Reviving the Central House
By M. Patricia Fox
Oringinally Published: June 18, 2010 in the Boone County Recorder
The corner of Jefferson St. and Route 18 in Burlington is once again a hub of activity. With the opening of The Central House Diner in February of this year, Burlington is attracting interested patrons. According to owner and operator Big Dave Beckett, “Everyone who knows me, knows that I love to cook and entertain friends. It has always been a dream of mine to open a place where my friends will feel at home and to have a menu where something different could be eaten every day.” Judging by the amount of cars parked nearby around lunch and dinner, Beckett’s dream has done more than provide a comfortable place to eat: the adaptive reuse of this historic building has helped to energize the business section of the county seat.
By providing home-cooked specials, Beckett believes that he has supplied the local community with what it wants: a family neighborhood diner unlike the franchise chains of Houston and Mall roads. Though little to no advertising has been done, word of mouth has made the restaurant a very busy place. “My goal is to provide the best comfort foods that a diner can produce, utilizing, [whenever possible], fresh local produce of the highest quality,” Beckett explains. “Having a place where employees are proud to [work] can only increase the quality of service. That is why,” he adds, “I created my dream in this local landmark.”
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Central House Hotel was built in stages beginning circa 1840. It also operated as a tavern for much of the 19th Century and later housed Clutterback’s General Store.
In 1940, Pete Stephens bought the building and opened Burlington Hardware and Dry Goods Store as a true department store, with separate rooms and sales counters. According to a 2003 Kentucky Post article, “Burlington residents who needed a copper pipe cut or an oil lamp restored, who were running low on cattle feed or were looking for some new fishing tackle, headed for the community’s hardware store on Kentucky 18.” John Arrasmith, who lived on a nearby Petersburg horse farm, remarked at the time that, “This is so handy to the farming community to the west of here. There was a time when there wasn’t Lowes and a Home Depot, or a Tractor Supply. And the buck stopped here.”
Burlington Hardware later occupied the building and it was converted into a restaurant in 2003. Known as The County Seat, the restaurant, owned by Arlene Jones, served home cooked meals and desserts. Dave Beckett credits Jones for her preservation of this local landmark. Shortly after it closed in 2007, Gracie’s Grill opened, serving bistro style food. Within a year, Gracie’s closed, leaving the building and corner empty. The revival of this historic place as a modern day tavern of sorts once again draws customers and enlivens the area. In Dave Beckett’s view, “[If] Uncle Pete is hanging out in here, I’m sure he’s smiling.”
The reopening of this building as The Central House Diner has been a successful venture. The financial support of the Small Business Association at Huntington Bank made a difference, for the bank wanted to see Dave’s dream become a reality. With the support of the Historic Burlington Business Association and the local government of Boone County, not only has The Central House Diner become a place of destination, the other eateries- Washington Square and The Tousey House- have benefitted, turning Jefferson Street into Burlington’s restaurant row.
When dreams become reality and blossom into financial success, a community benefits, and historic landmarks are preserved. Pete Stephens would be proud.
- National Register Information (PDFs), inventory form and photos