Historic Clark House proves to be perfect spot for couple's vows

| Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

The Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County's landmark Silas Clark House may have been closed to the public between Christmas and New Year's Day, but things were far from idle inside the historic brick mansion.

Echoing with the memories of families that called it home beginning in the late 1800s, the elegant Victorian dwelling brought another family together in Indiana as it played host to the wedding of Dwyn Jolly and Bill Balint.

While the bride owes her first name to Welsh tradition, it was her maiden name that motivated her wedding plans.

“With a last name like Jolly, I always loved Christmas,” she said. “It has always been my favorite time of year, so I wanted the date of the wedding to be around the holidays.”

The other details of the wedding planning process were not as straightforward for the couple.

One of the trickiest and biggest decisions was finding the right venue. For any wedding, the location has a major effect on the style and tone of the ceremony, and Dwyn had something very specific in mind.

Not really interested in a big, elaborate, traditional church wedding, she wanted something small and intimate yet still elegant and classy.

“We came up with a lot of ideas and talked to a lot of people at different venues,” she said. “We're not members of any church, and cost became an issue at other locations. After weighing our options, the Clark House was the best fit.”

The payment program at the Clark House is perfect in its simplicity. The policy is that the cost of the facility is to be covered by a donation to the historical society from the welcomed party.

“We worked up a structured rental policy and tried to stick to it, but different groups, nonprofits or committees who wanted to use the house for meetings and get-togethers had very little money in their budgets,” said Coleen Chambers, executive director of the historical society. “So, we just starting accepting what they could afford, and now we just accept donations.”

Though there assuredly were many family parties, reunions, meetings and births in the 144-year life of the residence, the Balint-Jolly nuptials could very well be the first wedding that has taken place in the Clark House. At least it is the only one that Chambers knows of from her 11-year tenure at the facility and the documented history of the site.

The Clark House commands one of the main southern gateways to downtown Indiana, situated adjacent to Memorial Park at the convergence of South Sixth Street and Wayne Avenue. Its tall, square tower, gabled roof and round-headed windows add to the distinctive appearance of the Italian villa-style dwelling that has ties to the town's political, legal and educational history.

Silas M. Clark, the man who built the house and first lived in it, was a distinguished member of the community. An attorney who was elected to Pennsylvania's Supreme Court in 1882, he also served locally as a borough councilman, a school director and president of the First National Bank of Indiana and of the Indiana Agricultural Society.

A descendant of local pioneering settler Fergus Moorhead, Clark also was a founder of the Indiana Normal School, an institution that would grow into today's Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Fittingly, Clark constructed his mansion on the former site of the Indiana Academy, the first secondary school in the county. Clark was a student at the academy and returned there as a teacher early in his career, between 1853 and 1856.

Previously, the lot was owned by George Clymer, who was an original signer of The Declaration of Independence. Clymer bought the land on April 29, 1777, and he resold it in 1815 for $50 to the Indiana Academy.

The academy was destroyed by fire in 1864, and Clark purchased the land two years later.

He started building his house there in 1869 and finished it the following year.

Clark lived there until he died in 1891. The house stayed in the family until 1917, when the heirs sold it to the Indiana County Commissioners.

The commissioners began using the location as a memorial to the soldiers and patriotic organizations of the county. The mansion later served as a meeting place for several organizations, the office of the Indiana County Tourist Bureau, a voting site and the historical society's library.

In 1978, the Clark House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1992, the historical society was able to purchase the property with the assistance of a $75,000 legislative grant.

Last month's wedding took place in the west parlor, one of two parlors that have been restored to reflect the original period of the home.

According to Chambers, the room at one point was used for an annual meeting of Civil War veterans.

“They were from Post 128 of the (Grand Army of the Republic), and they met there for many years until the last of them died off,” Chambers said. “That is why the little flags from the period are still in the parlor window.

“It's a wonderful room. There are original photos on the wall, and it has a homey, old-time feeling to it.”

“It was gorgeous,” agreed Dwyn. “It was unique, and everything fit together nicely — the venue, the dress, and the decorations, which the Evergreen Garden Club helped arrange with white doves and ornaments. My dress had a small train and slim line, giving it a vintage, minimalist style that fit the style of the house.”

Vintage weddings are a hot current trend, given the name “rustic chic” in planning circles. Such ceremonies are meant to evoke the simplicity of a small town, country wedding from days gone by.

Dwyn noted she already had her dress selected when she was still looking for a location, but since she had a solid theme in mind, there was a good chance it would be appropriate for many backdrops.

The entire wedding from top to bottom was planned in four months. Dwyn is a self-described military brat with family that came from California, North Carolina, Wyoming and Ohio to share her special day. In fact, one of her aunts drove from Iowa on Christmas Day, narrowly outpacing the snow storm on her heels.

“The storm hit the day of their wedding, but I and some volunteers kept the lot and the walkway clear,” said Chambers. “Though our lot only has 10 spaces and there are only eight spots right behind the building, there is plenty of parking around the Clark House within walking distance, especially during off hours when there is permit parking opened and available to the public at nearby churches and businesses.”

Since Dwyn had approaching duties as an active Marine Corps reservist, the couple wanted to have the marriage finalized before she had to leave town.

After her stint with the reserves, she will return to Indiana and her new husband to be technically unemployed.

She plans on using the opportunity to refocus on her home-based catering business, which was placed on the back burner as a result of all of the major transitions in her life.

“I love being a personal chef and catering parties and events,” she said. “I'll do business meetings, small parties or week-night family meals. I do baked goods, cakes and meals. I'll prepare on site or to be delivered.”

As for the Silas Clark House, historical society officials aren't sure if there will be any more weddings in its future, but they do welcome them.

“There was just an immediate, positive reaction to the whole idea of a wedding being performed in the house,” Chambers said. “We take every opportunity to host any event that will perfectly fit into the house.”

Chambers and the society's many volunteers want to see the familial spirit of the Clark House live on and prosper.

Spencer Sadler is a freelance writer.

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