By Justin Franz
CRESSON, Pa. — J. Alex Lang was a high school student in Pennsylvania in the 1990s when he first saw an ad in Railpace Newsmagazine inviting railfans to stay at the The Station Inn in Cresson, Pa. Little did he know that he’d come to own it almost 30 years later.
The Station Inn is located along the busy former Pennsylvania Railroad main line west of Altoona. In the 1990s, the railroad was operated by Conrail and today is part of Norfolk Southern. The inn was founded in 1993 when railfan Tom Davis purchased an old trackside hotel known as the Callan House, built in 1866, and opened it as a bed and breakfast aimed specifically at railfans. A year after it opened — during a fall trip to photograph Conrail and CSX Transportation in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia — Lang made the first of many visits to the historic inn.
“You could roll over in bed, pop your head up, and watch trains right from your room,” Alex said. “It was awesome. I remember staying up late, until 1 or 2 a.m., just to watch nightly trailer trains that you didn’t normally see at home in Allentown.”
The Station Inn in October 1994, as it appeared during Alex Lang’s first visit.
One of the selling points of The Station Inn was and is its proximity to a number of iconic railfan spots on the West Slope of the Allegheny Mountains including the Gallitzin Tunnels (three miles), Horseshoe Curve (10 miles), and Altoona (15 miles), as well as other popular destinations like East Broad Top (60 miles) and the former Baltimore & Ohio main line over Sand Patch grade (65 miles). But another attraction was the inn’s porch, where friends could gather to watch trains, listen to the radio chatter on the scanner, and engage in pleasant conversation.
Alex returned to The Station Inn many times over the ensuing decades and forged a deep friendship with its owner. Alex’s future wife, Leah, also learned quickly how important the place was to him — and it quickly became just as important to her.
“The Station Inn was so special to Alex that I joke that when we first got together, he didn’t take me home to meet his parents first, he took me to the inn to meet Tom Davis,” Leah said.
Leah first visited The Station Inn in the early 2000s and quickly fell in love with the property. When Alex and Leah got married a few years later, they held their wedding reception at The Station Inn. “The place really resonated with me,” she said recently, adding that it reminded her of her grandparents’ home, a warm and inviting space. She also knew that someday it was the type of place she would like to own herself.
Alex and Leah went on to build careers and a family in Pittsburgh, about 90 minutes west of Cresson, but they continued to come back to the inn, even if only to sit on the porch with Tom for a few hours whenever they were passing through. As their friendship with Tom grew, they even had him to their home for holidays and other events. Alex also started helping Tom run the inn’s website.
As Tom got older and the future of the inn looked more uncertain, Leah wrote a letter to him expressing her and Alex’s interest in someday taking it over. Not long after, in summer 2021, they briefly talked about the idea but didn’t get too far into the details. Unfortunately, Tom passed away a few months later on October 5, 2021, at the age of 90.
Not long after Tom passed away, his brother Joe called to inquire about the Langs’ interest in purchasing the bed and breakfast. Joe said the family was interested in entertaining multiple offers in an effort to ensure the inn went to the right people who would carry on their brother’s legacy. The family laid out a detailed itinerary for how they would consider offers, including vision for the inn (rated at an importance of 30 percent), a plan to achieve that vision (40 percent), price (25 percent), and other (5 percent). There were six interested buyers and full proposals were submitted by four. In late 2021 and early 2022, the family went through the fine print and eventually announced in May that they had selected the Lang family to be the new owners. In a post on the inn’s website, the family said they picked Alex and Leah because of their connection to the industry (Alex has worked for a number of railroads in Pennsylvania in the information technology field), Leah’s own passion for the place, their experience as longtime guests and, perhaps most importantly, their long-standing friendship with Tom. The Langs finally took over the operation of The Station Inn this past May.
Alex said that in the future he hopes the inn looks and feels much like it did when Tom ran it — with a few upgrades, of course. Presently, the eight-room inn (each room or suite is dedicated to specific regional railroads) doesn’t have any air conditioning. In the winter and fall, that’s not a big deal, but during the hot Northeastern summers it can be a bit much, Alex said. But before amenities like that can be offered, the Langs are focusing on smaller details like fresh linens, new carpet, some upgraded plumbing, and a new railroad scanner speaker on the porch letting guests listen in on the action across the street right from the front door.
“It took about an afternoon to install, but it’s been worth it,” Lang said. “Everyone loves it so far.”
An example of the rooms inside The Station Inn.
Another big project the Langs would eventually like to tackle is the basement bar and restaurant. Tom operated both for a few years in the early 2000s, but they were later closed. Alex said reopening both are long-term priorities.
Alex and Leah said they hope to keep The Station Inn a place where friends and colleagues within the rail industry can gather to watch trains, have a beer on the porch, and enjoy interesting conversations. Alex said he networked with many railroaders at the bed and breakfast over the decades and that it helped him in his own career.
In the short term, Alex and Leah have hired an innkeeper (Leah’s aunt) and brought back some of the people who worked there when Tom ran it. The Station Inn is open year-round. Regular season rates (January through September and November 6 until December 31) start at $89 for a single bedroom and go up from there. During peak season (September 30 until November 5, when fall foliage is at its peak) rates start at $109. Breakfast is included every morning and there are complimentary snacks and non-alcoholic drinks (though you are welcome to bring your own beer or wine to enjoy on the porch).
Alex said the first few months of owning and running The Station Inn have been a blast and that he cannot wait for the future. However, even a few months in, he’s still having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that it’s now owned by him and Leah. Some 30 years after first coming to the bed and breakfast, it feels like it’s owned by the community and not a couple.
“It doesn’t really feel like I own this place,” Alex said. “I walk through the inn and I see all the stuff on the walls and I don’t feel like it’s my stuff. More than anything, I feel like I’m a caretaker for this place.”
For more information and to book a room, visit stationinnpa.com