Amwell resident launches a Gathering Place along National Pike

Rick Shrum
Observer Reporter

Cyndi McGinnis had fleeting thoughts about operating an events facility, but didn’t act – until that pivotal autumn day she was tooling down National Road.

“I pulled over and saw this sign on the ground,” she recounted. “I picked it up and it said, ‘For Sale.’ There was a phone number I couldn’t read well, but I called.”

McGinnis was intrigued by the stately, two-story, red-brick building that was unoccupied and contacted the owner, Rebecca Anderson.

“My husband, John, said, ‘We don’t want to do this.’ I wanted to,” she said, viewing this as an interesting adventure in retirement.

So she bought the vintage 1830s structure; hired local contractors to tackle a massive interior overhaul and the massive mound of earth out front; began frequenting antiques shops; and recruited relatives with decorating expertise.

A year after her November 2017 purchase, McGinnis opened Gathering Place & Tea House at 438 E. National Pike, on the Amwell Township side of the iconic highway. It is, as the name implies, a location where groups can book events such as weddings, wedding showers, baptism parties, birthday parties, card club get-togethers, whatever.

She also is scheduling special events, and has announced plans for the upcoming Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, for which caterers will be brought in. Gathering Place is not a food-preparation place – although there always will be tea.

The location is favorable, along Route 40, a mere mile from the Laboratory exit of Interstate 79.

“I really wanted a facility that I could rent out,” McGinnis said. “People don’t use their homes or fire halls anymore. But until we get the word out more, this will be all reservations.”

Cyndi got some of her inspiration for the Tea House from “teas” she attended with her sisters, her two daughters and other relatives. She hosted one at the Amwell farm where she and John have resided since 1988, and enjoyed the parties.

She and her spouse do have a healthy measure of business acumen. For 33 years, they ran McGinnis Market in Castle Shannon, a successful grocery that prided itself on selling fresh meats, seafood and produce from local and national suppliers, and store-made products.

That market was separate from McGinnis Sisters Specialty Food Stores, which John’s three sisters operated and which closed about a year ago.

Cyndi and John retired together about five years ago.

“This is all mine,” Cyndi said, laughing inside her new business, a building with a history – literally. Known long ago as Moses Little Tavern, the structure is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Cyndi oversaw a renovation that took “a good eight months” and transformed a building that had been unoccupied for a while and was in a state of disrepair. Three small shops had previously operated there at the same time.

There are eight rooms – four on the entry level, four upstairs – that are fashionably appointed with antiques, drawings, paintings and retro photos. The wooden floors have been refinished, mantels installed for the four fireplaces. Decorative mirrors enhance the brightly lit décor.

A “tea” motif abounds here, with small to midsize tables in most of the rooms, topped by immaculate tablecloths, teacups, pitchers and bowls. Specialty teas are being served there.

The second floor features the “Grandchildren Room,” designed for children’s get-togethers with smaller, shorter tables, a chalkboard and other kids’ attractions. Names of the seven McGinnis grandchildren are posted on the wall. There also is a “Christmas Room,” a festive testament to the holiday season.

Cyndi has gotten a large measure of decorative assistance from family members, including daughters Cortni, of Washington, and Maggie, of Erie, plus Cyndi’s sisters. (John and Cyndi have a third adult child, John, from the Pittsburgh area.)

From the beginning, though, one of the owner’s top priorities was to get rid of that unsightly, obstructive mound. “That was one of the first things I wanted to do,” Cyndi said, rolling her eyes. “I needed the parking, plus I needed to have people see the place.

The front now features a large, flat parking area and tasteful signs.

Word is still getting out about Gathering Place & Tea House. Events haven’t been plentiful, but the old building appears to be gaining momentum. A baptism and children’s birthday party were conducted there last Sunday.

McGinnis readily admitted that “we started out really slowly” with this venture, but said that was preferable.

“I’ve learned a lot along the way. This is fun. I like people. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t do this.”