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Johnston House/St. Cloud Hotel – Homewood Borough PA

A hotel known as the Johnston House was built in a rural area north of Old Brighton (later Beaver Falls) in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, in about 1852. It was located right alongside the tracks of the Ohio & Pennsylvania Railroad (O&P), which had just recently been laid through the area. With the coming of the railroad the sleepy little area, first settled in 1831 and later christened as Homewood Junction, was about to flourish. The bar of the hotel served as the passenger station for the railroad until a dedicated train station was erected just across the tracks in 1864.

The burgeoning village of Homewood Junction was formally laid out in 1859 and employment was plentiful with the railroad, a saw mill, an ice house, and a stone quarry operating in the area. The scenic Homewood Falls (later Buttermilk Falls) was located just a stone’s throw away as well. The Johnston House was the center of activity and a popular stop on the O&P line – which was consolidated under the new Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, & Chicago Railroad Company (PFW&C) in 1856 and was later absorbed into the powerful Pennsylvania Railroad Company (PRR) in 1869.

The location became an important railroad junction as tracks branched out south to Pittsburgh, west to Ohio and onto Chicago, and north towards New Castle and beyond to Lake Erie.

The Johnston House continued to thrive and at some point in the late 1800’s was renamed as the St. Cloud Hotel. The village of Homewood Junction or simply Homewood, which later achieved borough status in 1910, got its own Post Office in 1862 (called Racine) and a Methodist Church was relocated here in 1869. Years later, during 1914-15, a two-story brick schoolhouse was opened and an extension of the Harmony Short Line interurban streetcar system was built through the area.

The hotel’s history is a bit murky but it served the settlement of Homewood for many decades. Sometime later, most likely in the early 1950’s, it was rebranded as the Valley Inn. You can find advertisements in local newspapers throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s about dances held at the hotel’s lounge/bar on Friday and Saturday nights. It continued to operate as the Valley Inn at least into the late 1980’s when it closed. It has since sat vacant and is currently in a state of serious disrepair. It is one of oldest surviving hotel buildings in the region and of great historic value.

The Homewood Volunteer Fire Department, known locally for its civic awareness initiatives, attempted to raise funds to restore the neglected old structure into a bed & breakfast and general store. It appears the damage to the wooden building and foundation is too serious for anything to come from the effort.


The Johnston House, later known as the St. Cloud Hotel, was built in about 1852, just after the tracks of the Ohio & Pennsylvania Railroad (O&P) were laid through the area. The bar of the hotel served as the passenger station for the O&P for the next decade. (c1907)


At one time the Johnston House/St. Cloud Hotel was the center of activity in Homewood Junction and was located just near the popular scenic spot of Buttermilk Falls. (c1915)


A drawing of the St. Cloud Hotel, which looks quite different from the original photos.


This photo shows the tracks of the PRR passing through the area of Homewood Junction. On the immediate left of the signal tower in the distance is the St. Cloud Hotel (dark building) – and just across the tracks and to the right (slightly obscured by signal tower) is the PRR passenger station. (c1915)


Several newspaper advertisements promoting dances held at the Valley Inn in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Full Size


The former hotel is in a state of serious disrepair. (Feb 2011)


The old train station, built just across the tracks from the hotel in 1864, is long since gone. (Feb 2011)


The railroad tracks are still in use today, but the once-thriving hotel has been shuttered up for quite some time. (Feb 2011)


The Homewood Volunteer Fire Department has a campaign underway to save this historic hotel. Wish them luck in their admirable task! (Feb 2011)


The Valley Inn sign still hangs on the front of the building. The yellow sign details the history of the hotel and the current campaign to save it. (Feb 2011)


A rooftop “Valley Inn” sign lays in decay while exposed to the elements. (Feb 2011)


The interior of the building is a mess as it has probably been vandalized over the years. (Feb 2011)


A modern street sign marks the location of the former hotel in the quaint Homewood Borough. (Feb 2011)


(Mar 2012)


(Mar 2012)


(Mar 2012) Full Size

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Comment

  1. Great Site with a lot of good resources. I think the old picture with the hotel in the distance may be flipped. It looks like it was taken from the west.

    Chuck Ziegler · 02/10/2013 12:40 PM · #

  2. Just visited this spot with some friends. VERY neat. Had a creepy experience while inside though.

    Alexa · 05/06/2013 10:37 AM · #

  3. (EDITOR’S NOTE) Chuck, let me take a further look at the photo and figure it out. Thanks. Jeff

    Jeff Bales Jr · 06/10/2013 02:15 AM · #

  4. (EDITOR’S NOTE) Alexa, I definitely do not encourage or recommend folks go inside the old building in any way, shape, or form. But since you did….tell me what you experienced?? I’m very curious. Jeff

    Jeff Bales Jr · 06/10/2013 02:18 AM · #

  5. 5 of us went in on a Saturday afternoon over the summer around 2:00. I am a photographer, so I had my camera because there are some cool photo ops, however, I forgot my tripod, and with the lack of light in the room, it was hard to get good pictures. My boyfriend and I decided to go back the next day by ourselves so I could set up my tripod and get better shots. The first day we went, the curtains beside the old piano were tied back and the room was illuminated with natural light. There was also a chair set to the left side of the window. The second time we went back, as I walked in the first room, I commented on how dark it seemed for being the same time of day as the previous day. I walked into the room with the piano and the curtains were closed and the chair had been placed directly in front of the window. There was a very eerie feeling about it that day, so we left.

    Alexa · 12/12/2013 10:01 PM · #

  6. I have researched the history of this building and published my findings in a Homewood Heritage Days program. (2005-6)
    Sometimes history is what someone says it is. I believe that research and primary documentation provides the best history.
    The naming of Buttermilk Falls in it’s present location was not in use until the 1980’s. Old photos from the Ira Mansfield locate Buttermilk Falls a little further north in the Hoytsdale area as do many old timers from the local Homewood area. When seeking grants and County help to establish the park the name was “borrowed” and attached to the present Falls. Historically the falls was known as Smiddy’s Falls and later Homewood Falls. Joseph Smith was the original owner coming out of the convoluted land mess of the early 1800’s when Depreciation and donation lands were finally lassoed from the Pennsylvania Population Company in Philidelphia and auctioned off. Mr Smith bought 181 acres and later laid out the beginnings of the village aroung 1859. The James Wood myth as founder has persisted until the present day. He was a steel baron who never owned land in Beaver County and was only associated through stock ownership in the old beehive furnace known as the Homewood Furnace. The furnace wore it’s name in association with the sandstone quarried along the Beaver River at Homewood, the furnace itself was on the north side of the river near where the Koppel bridge crosses today. The Johnson?St Cloud Inn is not recoverable. Only dismanteling and reproduction would yeald a building that is safe and solid. There is a crumbled foundation and excessive water damage everywhere in the wooden structure. It has been used as a means to obtain grants and make a plan that is not achievable Wasted funds that could have been put to better use. I figure that is enough for now. I am always interested in sharing my research and have researched the Homewood area for many years including interviews with the church members I grew up with at Homewood Methodist where I still attend on Sunday morns 10:30am. Stop by and we cab enjoy the information exchange. Have a safe and happy day.

    Hap · 02/17/2015 04:07 AM · #