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Westmoreland Historical Society plans house tours

| Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011

The Westmoreland County Historical Society is opening doors to the remarkably rich history of Westmoreland County during a two-day event featuring tours of historically significant homes in Greensburg, Delmont, Salem Township, and a restoration in progress in North Huntingdon.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, participants will have the opportunity to visit the following sites built between 1820 and 1950:

• The Congruity Tavern. Built circa 1820 by the Kirkpatrick family and stands along the historic Northern Turnpike, the original U.S. Route 22, the 2-1/2 story stone house with brick end-chimneys was a tavern for many years. By 1881 it was most likely a home when newlyweds Maggie Buchanan and Robert Stewart purchased it. Today, copies of several old letters to a young Maggie Buchanan are preserved in a pocket flap of an old silk pillow. The daughter of a resident farmhand who lived with the Stewarts when he was a boy gave the letters to the current owners, Judy and Dan McCreary. The McCrearys' treasure mementoes of the history of this house alongside their many beautiful antiques.

As with any house that is over 150 years old, it has seen many changes. A disastrous fire in 1975 left a broken shell; however, the home was completely rebuilt, using the original stones. Also surviving the fire were the front door, several mantels, and some other woodwork. A wood frame summer kitchen is a short distance east of the house, and on tour day, a demonstration of open hearth cooking and baking will be ongoing.

• James Steel House. This 2-1/2 story frame house in Queen Anne style on East Pittsburgh Street in Delmont was built circa 1910 by James Steel, one of many descendents of the James Steel who emigrated from Ireland and came to Westmoreland County in 1773. The family occupied the house until James' daughter, Rebecca J. (Jennie) Steel, sold the home in 1959.

More recently, the home remained true to its Victorian genre during extensive and meticulous updating and decorating by the current owner, Marilyn Moguls. There is no doubt that her keen artistic eye was inherited from her father, John Mogus, who had a 45-year career as a commercial artist, specializing in drawing portraits and wildlife. Many original artworks by John Mogus adorn the home, as well as unique collections of lighting fixtures, clocks, porcelain and glassware gathered over a period of more than 100 years. Anyone willing to trek to the attic will be rewarded with a surprise, while others may enjoy a glass of lemonade on the wrap-around porch overlooking a perennial garden complete with a water fountain.

• Miller-Cole House. The husband and wife team of Peter Berndston and Cornelia Brierly, followers of Frank Lloyd Wright, designed The Miller-Cole House in 1950. Proponents of the principles of organic architecture, they designed buildings throughout western Pennsylvania. Current owners George and Beverly Hritz were drawn to the simplicity of the design -- a single-story Usonian design, constructed around a central chimney.

Built on a slab with radiant floor heating, the house has a flat roof with broad overhanging eaves to provide protection from the summer sun, but allow winter light to penetrate. Windows above the roof-line bring abundant natural light to the space. A dramatic living room features a mitered glass corner window, fireplace, built-in furniture, and a high ceiling. The space flows easily into the dining room and adjacent kitchen - where guests will be served pieces of Clove Cake from the Fallingwater Cookbook.

• Charles H. Fogg House. At the turn of the last century, the west side of North Maple Avenue in the Academy Hill District of Greensburg was prime real estate for prominent and wealthy families. In 1905, James Armstrong and his wife Jane built the large Colonial Revival brick home on property inherited from his mother, the widow of Col. James Armstrong, an attorney and veteran of both the Mexican and Civil wars. In 1921, Charles H. Fogg, a civil and mining engineer, purchased the house and moved to North Maple with his wife Rebecca Barclay. The spacious home, with an abundance of natural oak and cherry paneling and moulding, was home to the Fogg family of six children and several servants. After the death of their parents, Fogg daughters Hester, Lydia, and Rebecca continued ownership until 1984.

Current owners, George and Nancy Stewart, have maintained the elegance of earlier days. The importance of family and Stewart's Scottish heritage are evident in every room. Other highlights of this home are the paneled center hall that extends the length of the home and opens into a charming city garden space, and a third-floor British pub room complete with billiard table.

• John A. Robertshaw House. Built for John and Emma Robertshaw in 1931, this handsome Colonial Revival-style house today stands as the focal point of the St. Emma Monastery complex. The house was designed by fashionable Greensburg architect Paul Bartholomew and features many high-end details of the period such as call buttons for servants, cedar-lined closets, multiple showerheads, a pine-paneled library, as well as separate servants' quarters.

The house was sold to St. Emma Monastery in 1943, and this spring the sisters opened it as a Bed and Breakfast to offer a peaceful space for guests and realize extra income for the monastery. It has been tastefully decorated with contributed furnishings and accessories that lend it a country charm. Also part of the tour is an adjacent chapel designed in 2001 by Peter Cecconi Jr. of Jeannette who once worked with Paul Bartholomew.

• Robert Taylor House. In a Historic House Tour first, visitors have the rare opportunity to see a work in progress as Larry and Penny Dowling and their crew carefully restore the original fine details of this historic property located in North Huntingdon that they purchased in 2010. Robert Taylor constructed the home circa 1820 from bricks that were very likely made on the site and timber cut from the original 320-acre property. It is a 1-1/2 story red brick house with many interior and exterior details indicative of Georgian style architecture.

The opportunity to witness a historic home restoration process is heightened by the generous invitation from the owners to revisit the site once it is completed. Some visitors may recall that a former owner named the property Pine Hill Manor.

Tickets for the Saturday tour are $25 ($30 day of) and are available at the Westmoreland County Historical Society office by phone (724-532-1935 x 15), online (, and e-mail ( Other ticket outlets are the Earnest Gourmet (724-834-2020) and the Delmont Public Library (724-468-5329). Ticket-holders will receive a map with directions to each location and a keepsake booklet with historical information.

From 6-8 p.m. Friday, there will be a Toast the Tour cocktail party, catered by Rizzo's Malabar Inn, at the historically designated 1866 William Steel Farmhouse in the Hannastown/Totteridge area. The home was the centerpiece of a lucrative working farm operation of the locally prominent Steel family for generations.

In 1992, Tamas and Susan Tanto purchased the property and revived the house and outbuildings. They also added a new chapter to the farm's long history with the establishment of a golf course and residential community. Private tours of this 19th century classic red brick farmhouse with its distinctive Italianate style and preserved interior are included. Tickets for "Toast the Tour" are $50. Space is limited. Advance reservations are required and available only at the Westmoreland County Historical Society office.

Proceeds benefit the Westmoreland Country Historical Society, a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to acquiring and managing resources related to the history of Westmoreland County and using these resources to encourage a diverse audience to make connections to the past, develop an understanding of the present, and provide direction for the future.

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