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Meet Millheim: From Bar to Ballroom – Home, community, and hard work surround McCracken family, by Amber Morris ~ L.H. Express

August 14, 2013 at 9:47pm
Meet MillheimLock Haven Express –  published Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Home, community, and hard work surround McCracken family

     by Amber Morris

Ten years ago the building located at 105 East Main Street, Millheim, was known to many as Brownie’s Tavern.

Ten years before that, it was the Handlebar D, and 20 years before that, it was called the Green Door.

And finally, years before that, back in the 1940’s, it was called the Penn Tavern.

Although the name changed from time to time, it has for decades, remained a bar, a tavern, and a watering hole. Over the ages all four were popular spots that guaranteed lots of cold beer, stiff shots, and a “happy to see you” smile, from the friendly bartenders when you walked in the door.
All things must come to an end, and Brownies had its final last call along the high street in Millheim in mid-2009.
The spot remained empty until in 2011, when a newly wed couple saw potential in the one time hot spot, and not as a bar, but as a blank canvas for memories to be painted. A place where a soon to be bride could enjoy an elegant afternoon with her friends while nibbling on tea sandwiches and sipping mint tea as they enjoyed each other’s company before the “big day”. Or a space for a hip night of 1940’s swing style dancing on a cold winter’s eve. And perhaps a place for an elderly husband and wife to celebrate 50 years together, as their children, and grandchildren sit by their side.
Josh and Erin (Condo) McCracken, saw through the smoke laden walls, and the stained carpet. They saw the romantic side of what could be.
Josh, a seasoned wood worker, hailed from Lairdsville in Lycoming County, and moved to Penns Valley approximately 15 years ago; while Erin grew up in a small town in Maryland. With both of Erin’s parents originally coming from Centre County. Erin loved the central Pennsylvania area and felt like she was at home each time she visited..Erin had resided in big cities before settling here. Places like Austin, Texas; Asheville, North Carolina; and Northern California were her home long before the one stop light town of Millheim.
With both of the McCrackens being ambitious and focused, it didn’t take them long to start ripping out the flooring, tear down plaster, and put in new electrics. Josh and Erin updated the look of the place without taking away from the antique charm that was laying under years of beer spills and cigarettes. Under all of the grease and dirt, was a fairy-tale style room, with antique ceiling tiles and soft lighting, perfect for a night of waltzing and losing glass slippers. A total transformation happened in only a minute amount of months.
With the newly restored walls, the beautifully polished wood floors, and the smell of fresh paint, came a new moniker – no more would the spot be referred to as “the bar”. The Bremen Town Ballroom was born.
Erin recalls the time period when they were trying to come up with a title for the business. “We struggled with a name for the space for a year or so. We always knew we wanted it to be a “ballroom” to promote celebration, dancing, and fun. Josh grew up reading the children’s book “Bremen Town Musicians” and loved the image of the animals stacked on top of each other. It speaks to the musical aspect of the ballroom and pays homage to farming, which is pretty essential to Millheim and Penns Valley,” she said.
The Ballroom now hosts dance parties, various meetings, wedding showers, luncheons, baby showers, bachelorette parties, wedding receptions, concerts, public discussions, and the list goes on. It is a versatile space and meant to accommodate 10 – 85 people in almost anything they wish to do.
Josh and Erin signed the papers to own the old beer garden in May of 2011 and set up home in Millheim not long after.
Soon they began to plan what would become their blanket company, “EcoVents”.
EcoVents is a multi-faceted, full service, event planning resource that offers something that most businesses such as theirs, in our area, have not conquered – being almost 100% environmentally friendly. The company handles weddings, parties, and other social events with virtually no carbon footprint on the Earth. Their “green celebrations” mean that there will be little waste and that most everything they provide will either be recycled, reused or composted, including the plates and cutlery. When involved with organizers of fundraisers or public events, the McCrackens work closely with those in charge to make sure that the waste stream is managed and planned out in advance.
“EcoVents has been a wonderful gateway to giving back to the Penns Valley community. We’ve been able to provide zero-waste services at a number of community events such as the Millheim Triathlon, CrickFest, and other educational events. Because our venues are so versatile, we’ve gotten to meet a wide swath of the local community, from folks that have been here for generations to newcomers like us!,” said McCracken.
EcoVents provides many public forums with their stations that help to sort garbage into recyclables, compostables, or trash, thus making it easy to dispose unwanted items appropriately in a way that is gentle to our streams, valleys, and forests.
The founding of Ecovents and the first steps of renovating the Ballroom meant the beginning of a new journey for the newly-weds. “We bought the ballroom very soon after we got together as a couple. We had literally just come up with a basic business plan/mission for EcoVents. Josh had his eye on the old Brownie’s Tavern building for some time. As a woodworker, he was interested in the renovation possibilities. When he toured the place he wasn’t afraid of the grime and grit and grease and really saw the potential in the building as a home base for our new business venture,” said Erin.”The building itself has been home to the Green Door, the Handlebar, and Brownie’s Tavern and has a strong tradition of fun and celebration. Thanks to Josh’s talent and hard work, the ballroom is now completely transformed into a beautiful, inspiring space.”
In the Fall of 2012, the McCrackens set their feet into the Millheim community even deeper when they purchased the former Saint John’s United Church of Christ located at 117 North Street in Millheim, re-naming it the “UpTexas Chapel”.
“Buying the UpTexas Chapel was a happy accident! We were looking at local real estate and on a whim we took a tour of the St. John’s United Church of Christ. We had no idea we’d fall in love with it, and more, we had no idea that we’d win the closed bid auction for the place! It was if we’d won the lottery!,” said McCracken. “The chapel has really complemented our events at the Bremen Town Ballroom. We’ve hosted music concerts, film screenings from local film makers, weddings, fundraisers, and we even started the UpTexas Chapel Choir, which practices weekly. We try to keep it as open to the community as possible.”
With their visions of entertaining and hosting formal and casual affairs well underway, the McCracken family snuck in the back door and quickly became a contributing part of the Millheim, and Penns Valley, way of life.
EcoVents is the festival coordinator for the Pennsylvania Organic FarmFest, which is hosted by Pennsylvania Organic and held each summer at the Grange Fair Grounds, in Centre Hall. In the winter months, EcoVents is an active member of the Millheim Business Community and hosts numerous functions in the Borough. Things like free public music celebrations at the UpTexas Chapel, revolving around the winter holidays, and in December, at the Bremen Town Ballroom, a Handmade Holiday Market is hosted and people from near and far come to sell their homemade, handspun crafts and creations for those seeking the perfect, unique, gift giving treasure. EcoVents have also been involved in helping to organize the indoors Farmer’s Market that is held at the Ballroom. Most recently, the McCrackens (and EcoVents) have opened up the UpTexas Chapel to anyone who might be interested in joining their newly formed choir, which is lead by Erin. The choir has numerous members, is growing in size and plans on playing at several upcoming events in the Penns Valley area, and already has fans requesting CD’s on their Facebook page.
Erin wanting to start a choir at the Chapel is no surprise to those who know her. She is a seasoned performer and has been playing guitar and singing on stage for years. Known in music circles as “Erin Condo”, she has performed all over America and the world, but can occasionally be found right up the road from the Bremen Town Ballroom, bringing her sultry voice to her new hometown, and playing at the Elk Creek Cafe.
The McCrackens seem to be jacks of all trades and not only can organize, sing, and build – they can cook too.
And cook they do. Catering of almost any style, for any number of people is offered through EcoVents. They often provide cuisine at off-sight celebrations, but just as often serve up a feast at both the Bremen Town Ballroom or the UpTexas Chapel, by request of their patrons. Anything from homestyle meals like meat and potato dishes to vegetarian fare can be on your menu, and most of their ingredients have been grown locally within a small radius of Millheim, by growers that the McCrackens know personally.
Erin is quite happy about the catering side of things. “We are in the process of getting our commercial kitchen certified and we’d also like to share that with the community, as a place for local food entrepreneurs to make products or cater events,” she said. “We’d love to put together some cooking, baking, and nutrition classes as well.”
Vonnie Henninger of Rebersburg, loves the food that they serve. “They (EcoVents) catered a very nice meal for our Millheim Lions Club. They came to the Legion and brought everything with them – the hot food, the tableware and even the plates and the silverware. They served potroast with mashed potatoes and it was the first time any of us had eaten it that way. It was delicious!”
When asked what she liked best about Millheim, Erin replied, “When I moved here it felt like perfect timing, especially when I met Josh and we started dating and then started our family. Penns Valley is such a great place to raise a family! It really does have a village feel and Josh and I both feel supported as a couple and as new parents.”
Josh McCracken beams with pride when he talks about everything that the couple, and their young son, Booker, have accomplished during their short beginnings in Millheim. “It just feels right,” he said as stood between the massive herb garden of basil, oregano and dill, that flourishes behind the Ballroom. “The right time, and the right place. This is home.”
For more information on EcoVents, and any of their services, please call (512) 576-4831 or visit their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ecovents/190705000986579

photo by Amber Morris<br />
Formerly the Handlebar, Brownies, the Green Door, the Bremen Town Ballroom is an amazing surprise to newcomers and old bar patrons alike. It's a breath of fresh air in the little town of Millheim. No longer do people need to rent firehalls and township buildings for events like anniversary parties, baby showers or a formal fundraiser. The Ballroom offers a sense of style in a relaxed setting.

photo by Amber Morris Formerly the Handlebar, Brownies, the Green Door, the Bremen Town Ballroom is an amazing surprise to newcomers and old bar patrons alike. It’s a breath of fresh air in the little town of Millheim. No longer do people need to rent firehalls and township buildings for events like anniversary parties, baby showers or a formal fundraiser. The Ballroom offers a sense of style in a relaxed setting.

photo by Amber Morris<br />
Antiques and stunning woodwork add ambiance to the  backroom of the Bremen Towen Ballroom.

photo by Amber Morris Antiques and stunning woodwork add ambiance to the backroom of the Bremen Towen Ballroom.

photo by Amber Morris<br />
The herb garden behind the Bremen Town Ballroom overflows with summer's bounty of oregano, basil and dill.

photo by Amber Morris The herb garden behind the Bremen Town Ballroom overflows with summer’s bounty of oregano, basil and dill.

Photo by Amber Morris<br />
The stoop of the property at 105 East Main Street, Millheim, used to usher in bar guests and now it's become a cool, hip, and elegant place to reserve for parties of any kind.

Photo by Amber Morris The stoop of the property at 105 East Main Street, Millheim, used to usher in bar guests and now it’s become a cool, hip, and elegant place to reserve for parties of any kind.

Photo provided</p>
<p>Josh, Erin and Booker McCracken pose for the photo in the UpTexas Chapel

Photo provided Josh, Erin and Booker McCracken pose for the photo in the UpTexas Chapel
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