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Westmoreland historical society home tour shows 2 sides of the past

Shirley McMarlin
| Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, 8:55 p.m.
James P. Hurst House in Norvelt
Westmoreland County Historical Society
James P. Hurst House in Norvelt
Adam Fisher House in Mt. Pleasant Township
Westmoreland County Historical Society
Adam Fisher House in Mt. Pleasant Township
Original hand-stenciling on stair risers in the Adam Fisher House in Mt. Pleasant Township
Westmoreland County Historical Society
Original hand-stenciling on stair risers in the Adam Fisher House in Mt. Pleasant Township

Homes from two neighborhoods — two in Greensburg's Academy Hill and three others in the Norvelt area — are coming together for an unusual pairing for this year's Westmoreland County Historical Society historic house tour.

“A Tale of Two Neighborhood” tour will show that history is “not just about the affluent,” she says historical society executive director Lisa Hays.

Authors of a book on the New Deal-era Westmoreland Homesteads in Norvelt spoke at a book club meeting where tour co-chairwoman Joan DeRose was present, and that prompted her to find a Norvelt home to include.

“We'd been wanting to include Norvelt for a while,” Hays says. “A lot of the homes on our tours reflect affluent times and affluent neighborhoods. Who doesn't want to see the inside of big, beautiful homes?”

The Norvelt homes were built for area miners and industrial workers who were jobless due to the Depression. On the other end of the economic spectrum, the featured homes in Academy Hill were built by prominent businessmen whose wealth came largely from the coal and coke industry.

Tim Kelly and Michael Cary, authors of “Hope in Hard Times: Norvelt and the Struggle for Community During the Great Depression,” who spoke at DeRose's book club, will be at the Westmoreland Homesteads location on tour day to interact with visitors.

Norvelt Historical Society members also will have a display of artifacts and a map for an extra walking tour showcasing outbuildings and yards of other original homestead houses.

The featured house is vacant because it is for sale, DeRose says.

“There's been very little alteration to the interior,” she says. “These were absolutely charming little homes with a lot of conveniences. Eleanor Roosevelt (who was involved in the homestead program — thus, the name ‘Norvelt') wanted them to be nice. She said, no, they have to have heat and hot water and bathrooms.”

Norvelt area tour sites

Adam Fisher House: Nearly all the original interior detailing and hardware remain intact in this five-bay Federal-style house built in 1837 in Mt. Pleasant Township and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

The home includes original fruit-and-vine-pattern hand-stenciling on the center hall baseboards and stair risers and grain painting in the parlor that imitates tiger maple. Since stenciling and grain painting were not common in the area at the time the house was built, it is thought that Fisher brought them with him from eastern part Pennsylvania.

James P. Hurst House: Although the exact date of construction is unknown, the home's double-hung sash windows and other details suggest an 18th-century construction date. It is known that the Hurst family settled in Western Pennsylvania around 1770 and the house and property were sold out of the family in 1881.

The house features a spacious center hall with two rooms on either side, while a vintage Copper Clad range is found in the kitchen.

In 1934, property surrounding the house was sold to the Federal Subsistence Homestead Corp., a New Deal-era program the resulted in the establishment of Norvelt.

Westmoreland Homesteads #601R: The Norvelt house is one of about 250 in the planned community of subsistence homesteads for miners and industrial workers who lost their jobs during the Depression.

Westmoreland Homesteads dwellings came in five different styles reminiscent of Cape Cod designs popular in the 1920s. Each house had a living room; kitchen with a sink, stove and refrigerator; two to four bedrooms, and one bathroom.

Academy Hill sites

Marker House:This stately brick structure with Colonial revival influences was designed by noted Greensburg architect Paul Bartholomew for his sister, Ellen, and her husband, Henry Marker.

The Markers bought two Academy Hill lots in 1905 and sold half of the second one to Henry Marker's law partner, Charles Hollingsworth. Design work didn't begin until 1913 and the Markers' home was built in 1916.

The original house plans have been passed along to each subsequent owner, down to current owners Justin McCray and Jennifer Stewart.

Hollingsworth House: Owners Gene and Janet James are in possession of travel journals and films made by the original owners Charles and Lucie Hollingsworth, who built the impressive brick manse in Greensburg's Academy Hill neighborhood in 1905.

The home features a front veranda and large, unadorned windows that actually were designed to offer passersby a glimpse of the Hollingsworth's exotic jungle-print wall-coverings and fashionable furnishings.

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5750, or via Twitter @shirley_trib.

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