Historic Preservation Six takes us to an affluent borough in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, 12 miles Northwest of Pittsburgh along the Ohio River. According to the 2010 census, the recorded population was 3,827. Sewickley is an American Indian word for "Sweet Water," and its history dates to the mid 1700s. I was called there to collaborate with long-time clients on their third home. The trip was planned soon after completing a one-room creative design project, and subsequent Zoom presentation on August 19, 2021 in Elkridge, Maryland, named "Victorian Elegance."
The house sits on what is left from the original 200-acre farm, "...Laid out in the Depreciation Lands, which were given to to soldiers in the American Revolution in lieu of payment in cash..." Through the centuries, the house was home to several owners. The first, to a man named Richards, then to John Way, who sold it to James Brewer in 1815. It was around this time that the Western Pennsylvania Historical Society document the house as constructed between 1815 to 1820. In 1855, James Jones acquired it, and after the Civil War, the Himme family and the Orris family owned it until it was purchased by Dick and Betsy Smith, in 1978. Shown below, the original house with the first added wing on the right.
Image Courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Historic Society
Dick Smith, an interior designer and fine artist, observed several interesting details about the house. The first, was the exterior brick, which features a Flemish bond pattern on the front, (seen below) and the English bond pattern on the rear and side walls.
Second, was the discovery of mouldings that were the same patterns used at Monticello and Mt. Vernon. "The patterns had not changed in 50 years, and the architectural styles of the Atlantic coast regions were slowly making their way across the country and being used in the then newly settled parts of the United States..." The unfolding continued with a discovery of the original kitchen in the now library, as well as a small bridge that runs over a stream adjacent to the property.
Over the years, Dick and his wife Betsy, lovingly worked to recreate the appearance of an 18th century country house . In the original dining room Georgian elegance prevails, complete with expert faux paint work by Dick on the room's fireplace, and English antiques. Eventually, the couple added two wings on either side, a living room, on the left, and a kitchen, bath and artist studio/workshop on the right. Dick had the additions finished in stucco to complement the brick, purposely separating the old from the new. The dimensions for both wings were sized using an heirloom wool area rug that Betsy would later inherit from her family home. Overall "Irish Country House" aesthetics were influenced by trips abroad to Scariff Ireland, a large village in East country Clare. Images of the Smiths evolution to come later in this project time-frame.
Image courtesy of Zillow
My first trip to meet with my clients was eventful. The drive across I70 and I76 is spectacular with winding highway, farms, and amazing rock formations. Nevermind I got lost for four hours. How many people did I meet along the way??? Upon finally arriving, I entered through gates centered between two large pillars with ball finials. "Yes, this feels good already...! The entry door surround was faux painted to resemble stone quoins, complete with a triangular pediment and fox head decoration. Dick Smith was a popular member of the Sewickley Hunt Club. Notice on the right, a cast iron door bell operated by a pulley; just beautiful!
Image courtesy of the author
Upon entering the home I was greeted with imported terracotta tiles from Mexico. They have developed a nice patina over the years, so they will only get a light cleaning. The tiles run from front to back, one room deep with the original kitchen (now the library), living room to the left, and the original dining room, and kitchen/bath/studio to the right. Be sure to stop in next month around this time and learn more about the brief and some interior details. There is a bit of work ahead of us on the project. Bring it on!!