The world was a very different place when Clayton Dorn, founder of Forest Oil, built a country lodge for his family in the mountains near Bradford, Penn.
In the late 1920s and early '30s, when the Hansel-and-Gretel-style Big House and secluded family cabins at Glendorn were built, there were plentiful hardwoods, like chestnut and butternut, to panel the walls. There were leisurely family trips to Europe, where Dorn's adult children, Forest and Erla, bought crystal and china and chose tile in the latest art deco patterns to lavish on bathrooms, kitchens and 41 fireplaces.
But the world being what it is in the 1990s, two years ago the Dorn family opened the 1,280-acre estate and buildings to paying customers, who can now glimpse a privileged way of life from a bygone era.
"Seclusion and privacy are what most of our guests are seeking," says Linda Spinner, who manages Glendorn with her husband, Gene, in northwestern Pennsylvania. And there is plenty of privacy, with cabins out of sight of one another and lots of open space, considering the huge estate is bordered on two sides by the Allegheny National Forest, where black bears still roam.
The approach to Glendorn is by country road outside Bradford, past a flock of sheep and a herd of miniature burros. And a scattering of small pump-jacks on front lawns reminds travelers this is still oil country. After being buzzed through a locked gate, guests drive a mile and a half on a winding lane past Lake Bondieu and over a bubbling brook, to the main redwood lodge called the Big House.
On the front porch a carved, life-size cherry-wood bear and a two-story Pacific Northwest totem pole welcome visitors. Inside, polished pine and redwood reflect soft light in the cathedral-ceilinged Great Hall, where Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Victor Borge entertained the Dorns. (Armstrong reputedly told the small group he'd begin playing when everyone had arrived. "This is it," said a family member.)
A two-story sandstone fireplace dominates one side of the Great Hall, overlooking a cozy seating area and a grand piano. Guests also dine here, on old trestle tables covered in white linen. On the opposite side, a stairway leads to balcony suites.
A game room adjoins, where visitors can play billiards and pool. In the nonsmoking reading room, paneled in lustrous knotty pine, they can browse in the nature library or continue work on one of several complicated jigsaw puzzles.
Access to the guest houses and cabins, built for the married Dorn grandchildren, is by walkways over the branches of a trout stream that converge near the Big House. Most cabins are designed for couples. But the Roost, across a stone footbridge over Fullers Brook, has three bedrooms with "his and hers" baths off the master suite. With four fireplaces and chestnut paneling, the Roost was built of stone and brick in 1939 and named for a Dorn granddaughter and her husband, William Bird. Other cabins are a longer walk, or drive, from the Big House.
"Each accommodation has its own personality," says Linda Spinner, "because they were decorated by different women." And the family antiques remain, with Jenny Lind beds in a Roost bedroom and wildlife etchings from Taos in the Big House's Redwood Room.
"Erla Dorn decorated the Green Suite in the '30s," says Spinner about one of four accommodations in the Big House. Woodwork painted a deep, deep green is a backdrop for tasteful detail. The kitchen cupboard holds etched crystal glasses, each with a different scene, and the green doors display hand-painted drink recipes, like "The Glendorn Old Fashioned." And each tile on the fireplace illustrates a different chapter from the Bible.
Since money was no object, the Dorn grandsons had a real stainless steel soda fountain in their playhouse, with six different flavors of ice cream delivered daily from Bradford. The granddaughters had their own playhouse, a little green cabin filled with furniture just the right size. The adults played at a shooting range at the Hideout, a mountain cabin remote even from the main lodge, where mechanical bear, rabbits and deer scampered across a wooded backdrop.
Personally, I can revel in family history all day, inspecting Italian tile and English antiques; but there's more to do at Glendorn, like playing tennis on one of three courts (two rubico clay and a 1936 omni), swimming in the 60-foot, heated, outdoor mosaic-tile pool, or canoeing or fishing.
In the winter, there's cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, or shooting trap and skeet under the patient tutelage of Tom Johnson.
"I've put 500 people through this class, and only two of them haven't broken birds," Johnson says, referring to the bright orange disks used in practice. "But the only way those two people are going to break birds is to go out and step on them," he adds.