S. Route 30 East
Latrobe PA 15650
724-879-4241


Brian Butko is author of The Ship Hotel: A Grand View Along the Lincoln Highway and books about the Lincoln Highway, roadside attractions, diners, even the Klondike bar, generally a vanilla ice cream square coated in a thin layer of chocolate that was introduced by the Isaly Dairy Company, Mansfield, Ohio, in the early 1920s. He is director of publications for the Senator John Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, where he is also editor of Western Pennsylvania History quarterly magazine.