Accomac Inn, famous for its ghostly lore, awaits new inhabitants

Aimee Ambrose
York Dispatch

Nestled against a hill overlooking the Susquehanna River for 250 years, the Accomac Inn and its reported ghostly inhabitants await a new mortal owner to bring it back to life.

Vacant since 2018, a combination of larger economic factors — a downturn in the real estate market and staffing pressures — complicated the sale of the historical landmark. A few potential buyers have come and gone since it underwent renovations and was placed back on the market last November.

But so far, no sale.

“Haven’t quite found the right lid for the pot yet. There’s a lid for every pot — just got to find it,” said listing agent John Birkeland, of ROCK Commercial Real Estate. “We’ve come close but just haven’t been able to finalize the deal.”

Nonetheless, Birkeland is confident a buyer is out there. It's simply a matter of finding the right person — in a word, destiny.

He said about a half-dozen different parties had shown serious interest in purchasing the inn over the past year.

A few had come close to signing on the dotted line, but the deals fell through for different reasons, mostly economic, he indicated.

Plenty of history: The Accomac has a dynamic history as a travel destination and local attraction dating back to 1775 when it was built at Anderson’s Ferry, a key point for crossing the Susquehanna River.

The site had several owners and several names for a century before taking on the name “Accomac Inn” in 1875, reportedly. It changed hands many more times in the 20th and 21st centuries. It survived floods and a catastrophic fire in the 1930s and endured a sensational murder and numerous economic downturns.

Doug Campbell took over the inn in 1972 and owned it for 46 years, building its modern renown as a fine-dining restaurant, banquet hall and event venue.

“Everyone’s got a story, a place in their heart, for the Accomac Inn,” Birkeland said.

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The building apparently fell into decline and closed in October 2018. Campbell then sold it to Henry Shenk. A year later, in October 2019, Shenk sold it to current owner Tom Ott.

But the physical history, its successes and disasters, were hardly Accomac’s primary claim to fame.

Many believe it’s haunted.

Ghost stories: News sites and blogs tell a variety of ghost stories about people who’ve witnessed strange occurrences, saw people who weren’t really there, or had feelings of dread and fright in certain rooms.

“Whatever happened here in the past, you can still feel it,” said Leah Spangler, of Harrisburg. Spangler worked as a server and supervisor for the Accomac’s catering arm from 2000 through 2006.

Leah Spangler, from Harrisburg, at the Accomac Inn in York on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

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She never experienced any supernatural encounters — not directly, at least — but she reported an eerie feeling walking through certain rooms on the upper floors. At times, she was overcome by a fear of being watched.

“I just remember feeling like I needed to get the hell out of certain rooms," she said. "Like, I did not want to be in those rooms.”

Spangler explained how serving staff would work at the Accomac at almost all hours of the day — arriving early to set up for events or locking up in the wee hours of the morning after they'd concluded.

Parts of the inn were scary to her at any time of day.

She said she felt terrified to cross the older parts of the building alone at night. She also didn’t like going upstairs in the daylight or even when the dining room was filled with customers in the evenings.

The Accomac Inn in York on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

Spangler spoke while walking the grounds outside the inn on a mild October day, pointing to areas where she worked, and pointing to upper windows where the fear tore through her.

The building was closed and dark. Through windows, tables and chairs sat empty in the dining area.

A brick plaque in the façade commemorates the fire that destroyed the inn 1935 as well as where stone came from to help rebuild it that year. A spotted lanternfly struggled in the strands of a spider web woven around a light hanging above the stone and concrete entry porch on the side.

River Drive wraps around the front of the inn, bisecting it from the Susquehanna. The screened-in front porch, which runs the long length of the building, hugs the very edge of the road.

While Spangler didn’t actually see any ghosts, accounts by other staff have been reported over the years.

Experiences in such reports included briefly witnessing the figure of a man at times, the figure of a weeping young woman and seeing flickering lights or hearing banging noises when nobody’s around.

Servant killed: The purported hauntings seem to go hand-in-hand with the sensational story of a murder on the grounds in the late 1800s.

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At that time, the Coyle family owned the inn and the ferry to Marietta across the Susquehanna in Lancaster County. In May 1881, the owner’s son, John Coyle Jr., shot and killed a servant, Emily Myers, when she refused his advances.

Coyle was charged with murder and, after the case was moved to Gettysburg, he was found guilty and reportedly hanged. According to local lore, Myers was buried in an unmarked grave at a cemetery in Marietta.

Coyle’s family also wanted to bury him in Marietta, but they were refused. Instead, he’s said to be buried in the woods behind the Accomac.

A stone marking the grave of John Coyle Jr. stands in a clearing behind the Accomac Inn in Hellam Township.

Birkeland was open about the Accomac’s history as he was about its present-day circumstances.

He respects the tales but said neither he nor Ott, the current owner, has experienced anything supernatural in the six or seven years he’s been involved with the property.

“I’ve spent a lot of time there. I personally haven’t seen anything. But I’m not discounting the people that swear that they have,” Birkeland said.

What he said he has seen, however, was work to revitalize the building’s old bones over the past few years.

Extensive repairs: He said the inn fell into disrepair under the previous two owners, and Ott purchased it in 2019 essentially to flip it and sell to new owners.

Ott invested at least $300,000 into renovations, Birkeland estimated. Projects included fixing drainage issues; updating the electrical and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems; repairing the roofs; repairing the sewer and septic systems; and doing structural wall work.

The Accomac Inn in York on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

“The renovations he performed were pretty extensive, and certainly some were overdue,” Birkeland said, calling everything solid. “It’s in the best shape I’ve seen.”

But he said the current real estate market, though, hasn’t been great for selling a building like the Accomac. Buyers, especially those in the hospitality industry, are uneasy about the possibility of a downturn.

Economic concerns: Of the few parties who came close to purchasing the inn, he said one had funding fall through on them. Another worried about finding enough employees to staff the business.

“We lost a good deal to a fear of labor shortage,” Birkeland said. "Quite frankly, they were afraid that if they opened, they wouldn’t be able to get employees to travel down there.”

Neither Ott nor Campbell returned calls for comment to The York Dispatch.

The 7.9-acre property is currently listed at $1.3 million on the ROCK realty website.

The inn itself is described as a 16,502-square-foot stone building with a 4,000-square-foot warehouse attached and parking area that can fit at least 100 vehicles.

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The listing also promises the furniture, fixtures and equipment inside are included in the sale, and a York County liquor license is ready to go.

On top of the serious interest in the property over the last year, Birkeland said there was also plenty of interest from “looky-loos” who wanted to check out the inn.

“A lot of people, I think, were more interested in just touring the Accomac again than actually buying it,” he said.

Leah Spangler, from Harrisburg, at the Accomac Inn in York on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

Spangler hopes a new owner will reopen the venue and bring it back to life. And in spite of her fear of the upper floor, working there was a “memorable chapter” of her life.

“It was beautiful,” Spangler said. “I think they should reopen it. And I think they would do really, really well.”

— Reach Aimee Ambrose at aambrose@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @aimee_TYD.