Wednesday, February 11, 2015


This article was originally published in the November 2014 issue of GreeneSPEAK!

WHITEHILL HOUSE: High and Cumberland Streets.  Early Italianate curved staircase of unknown date (1850-60?) with fluted newel, turned spindles and moulded handrail.  Photo by Kenneth Kulak.     

"Every town had a carpenter who was the staircase expert," advised Fred Smith of Allegheny Millwork, Pittsburgh's resident expert on historic woodwork.   "Why don't you find out who it was in Waynesburg?"

HOOK/MORGAN BUILDING: High and Morgan Streets. 1870 Italianate.  Newel post and spindles are turned in an hexagonal shape popular at the time.  A ball and cap top the newel.
Photo taken mid-restoration.   Paint has been stripped away but tung oil not yet applied.
This question inspired me to think beyond the staircase I’ve been restoring in the Hook/Morgan Building.   After removing false walls and replicating missing parts, it’s three handsome stories of walnut turned spindles, ogee handrail and hexagonal newel post.  Through this project I’ve learned to appreciate the woodworking and geometric skills of the Victorian stair builder.

ROBERT MORRIS HOUSE: Spiral staircases were popular in Italianate design.  This elegant example has a robustly shaped urn capping the urn.   Photo by Keith Riggle.
Photographs posted this summer by Keith Riggle of San Antonio, Texas further spurred my quest.    He visited Waynesburg to learn about his 3x-great-grandfather, Robert Morris, a carpenter who had worked on Miller Hall.   Keith was able to tour the house Morris built about 1865 for his own family on the Commons near Wayne and Morris Streets.   Today, its exterior has been extensively remodeled giving it a 20th century appearance.   But inside its true history is evident in the original spiral staircase with walnut handrail, balusters and newel post similar to the Morgan Building.  

 Historian G. Wayne Smith tells us in History of Greene County, Pennsylvania that Robert Morris was given a contract to complete three library rooms in Miller Hall for $350 in February, 1887, and by the same date the Ullom Brothers had completed two stairways.  The Waynesburg College Story by William Dusenberry confirms this information, describing the Ulloms as “master workmen along this line”.  

MILLER HALL: Monumental newel post displays Eastlake influence in its elaborate carvings and shape.  Erected by the Ullom Brothers in 1886-1887.

Voila, I’d found Waynesburg’s staircase experts.   Their family history begins with grandfather George Ullom who helped to build the original log Court House in 1796.  The brothers inherited carpentry skills from both sides of the family.   Their mother, Sally Piatt, was the youngest child of Amos Piatt who built a stone house on Franklin Street in 1823 that is now the oldest surviving structure of its kind in the borough. 

GOODWIN HOUSE: East Wayne Street.  Built in 1886.  Transitioning to the Second Empire style, newel posts are now square in shape and extravagantly ornamented.  Columns are a popular decorative motif.

There were ten Ullom brothers--all carpenters--as was their father, Jesse Bowen Ullom.   From 1870 through the early 20th century, Jesse and his sons were listed in each census as carpenters, residing near South Richhill, Elm and Lincoln Streets.   Numerous sources specifically describe twin brothers Rufus and Franklin Pierce Ullom as “stair builders”, and laud the stellar carpentry skills of all the brothers.   

SOUTH SIDE HOUSE: Moving to the Queen Anne style, entrance halls have become large open rooms with richly carved woodwork designed to impress.   This house was built by contractor Jonathan Funk in 1894.

According to an article in the Waynesburg Republican of 1870, William Ullom worked at the Sayers & Tanner Planing Mill when he suffered a serious injury to his hand.   This was one of two steam-operated planing mills that opened in Waynesburg in 1867, producing much of the fine woodwork found in town today.   The mill was located on Greene Street at the present site of Avalon Court.   Subsequent owners were Hiram McGlumphy, A. H. Harkins and the Elm Brothers.  The other mill, located on East Street, was owned for many years by Jonathan M. Funk who built a number of fine houses in Waynesburg’s South Side.