Potomac When Hurricane Sandy blasted through the Mid-Atlantic last year, Mark and Sara Reges, owners of Old Angler’s Inn received the call that the roof on their historic restaurant was leaking. When they arrived at the Inn, they discovered an amazing surprise. The constant dripping in their upstairs dining room was causing the plaster to peel from the wall — but underneath was a picturesque mural of the C & O Canal, painted by Mark’s grandfather George Reges.
The multi-faceted George Reges was an attorney as well as an accomplished artist who trained and taught at the Corcoran School of Art. After Mark’s father purchased the Inn in 1957 for his mother Olympia because it reminded her of her home in Macedonia, George Reges decided to paint a mural of his beloved C&O Canal in the upstairs dining room. Olympia Reges devoted her energies to restoring the Inn’s charming setting, the hospitality, the fine foods and carefully-chosen beers, wines and liquors.
Olympia Reges gained fame in 1962 when Supreme Court Justice William Douglas marched members of Congress up the C&O Canal to demonstrate the beauty of the environment and the need to keep the canal. Congress wanted to destroy the canal to build a super-highway. The tired and very dirty hikers, accompanied by a large press corps, arrived at Old Angler’s Inn for lunch. Taking one look at their filthy appearance and muddy fishing boots, Olympia refused to allow them to enter because she had just had new rugs installed in her restaurant.
Her husband George Reges was on a case in Miami. He awoke to front page headlines stating, “Innkeeper’s Wife Refuses Justice Douglas Entry into Restaurant.” The story appeared in every major newspaper in the U.S. — and Olympia Reges became famous for standing her ground. She was the proprietor of the Inn through the 1980s — and when she died in 2005, her grandson and his wife, Mark and Sara Reges took over ownership along with back taxes and badly needed repairs. They have restored Old Angler’s Inn to its previous glory.
The first Old Angler’s Inn was opened in 1860 just as the Civil War was beginning. It was built to offer respite to travelers in carriages and on horseback journeying to and from the nation’s capital. The Inn, located next to the C & O Canal and near Great Falls, was also a summer destination to escape the muggy temperatures in D.C.
During the Civil War, couriers and officers often stopped at the Inn to dine or for a good night’s rest after their travels. In 1864, gold was discovered by a California soldier who returned after the war to operate a mine successfully there until 1880. One of the owners of the gold mine was so appreciative of the fine food and the many hours of good company he found at the Inn that he presented the proprietor with a set of solid gold fishing hooks fashioned from the ore of the mine. It is after these hooks that the “Order of the Golden Hook,” which makes its headquarters at the Inn is named.
Mark Reges remembers stories of his grandfather painting the mural in the dining room. “He loved the C&O and often fished the river. His fishing rod still hangs in the cocktail lounge of the restaurant. My father hung it up there soon after Granddad's death. George got great pleasure from painting the mural — and he also designed the original sign and logo for Old Angler’s Inn.”
The Regeses have enlisted the help of The Heights School teacher John Folley and several of this year’s graduates to work on uncovering and restoring the mural. Folley explained the process: “We are removing the plaster very carefully with water and chisels. We are being exceptionally careful to protect the paint on the mural. We have now uncovered several paintings — and we believe the mural goes all the way around the room. Uncovering this piece is truly exhilarating.”
Henry Song, Daniel Lulli and Michael Kolb are three Heights students who graduated in June. Folley asked them to help uncover the mural this summer since they are all talented artists who have studied art with him for several years. “This is a terrific opportunity to learn about restoration processes and architecture,” he said.
Lulli is enthusiastic about the project. “Each time we approached an uncovered portion of the mural, I remembered the recorded thoughts of Michelangelo and how he saw figures in every block of stone and carved until they were set free. As I looked back on the walls previously masked by exterior paint and plaster, I smiled at the figures and landscapes we had set free.”
The restoration is in progress upstairs in the Inn’s front dining room. Old Angler’s Inn is located at 10801 MacArthur Blvd, Potomac,and their telephone number is 301-365-2425.