The season of giving came and went, but the Washington County Community Foundation received a gift Thursday valued at nearly $400,000.
William and Saundra Stout donated the historic Samuel Brownlee House off Route 519 in Eighty Four after years of working with the foundation. The Stouts bought the house in 1986 from Mr. and Mrs. Charles Miller to house the Atlas Railroad Co. After the Stouts sold the company in 2010, the house sat dormant for several years.
Miller registered the house with the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. The house, furnishings and mineral and gas rights are valued at about $400,000. After several months of discussing the long-term future of the property and developing plans to help fund renovations and other projects, the Stouts decided to donate the building to the WCCF.
“It was the right time for them, and it was the right time for us,” said WCCF President and CEO Betsy Trew.
Samuel Brownlee built the house in 1848. The Brownlee family emigrated to the area from Scotland near the end of the 19th century, becoming prominent farmers. The house has extensive historical significance, including being one of the oldest standing buildings in Washington County and one of the few buildings built with adherence to Greek Revival architecture. With tall columns and floor-to-ceiling windows in the front of the house, the architecture differs distinctly from the other buildings in Washington County registered with the National Register of Historic Places.
“It’s more about the style than the occupants,” said Sandra Mansmann, coordinator for the Washington County History and Landmarks Foundation.
Washington & Jefferson College owns the only other house in Washington County with similar architecture, the Alexander Reed House, now called Davis Memorial Hall, on East Maiden Street.
The foundation set up a short-term Brownlee House Building Fund to raise funds for small-scale renovation and restoration to the building and applied for $500,000 in funding from the Washington County Local Share Account Program. The program, established under the 2004 Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act, distributes two percent of certain licensed gaming revenue to support and enhance the local economy.
Trew said the foundation plans to use the money to modify the 6,000-square-foot house for three distinct purposes. Historians advised the foundation to use the first floor as a public museum showcasing the contributions of Scots and Irish immigrants to Washington County, including involvement in the Whiskey Rebellion and advancements in agriculture in the 19th century. Mansmann said the Scots, Irish and Presbyterians played a big role in establishing Washington in the 19th century, and the museum gives the area a chance to highlight Scottish and Irish contributions.
The foundation plans to use the remaining space for offices and a training center. Currently, the foundation leases office space, but the newly acquired property gives the foundation ample space to operate.
The Stouts built a large addition behind the original house.
“This actually detracts from the historical value of the property,” Trew said.
However, the foundation plans to use the majority of the potential funding to rebuild the addition with the help of a historical architect so that it will take on the appearance of a carriage house, with a second-story room to be used as a training facility for nonprofits. In the past, the foundation held training sessions for nonprofits on topics such as nonprofit law, social media, fundraising and strategic planning. The foundation provides workshops to nonprofits at no charge. Unlike for-profit businesses with the financial ability to send workers to seminars or training workshops, nonprofits work with limited monetary support.
“Nonprofit employees need training, too, and unfortunately, training is often the first thing (nonprofits) cut,” Trew said.
The WCCF hopes to give Washington County nonprofits the tools to be successful. Trew said nonprofits factor significantly into the national gross domestic product and local economies. In fact, nonprofit organization account for about 5.5 percent of the national GDP, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics.
Preservation of historical buildings allows future generations to touch, feel and see history instead of reading a book or pamphlet.
“To be able to experience historical buildings in a preserved state is important because you really don’t get the same feeling from some words on a plaque,” Mansmann said. “It’s entirely different when you get to experience it.”