|The Robert Whitehill Jr. House is located at the corner of High and Cumberland Streets.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
WHITEHILL PLACE, A PRESERVATION SUCCESS STORY
This article was originally published in the October 2014 edition of GreeneSPEAK!
Robert Whitehill Jr. was one of Waynesburg’s earliest attorneys and largest property owners. He came from a well-to-do family in Camp Hill, PA. His father helped to draft the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 and the U.S. Bill of Rights, having served for more than 30 years in the PA House, Senate and U. S. Congress.
Described as a well educated and cultured man, Robert Jr. studied law in Philadelphia under Edmund Randolph, the first Attorney General of the United States. He graduated from Dickinson College in 1792 and came to Waynesburg a few years later. He enjoyed the friendship of many distinguished people including Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette.
Yet today, for all of his success and family connections, Robert Whitehill Jr. is long forgotten. His wife and only son died before him. Even their graves are lost. But, their 200-year-old home stands proudly at the NW corner of High and Cumberland Streets, newly preserved by the County of Greene. It is a successful adaptive rehabilitation of an historic structure. The interior has been converted to six apartments for individuals left temporarily homeless while the exterior has been restored to correct mid-19th century appearance. This was required by Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act because public funds were used.
An analysis of the building yields fascinating details. The original house, built ca. 1808-1811, is the western two-thirds of the front façade. In early Waynesburg, it must have been an impressive sight, rivaling the first brick court house in size, probably constructed by the same craftsmen. It was three bays wide and two-stories tall with a narrow central doorway and simple transom. The bricks were handmade, probably by a potter who worked across the street at the corner of Whiskey Alley, today Wood Street. They are laid in Flemish bond while the addition is common bond.
The original house had a tall gable roof, typical of the Federal style, while the addition is Greek Revival with a lower roof and distinctive parapet. It was constructed about 1843 by attorney John Phelan. The difference in height can be seen in the earliest known panorama photograph of Waynesburg (1875). Later the roof heights were united and a wide fascia board was placed across the full front. At the same time, decorative brick work was added to the chimneys.
By the 1840s, carpentry tools and techniques had advanced, allowing elaborate architectural detail in the addition, such as the ornate entrance doors. Behind them is a curved staircase with fancy turned spindles, stair rail and newel post, quite different from the narrow stairs of the original house. The interior also features enameled mantelpieces and grain-painted woodwork.
Like the original house, the addition has a symmetrical front of 3-bay width but the windows are closer together and the entrance is in the left bay, not the center. On the inside of the rear kitchen ell is a double-story porch, a popular feature of the time.
The Robert Whitehill Jr. House is part of the Waynesburg District of the National Register of Historic Sites, given the highest ranking of “Significant” for both its historic architecture and association with key historical figures. The County of Greene is to be commended for saving this important link to our past.