a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Landmark Colonial house has important hinges

The landmark John and Presley Neville House, a Colonial gem in southwestern Pennsylvania, is hidden behind an unnatural wraparound porch addition along Washington Pike in Bridgeville.

By Scott Beveridge

BRIDGEVILLE, Pa. – It turns out a pair of closet hinges in the entrance hall are the most-valuable architectural details in the oldest house still standing in the county where Pittsburgh makes its home.

That’s the opinion of experts from Colonial Williamsburg who visited the John and Presley Neville House in Allegheny County and deemed the rustic hinges the oldest of their kind known to exist in North America.

“Who would have thought?” said Rob Windhorst, president of Neville House Associates, the nonprofit organization that owns the National Register of Landmarks property also known as Woodville Plantation in Bridgeville.

The 1 ½-story Colonial frame house is significant because it was built in 1774 by John Neville, a friend of President George Washington who came to the area to briefly claim Pittsburgh for Virginia.

However, Neville would soon make history as chief collector of a tax on whiskey Congress enacted to help pay down to then-new nation’s Revolutionary War debts. The local farmers who turned their rye into whiskey were quick to revolt in what became known as the Whiskey Rebellion.

When the insurrection was at its peaked, John Neville had relocated to an estate on nearby Bower Hill, a house that was burned down by the rebels during a two-day attack that began July 16, 1794 and resulted in a few casualties.

Neville and the women and children of his household were permitted to take refuge at Woodville, which had been given to his son, Presley.

“That’s probably what saved this house,” Windhorst said. “They really behaved with all the virtues of war.”

It is believed that Neville had a good relationship with the 13 slaves he owned because he armed them and they protected his family against the army of 500 rebels, Windhorst said while hosting a recent tour of the house. The slaves likely were skilled craftsmen and responsible for building the some of the house and carving its woodwork, he said.

The 6-room house is special because it’s the only country home built for the frontier-era gentry that is open for tours in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Aside from those rare foliated T-shaped cross garner hinges with leaf-like designs, the house’s living room is dressed in period furnishings and reproduction carpeting and wallpaper. Meanwhile, volunteers in Colonial-type costumes tend to a garden and chickens in a fattening pen off the kitchen in attempts to create an authentic 18th century Pennsylvania farm.

“This is truly exceptional,” Windhorst said.

The house at 1375 Washington Pike is open year around for guided tours from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, closing only from Dec. 14 and Jan. 2. For information, call 412-221-0348.

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