Renovations help preserve local history

203-year-old LeMoyne House gets facelift

September 11, 2015
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Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter
Clay Kilgore, executive director of the LeMoyne House, stands inside the apothecary room while talking about renovations at the building. Order a Print
Image description
Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter
Jeffrey Plute, left, and Jim Parsons, contractors with Kane Painting in Houston, inspect a side of the LeMoyne House prior to work that will begin next week. Order a Print

If the walls of the LeMoyne House could talk, they would have 203 years worth of tales to tell.

The imposing sandstone structure at 49 E. Maiden St., Washington, was built in 1812 by the father of Francis Julius LeMoyne, a physician, philanthropist and builder of the first crematory in the western hemisphere.

The forward-thinking doctor was a proponent of women's education who opened his home as a safe place for slaves before abolition, making it Pennsylvania's first national historic landmark of the Underground Railroad.

Now a museum filled with artifacts, the LeMoyne House is undergoing renovations.

“A 200-year-old stone house takes work. They don't maintain themselves,” said Clay Kilgore, Washington County Historical Society's director. “We're improving the appearance and securing it for next 200 years for future generations.”

Housed in the museum is a collection of 70,000 documents, including papers signed by Thomas Jefferson, Whiskey Rebellion documents and literature from President Ulysses S. Grant. The first phase of renovations included restoration of LeMoyne's apothecary shop and creation of a safe storage space for those invaluable documents.

In October, the society opened a second entrance that had been sealed off for 80 years. The first people to walk through the business entrance were descendants of LeMoyne who had never been to the home.

“It was a really neat moment,” Kilgore said. “We dedicated the room while they were here.”

In the second phase of renovations, the society received help from contractors, most of whom are donating their time.

Crews are working on a handicapped-accessible bathroom and repair of the rear addition, which was completed in the 1890s. Modern composite siding resembling historic clapboard will adorn the outside. The back porch will be painted and repairs will be made to the tin roof.

There also will be electrical upgrades, with fire and security improvements and lighting throughout Madeleine's Garden.

Kilgore is optimistic work will be complete in time for the society's premiere fundraising event, Art in the Garden, Sept. 26. Kilgore expects the event to draw as many as 600 guests.

“People have taken ownership of these historic buildings in their county. They are symbols of their county and their history and who they are. They want to help,” Kilgore said. “It shows people really do care about this town.”

The first two phases of renovations cost nearly $100,000, and were funded by local share account money from slots revenue at The Meadows Casino, a Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency grant and private donations.

Gary Naeser, one of two board members acting as project managers, said he is dedicated to gathering funding for phase three.

“We have a lot of excitement,” Naeser said.

He and Kilgore are working on getting state grants to complete the final phase, which will include renovations to the front of the structure. Work on new windows, restored original shutters and a makeover of the original front steps and porches will begin soon.

“It's a beautiful location. You don't expect it in the middle of the city,” Kilgore said. “It's a pretty special home.”

Natalie Reid Miller has been with the Observer-Reporter since 2013. A native of Burgettstown, she primarily covers Washington and surrounding communities. Natalie has a writing degree from the University of Pittsburgh.

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