a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A landmark lost

A landmark house in Webster, Pa., about a week before it was demolished. (Scott Beveridge photo filtered by Instagram)

By Scott Beveridge

WEBSTER, Pa. – It was nighttime and I was about 10 years old the first time I remember studying the big old house on the bend coming into my hometown.

One of Webster, Pa.'s, bullies had gathered a few children, including myself, across the street from that house, promising then he could draw out the witch who lived there.

After a few harassing remarks from him a woman with long red hair stepped out on the second-story front porch and screeched, sending all of us running home. Thus, I spent the remaining years of my childhood convinced the three-story clapboard house was haunted.

Over subsequent decades people often marveled that the white house with dark green trim at Elm and Third streets had to have once served as a hotel because it looked like one with 16 windows across its facade. Others thought it was built as an apartment building. I've also heard stories that its former owners operated a 19th Century flour mill that once sat across the street near where Webster Hollow Creek flows into the Monongahela River.

The Georgian-style house likely was built as a farmhouse for a growing family, sometime after balloon frame construction replaced the post and beam style of building. And I've heard historians say there were no others like it in all of Westmoreland County.

It's likely the history of the house was never written or forever lost when a bulldozer arrived Friday and flattened the structure that had stood near my home.

As a lover of old buildings and a preservationist I mourn for the house, which still had its original six-over-six double hung windows, and blame myself for its demise.

A broken up wooden desk sat Friday among the rubble, along with an old, damaged Roman Catholic print of the Madonna and Child and evidence that one of the rooms once boasted hand-painted wallpaper.

A few months ago a guy whose heart was racing offered to sell me the property for $5,000, on behalf the estate. He had called police that afternoon after fleeing from the house, telling me he had gone inside and noticed a large animal run past an upper room.

He also asked me if I had ever noticed anyone going in or out of the place.

I hadn't, I explained, seen anything other than raccoons crawling in an out of the back porch roof and any number of ferrel cats using the house for shelter.

Over the subsequent weeks friends and neighbors tried unsuccessfully to talk me into buying the house. One of them suggested we purchase it together and use it as a store to sell antiques.

"I don't have another old house in me," I said. "I can't find the time to cut my own grass."

It's nearly impossible to find the time or motivation to keep up with my own century-old house, which needs a fresh coat of paint and new gutters. It's next to impossible to find a roofer even willing to keep an appointment to provide an estimate on replacing the box gutters on my house.

So today I look out at a sprawling empty lot where this house once stood, and wonder if it'll become one more overgrown lot among hundreds that dot this neck of America's Rust Belt.


E T Williams 2 said...

Yes. You should have bought it.

Anonymous said...

I always thought that house must have been very impressive at one time. Then, one day, I drove through town and it was completely gone.