Jason and Deanna Howles

Jason Howles (left) and his wife, Deanna, look over blueprints for the new Riverside Brewing Co. they plan to build on the location where the Riverside Inn tragically burned to the ground last May.

Cambridge Springs Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jeff Murdock was in charge of the scene one year ago May 2 as fire consumed the 132-year-old Riverside Inn. 

The fire was unexpected, came at a time when the inn was experiencing a renewed popularity and the initial shock was overwhelming to many people, Murdock said.

But one year down the road, the fire chief who still has vivid memories of the details of that night sees a silver lining. 

"Sometimes a light comes out of the darkness," Murdock said.

That light comes in the form of new owners of the former Riverside Inn property and a new business on the site that may start construction soon. 

"We're just getting ready to finish architectural designs and we'll submit them for building permits," said Jason Howles, who purchased the property in November with his wife Deanna. "We hope to be turning dirt soon."

The property was purchased last fall by Riverside Brewing Co. for $93,000. Jason and Deanna Howles are planning a new brewery and restaurant at the site. The couple also own and operate Blooming Valley Landscape & Supply and Howles Family Maple Products.

Jason was at the property Wednesday to meet some of the former employees of the inn and share his vision. Two cupolas and stacks of wood from an old barn sit in and around the parking lot just waiting for the OK to start construction, Jason told the former employees.

The Howles are using boards, beams and the cupolas from a barn built in the 1800s that was located near Cochranton to build the brewpub and restaurant. 

"The whole barn is on site just waiting for the go ahead," Jason said. 

The couple also bought a brewing rig in Georgia.

"Having the equipment allows us to customize the building to fit it," he said.

The Howles are not waiting for the equipment and building to create their own distinctive brews.

"We've been brewing beer for at least 10 years. It's a passion of ours," Jason said. "Recently, we've been doing tap takeovers at various locations in the area. We've had a lot of support from local people who really like our beer."

Cambridge Springs Mayor Randy Gorske said he envisions connections forming between the new brewpub and other local businesses and organizations. 

"I've already heard that someone contacted the Howles about the spent grains leftover from brewing," Gorske said. "I could see farmers using the grains to feed pigs and then selling the pork back to them.

"People are already talking about Cambridge Springs becoming a destination for brewpubs," Gorske said. "Knowing that a viable business is coming gives the community hope. It's a good beginning."

Gorske said he and borough council members recognize their role in supporting new businesses in the borough. 

"That's where local government fits in," he said. "We need to work together with the owners to be supportive."

Juanita Hampton, executive director of the Crawford County Convention & Visitors Bureau, is optimistic for the future of the borough. 

"People in small communities are invested and really care about the places they live," Hampton said. "Riverside Brewing rescued the site of the former inn. They'll bring more traffic back to the community.

"They have enough property for special events," Hampton said. "Maybe they'll host weddings or other rentals. Who knows what kind of growth could follow."

Lorri Drumm can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at lorrid@meadvilletribune.com.

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