MARATHON — Darrell Emmick had himself a Sam Adams Winter Lager a little after 11:30 a.m. on Thursday. The snow fell lightly outside the 218-year-old Three Bear Inn and Emmick watched lottery numbers get picked on a screen.
The bar and neighboring restaurant were covered in holiday decorations, including taxidermied animals wearing Santa hats, lights hanging over the bar and garland strands covering the columns.
“It’s rustic, the people are nice and the food is good,” said Emmick, of Harford Mills, who comes by the inn about twice a year.
The Three Bear Inn, the oldest operating business in Cortland County, has been put up for sale. Sharon Toussaint, the current owner, is selling all the property, which includes the motel rooms, a bar and the restaurant. The listing price with Corrie Oustad of Heritage Realty is $595,000.
An inn has existed on the Broome Street site since 1799, when Abraham Brink first built a double log house to provide food and lodging for travelers. The Brink family owned the business — with the current structure built between 1825 and 1845 — until 1923, when it was bought by Lena and Henry Forshee and turned into the Hotel Marathon. It was renamed the Three Bear Inn after three bearskins in the attic were hung on the porch to air.
The inn’s attic has produced many historic artifacts. Among them are Boston newspapers from the 1850s, Civil War commissions and Ku Klux Klan artifacts. There have also been reported ghost sightings in the inn’s dining room, which is part of inn’s original structure.
The fate of Three Bear Inn remains uncertain pending the sale of the Marathon landmark.
Toussaint has owned the inn for 31 years. While living on Long Island, she wanted to own her own business and looked up and down the East Coast to find one that suited her. She decided on the Three Bear Inn because it hit all the checkmarks for her: four seasons, close to a highway, Interstate 81; near a ski area, Greek Peak; and in a small town.
Toussaint also wanted to make sure her daughter had a nice place to grow up in.
Toussaint is approaching 65, when she intends to retire. She also figures it is time to let someone else take the reins.
“I have lots of other interests,” Toussaint said, “and I want to pursue my hobbies without the pressure of running a business.”
The main cook, Cynthia Marshall, better known as “Campfire,” has been working there for the past 12 years. Marshall was a regular customer who knew the employees at the inn well when she was about to be let go from her job. So she talked with them about getting a job there.
“I like the independence,” said Marshall, who comes up with the recipes for items that are not inn standards. “It’s not like working at a chain where everything is corporate.”
The fate of the oldest business in the county remains uncertain. Toussaint says that whoever buys the inn would do whatever they like with it.
“It would be nice if the historic old inn remains the historic old inn,” Toussaint said. “But once I sell it, it’s out of my control.”