Your Innkeeper, Donna Winner
Jim and Donna Winner both began life on simple Mercer County, PA dairy farms. From those roots of hard work and commitment came two people driven to succeed in business and give back to their community.
The Winners started in the hospitality business in 1979 when they purchased the Shenango Inn, a 72 room Colonial hotel in the residential section of Sharon, PA. It was then that they began their attraction to country inn and bed & breakfast travelers through Norm Simpson’s book “Country Inns and Back Roads”. Wanting an inn that allowed more personal interaction with the guests, they sold the 72-room inn and started their search for the “perfect inn”. After extensive traveling through southeastern United States, they realized that their destiny was to remain in Mercer County, PA and give back to their hometown community.
They made the deal of a lifetime at a public auction when they purchased the abandoned 1854 building in Clark, PA soon to be the home of Tara – A Country Inn. After two years of loving restoration by a very dedicated handful of staff, Tara was opened to the public in June 1986. After two additions to the building and years of evolution, Tara now has 27 beautiful guestrooms and has been critically acclaimed throughout the nation. Ashley’s Gourmet Dining Room, Stonewall’s Tavern, the Old South Armory Restaurant, banquet facilities, indoor and outdoor pools, public tours and elegant gardens have made Tara a household word in the tri-state area surrounding Mercer County.
In 1996, once again, the urge to save an abandoned landmark caused Jim and Donna Winner to purchase Mercer County’s Buhl Mansion. The building had been neglected for years. It was an eye-sore and a public liability for the city of Sharon. The multi-million dollar restoration of the 1890s stone “castle”, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, created what is now one of America’s most romantic inns. Buhl Mansion Guesthouse & Spa offers ten luxurious guestrooms, a full service spa with over 100 indulgent treatments and spectacular gardens fit for fairytale castle weddings.
"The Club" anti-theft steering wheel device is the most notable of Jim Winner's ventures and provided the resources to make the inns and tourism properties possible. With the millions of dollars generated in sales of “The Club”, the Winners were true to their word and gave back to their community by restoring and saving dozens of community landmarks from the wrecking ball. They created dozens of companies that provided over 1000 jobs at its peak in a community that suffered from double digit unemployment after the decline of the steel industry. Some of their other businesses over the years included The Winner Off-Price Fashion Store, The Park Inn Hotel, Tiffany's Banquet Hall, Winner Steel, Winner Security, Winner Aviation, Winner Global, Wintronics, and more.
Sadly in 2010, tragedy occurred when Jim Winner was suddenly taken in an automobile accident.
Throughout their successful careers, the Winners always gave back, living by the motto “to whom much is given, much is expected”. They spent millions to restore Mercer County landmarks. They supported arts and nonprofit organizations by outright donating buildings or leasing buildings to groups for as little as $1 per year. The Winners distributed over 50,000 pairs of shoes to area youth through their "Shoe Our Children" fund. They established scholarships and endowments at Slippery Rock and Gannon Universities and Anderson College. Through the Winner Foundation they gave hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of interest-free student loans and scholarships to deserving college students in the County. Their philanthropy extended far beyond the Shenango Valley and the list of causes that they supported - both publicly and privately - could go on for pages.
Over the years, Jim and Donna Winner were recognized for both personal and professional achievements. As a couple, the Winners received the Bill Knecht Tourism Award from VisitMercerCountyPA in 2010, a timely tribute to all that the couple accomplished to promote tourism in Mercer County. They were also the recipients of the Pennsylvania Tourism and Lodging Association's Innkeeper of the Year Award in 2007, and in 2008 they were handpicked by Governor Rendell and inducted into the inaugural class of the Keystone Society for Tourism to honor visionaries in destination leadership and community development.
Together they did wonderful things to promote hospitality, tourism and economic development. Jim’s tragic death will leave a huge void in countless lives. He was memorialized in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, National Public Radio, NBC Nightly News and a myriad of other publications in the weeks following his death. (See www.WinnerHospitality.com “recent press coverage”).
Jim Winner's wife Donna and their "family" of employees remain determined to carry his dreams of making the Shenango Valley a fabulous tourist destination with world class inns for guests from around the world to enjoy; a place to escape reality and get pampered.
Buhl Mansion, 1906
Buhl Mansion History
The Buhl Mansion is the architectural legacy of Sharon's great steel magnate, Frank H. Buhl. Frank Buhl founded the Sharon Steel Corporation, eventually selling to United State Steel Corporation. It was this industry that became one of the Shenango Valley's main sources of income and financial stability for the next hundred years.
After graduating from Yale and associating with tycoons like Carnegie and Rockefeller, Frank came to the Sharon area where he met and fell in love with Julia Forker. Frank and Julia were married on February 8, 1888 and at the request of his mother, Frank built a "castle" for his beautiful bride. Charles Owsley, a Youngstown architect, designed the Richardsonian Romanesque castle. Construction on the mansion began in 1890 and was completed in 1896 for a total cost of $60,000.00 at a time when Sharon had 10,000 persons and the 2,400 people of the Buhl industries were paid 10 cents an hour.
The Buhls were beloved citizens and philanthropists of the Shenango Valley. Frank's success in the steel industry provided them with the finances to contribute generously to the Sharon community for many generations to come. Some of their many contributions were the area's first hospital, the Oakwood Cemetery, the F.H. Buhl Club, the Buhl-Henderson Library, the Julia F. Buhl Girls Club, St. John's Episcopal Church and the Sharon Country Club. The F. H. Buhl Farm was probably their most generous gift to the local residents. Mr. Buhl purchased three hundred acres of land and then dedicated five years developing it, building roads and planting over 75,000 trees. He built an eleven-acre lake (Lake Julia) with a Casino for public recreation as well as an eighteen-hole golf course. In addition, by the terms of his will, he made necessary arrangements to assure the perpetual maintenance of his projects, thus, Sharon has the only free golf course in America.
Ironically, of all the perpetual endowments left by the Buhls, the one landmark left without a future was The Buhl Mansion. After Frank and Julia passed away, the property changed hands many times and was stripped of many of its spectacular architectural features including all the staircases, chandeliers, many door and window casings and all but four fireplace mantles.
After years of abandonment and neglect, Jim and Donna Winner lovingly restored Julia's "castle" to its original grandeur for all to enjoy.