Restoration of historic house, barn a labor of love

Couple completes restoration of historic house and barn

July 19, 2014
Image description
Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter
Georgiana and Bob Riley with their dog Sadie in the blue room of their home in Avella. Order a Print
Image description
Photo provided by Bob and Georgiana Riley
The house at Foxfire Farm as it appeared nearly three decades ago when it was purchased by Bob and Georgiana Riley.
Image description
Scott Beveridge/Observer-Reporter
The rehabilitated Foxfire Farm barn, with its new cupolas. Order a Print
Image description
Scott Beveridge/Observer-Reporter
The rehabilitated Foxfire Farm barn features two new cupolas in a style that would have graced the original roof. Order a Print

AVELLA – The hay bales were stacked and it was time to repair the sliding barn door that had been stuck open for years at a farm that predates the Civil War in Avella.

Owner Bob Riley climbed a ladder, hoisted the door back onto its railing and slid it closed to protect the hay from rain, and then his wife heard him scream.

In the small space between where the door had been resting for years and the barn siding was a “bat infestation,” Georgiana Riley said.

“You name it, we’ve been through it here,” she said, recalling some of the many ordeals the couple have survived after beginning in 1980 to restore the old house into their home.

The Greek Revival-style house on 171 acres along Route 844 near the West Virginia line had no heat, outdated wiring and sometimes it snowed in the kitchen, weather blown in from an open coal cellar.

The Rileys decided to live in the house while they restored it in a project where they removed all of the woodwork in order to strip from it layer upon layer of paint coats.

They awoke their first Thanksgiving, wished each other well and rolled out of bed in opposite directions at the same time, and just missed getting hit by a window that fell out of its frame and landed on the bed.

“Most of the windows were broken out,” said Bob Riley, a retired vice president of human resources of a health insurance company.

Their washing machine stopped working one day, and they forgot to remove from it the water and clothes when they called for a repairman. Two days later, when the repairman came, he found the clothes suspended in a solid block of ice inside the machine.

Eventually they hired an architect to complete an addition to enlarge the kitchen and create a family room. The end result would be an impressive space with a wall of windows that permits the Rileys and their visitors to see their barn and beautiful farm.

Once the house was in order, it was time for them to turn their attention to the barn and its weathered siding, which was removed and put in storage.

The original post and beam construction was cleaned and retained, and the barn received new siding and a new metal roof, one that needed cupolas to look age-appropriate.

The first cupolas were too small, out of scale to the building, leading the Rileys to hire Hickory carpenter Tom Templeton to replace them.

The cupolas each were built in three sections and assembled on the roof by Templeton. A likeness of a fox was positioned on weathervanes atop the two structures, a symbol of the business name, Foxfire Farm. The former residents of Bethany, W.Va., also raise registered black Angus cattle on their farm.

“These things were built from scratch,” Bob Riley said.

“The craftsmanship, you don’t see that kind of work being done anymore,” Bob Riley said. “(Templeton’s) such a perfectionist.”

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley. He has a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's from Duquesne University. Scott spent three weeks in Vietnam in 2004 as a foreign correspondent under an International Center for Journalists fellowship.

View More from this Author



blog comments powered by Disqus