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Loss of historic Fayette farmhouse blamed on vandals

| Tuesday, April 28, 2015, 11:12 p.m.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
Roger Victor, former Fayette County deputy coroner who spent years overseeing the the Levi Springer House and gravesites on it, assesses the rubble of the property along Fan Hollow Road near Uniontown on Tuesday, April 28, 2015.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
The charred remains of the historic Levi Springer House smolder along Fan Hollow Road near Uniontown on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. The house, built in 1817, was gutted by fire early Tuesday.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
The walls of the historic Levi Springer House near Uniontown remain standing on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. The historic house, built in 1817, was gutted by fire early Tuesday.

A fire likely started by vandals gutted a nearly 200-year-old mansion in Fayette County that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Levi Springer built the house on his 389-acre farm in 1817 to serve as an inn for travelers on Route 40, but those plans faltered because the historic road was rerouted, said Chris Buckelew, president of the Fayette County Historical Society.

“It wasn't visible from the National Road, so they made it into a wonderful farm,” Buckelew said. “It's a tremendous loss.”

Hours after the blaze tore through the 14-room Springer House in North Union early Tuesday morning, its red bricks were still warm to the touch, and wisps of smoke rose from piles of ash and rubble.

A gentle breeze whipped at a portion of the building's metal roof, left bent and perched precariously over one side of the 2 ½-story building.

“If you would have seen this place before, it was beautiful,” said Roger Victor, a former deputy coroner who for decades has kept tabs on the house while tending to a nearby county cemetery. “Somebody needs to be held accountable for this.”

A state police fire marshal is investigating, but no details about what may have caused the blaze were available, according to Trooper Stefani Lucas.

Pointing to empty beer cans and aerosol canisters outside the smoldering building, Victor said the blaze likely was started by vandals. He said the secluded building, which is at the end of a dirt road outside Uniontown and not visible from nearby Route 40, has been a popular party spot for young adults for years.

Doors and windows were boarded up to deter parties, he said, but the break-ins recently escalated.

“They boarded it up and put up a gate, but they ripped it down,” Victor said, describing another fire within the past month at the house that caused less damage. “They had a party up there last night and started a fire in one of the fireplaces.”

The county once owned the building. Commissioner Vincent Zapotosky decried the destructive behavior that led to the fire.

“It was done by stupid individuals who should do more productive things in life than set buildings on fire,” Zapotosky said. “Somebody was there who shouldn't have been there, and this home, built in the 1800s, is no longer part of our rich history in Fayette County.”

Buckelew said although the historical society didn't own the structure, its members were hopeful it could one day be renovated.

Built decades before the Civil War, the house and surrounding farm were listed to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The county transferred ownership of the mansion to the Fayette County Redevelopment Authority in 2003, said Andrew French, executive director. A study at that time found that rehabilitation of the structure would cost $300,000 to $500,000, he said.

French said the building fell into disrepair when it drew no interest from developers. The cost to repair the house likely exceeded its value, he said.

A history buff, Victor said there is no chance the building can be renovated now.

“They're going to have to push this thing over,” he said Tuesday afternoon, as he surveyed the damage. “I'm hoping somebody does something with the stones so you'll at least have that.”

Liz Zemba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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