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Tavern On The Square - New Wilmington PA

Dr. Seth Poppino (1815-1875), a physician who attended medical school in Cleveland, moved to New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, in the 1830’s. In 1839 he and several other men established a house of worship that later became the New Wilmington United Methodist Church. In about 1849 he erected a large home on North Market Street. Poppino was known to be an active abolitionist and legend says he helped many escaped slaves on their journey northward. The home was said to have a tunnel in the basement and had numerous secret doors and compartments. Poppino’s medical practice was located in a small building on the property.

Poppino married Mary E. Junking, who was from a distinguished family in Venango County, in 1856 and together they had six children. Her father Benjamin Junkin (1894-1880) was a leader of volunteer infantry, had served as a justice of the peace and associate judge in Clarion County, and helped establish several churches in Pennsylvania.

Dr. Poppino passed away in 1875 and his widow Mary lived in the home until her own death in 1917. Mary (Junking) Poppino, at the age of eighty-six, was mourned as one of New Wilmington’s most well-known citizens. I believe they are both buried in Fair Oaks Cemetery just east of New Wilmington. Their daughter Anna Poppino continued to live in the home until she died, at the age of seventy-four, in March 1933. Anna’s sister Martha (Poppino) Spencer, married to a Presbyterian minister, took over ownership of the home but resisted any efforts to sell it.

After the death of Anna Poppino the home was rented to Ernst and Cora Durrast. Ernst was born in New York City, while Cora (Williams) was a Latrobe native. They met while attending Westminster College and both were recent graduates of the school. Ernst was subsequently employed as an accountant with a local business. Two months after being married in June 1931 they opened a restaurant known as The Tavern – later known as the Tavern On The Square. It was located in a nearby building, but they needed more room and soon relocated the business into the Poppino home. They initially lived upstairs and operated the restaurant on the first floor.

The restaurant became well-known for its home cooking and was very popular with the students of Westminster College. Its large dining room was also home to many banquets and meetings of local civic groups.

The Durrast’s rented the home for the next two decades. I don’t believe they were able to purchase the property until after Martha Spencer, the last surviving daughter of Seth and Mary Poppino, passed away in July 1950. The Durrast family later vacated the home as a residence and expanded the dining area onto the upper floor.

Ernst Durrast, at the age of forty-one, passed away after a lengthy illness in March 1952. Cora continued to operate the business for many years. She became a well-respected and trusted citizen of New Wilmington. Saturday, August 8, 1981, was declared “Cora Durrast Day” by the borough council. On that day she was honored at a ceremony on the 50th anniversary of her operation of the restaurant. She sadly passed away in May 1986 at the age of seventy-eight. I believe her family members operated the business for another decade or so.

The business was sold in 1997 to David and Sandy Aquaro. David Aquaro’s family was known for being the longtime owners and operators of the Super Castle Drive-In in Union Township. The Tavern was sold again in 2009 and purchased by local residents Joseph and Sarah Hougelman. The historic restaurant, with simple Amish-inspired dishes, remains a popular establishment. Mrs. Hougelman, a longtime resident of the area, is also known for her non-intrusive tours of the local Amish community.

Dr. Seth Poppino (1815-1875), a local physician, built what became the Tavern as a private home in 1849. (c1870)

After Dr. Poppino died in 1875 his widow Mary Poppino resided in the home until her own death in 1917. (c1870)

Cora Durrast (along with her husband Ernst Durrast) operated the Tavern restaurant for fifty-six years until her death in 1986. She was one of New Wilmington’s most well-known citizens. (1982)

This structure on North Market Street in New Wilmington was erected in about 1849 as a private home for Dr. Seth Poppino (1815-1875). Poppino, a physician, was a well-known abolitionist who is said to have sheltered many escaped slaves on their journey northward. (c1975) Full Size

In August 1933 this home was converted into a restaurant known as The Tavern (later known as the Tavern On The Square) by Ernst and Cora Durrast. Cora Durrast operated this establishment for many years until her death in 1986. (c1975) Full Size


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