A New Legacy for a Historic Building in Tamaqua
An 1870’s furniture factory has been transformed into a beautifully restored modern 5-bedroom boutique inn in the heart of Tamaqua’s historic district. The restoration and renovation of the Bischoff Inn, which concluded in January 2023, revitalized the deteriorating building and restored a key piece of mid-19th century Victorian architecture along Lafayette St. in the city’s west end.
The Conrad Bischoff Planing Mill and Furniture Factory is the earliest industrial building still standing in the district. Long ago used as a furniture manufacturing workshop, today, visitors to the town’s only overnight lodging will find the space carefully restored, preserving many of the original features from its early days.
It All Began with Conrad and Wilhelmina Bischoff
Like so many of our ancestors, Europeans flocked to lands across our region for a new life. Conrad and Wilhelmina Bischoff were no different. The engaged pair immigrated to the United States from Bavaria, Germany, in 1857, and settled into life in Tamaqua.
Conrad trained as a cabinet maker with a fellow German immigrant. He then opened his own cabinet and furniture factory in 1867. With business thriving, he expanded his location in 1870 to the 6,000-square-foot, Lafayette St. building, now home to the Bischoff Inn.
Wilhelmina, a mother of four and an entrepreneur herself, transitioned the family into the undertaking business. Her husband would manufacture simple wooden caskets. She became an undertaker. She used the second floor of their retail shop, located on Broad St., to coordinate funerals. After their deaths, their children carried on the furniture and casket business until 1930. Today, their great- and great-great-grandchildren are still in the family business, running the Zizelmann Gulla Funeral Home in Tamaqua.
Finding a Passion for Restoration
The blighted building had sat vacant and largely unused since its days as a casket manufacturer ended in the 1930’s. Now it has a modern feel that highlights the historical components, like the original beams, exposed brick walls, wooden windows and hardwood floors. This charming and quaint bed-and-breakfast is a welcome addition to the community of Tamaqua.
Its transition from past to present is thanks to owner and developer, Maria Stabio. A California native living in New York City, the artist and painter was in search of an affordable studio and living space when she happened upon Barnesville, Pa. She purchased the Grier City Schoolhouse, a 4-room 3,600-square-foot building, just 15 minutes outside of Tamaqua, in 2015. She then began the 16-month process of making it into the home and studio space she needed. But she didn’t come to the project as an experienced home renovator.
“I wasn’t trying to buy a house that was a project,” she said of finding her Schoolhouse property. “I think it was really just me seeing the potential in the house that really was like, oh, it would be so cool if it were like this.”
She did much of the work herself. She refinished the original floors, painted, and even did carpentry work by installing trim and baseboards. And her newfound passion for restoring historic properties was ignited.
Forgotten Structure to Tourist Destination
Stabio wasn’t necessarily looking for another fixer-upper when the prospect of purchasing the former factory was presented to her. In fact, owning a hotel had never crossed the painter’s mind. “I mean, never in a million years did I think I’d own an inn,” she emphasized. “That was not what I ever thought.” But her experience renting a room at her Schoolhouse property on Airbnb led to the idea.
She found herself involved with Dan Evans, a Tamaqua city advocate, who planted the seed. For 20 years the community had tried to find someone to open overnight accommodations without success. With help from Tamaqua City Revitalization and Improvement Zone Authority, or CRIZ, and funding from a PA Dept. of Revenue program that also channeled $1.1 million into economic development projects in the borough in 2022, the idea became a tangible.
Stay to Discover
The design of the inn creates a welcoming atmosphere in its mix of modern and old, with a vintage flair and personal artwork – some created by Stabio, some from her personal collection, as well as from her father, whose collection of found-object art hangs in the lounge.
The first floor of the building contains a lounge, a dining area and four guest rooms, while the upper floor consists of a larger guest room and an apartment for the innkeeper. All guest rooms are uniquely designed, but two of the rooms feature special tributes to the Bischoff family. The Bischoff Suite is the only room fully outfitted with a set of Bischoff-made furniture while the Wilhelmina room features one of their ornate beds, all generously on loan from the Zizelmann family.
“Eric (Zizelmann, great-great-grandson of Conrad and Wilhelmina) worked tirelessly trying to get the furniture pieces restored and ready,” said Maria. “He just worked so hard and it’s just amazing. The way they came out they look really, really good. It’s very full circle. Back to the place they were made. It’s really special.”
“My hope is it really draws people to Tamaqua and gets them to experience what it’s like to be here,” Maria says. “Just really appreciate the area. There’s all these fun things you can do like state parks, wineries, breweries and the restaurants. There are things that are just right here that are really fun and great. Very accessible.”
Book an overnight stay at the Bischoff Inn and spend time exploring Schuylkill County’s coal region and its many outdoor amenities. Visit their website and social page to learn more about their overnight accommodations, as well as a curated guidebook and destination recommendations in the Tamaqua area.
A Peek Inside the Bischoff Inn