Farm once sheltered abandoned cows, goats, ducks and chickens

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VWH Campbell, Post-Gazette
The main living space of the farmhouse near Mount Pleasant, Westmoreland County, features exposed beams salvaged from a neighboring flour mill, a pair of skylights and two huge picture windows
By Gretchen McKay, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Farmhouses are a common sight in the gently rolling hills of rural Western Pennsylvania. Most are fairly conventional structures, not bad for the environment but not particularly kind to it, either.

OohMahNee Farm near Mount Pleasant, Westmoreland County, is a little different, or at least the main residence is. Beyond the century-old wood-frame farmhouse at the foot of the driveway is a former garage that was remodeled using recycled and "green" building materials.

VWH Campbell, Post-Gazette
Above: The property includes an open-air stone and wood building that dates from the late 1800s.
Below: The main house, formerly a garage with apartment above, has been painted inside and out with nontoxic paints and sealers. All of the wood is either recycled or new lumber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Click photos for larger image.

More information
An open house will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. July 9 at OohMahNee Farm, Mount Pleasant, Westmoreland County, Information: Marci Sloan, Northwood Realty Services, at 412-521-5100, ext. 117 or, MLS No. 598094.

Until last year, this 83-acre family farm along Route 819 housed a well-known animal sanctuary. Now it's for sale, priced by Northwood Realty Services at $695,000.

Owners Cayce Mell and Jason Tracy aimed to create an eco-friendly home that not only supports a sustainable lifestyle but also is healthier and more energy-efficient for its inhabitants. Thanks to lots of skylights and the occasional funky design element, such as flying saucer-shaped halogen track lighting on the living room ceiling, it's also just plain fun.

"We wanted to cross the really rustic look with the modern, and keep with the barn theme," says Mr. Tracy.

He's referring to the many outbuildings that once housed up to 2,000 abused, abandoned and displaced farm animals as part of the OohMahNee Animal Sanctuary. One of the biggest such facilities in the country when it was at its peak a few years ago, the farm also placed animals elsewhere, assisted law enforcement officials with abuse and neglect cases, and initiated rescues, such as one involving thousands of chickens from a tornado-struck Ohio egg farm in 2000.

OohMahNee had just five cows and a handful of chickens when the couple founded the sanctuary in 1996. But as word got out, the number of farm animal rescue cases quickly snowballed, and before long, the couple had a half-dozen paid workers along with scores of volunteers. In 2002, Ms. Mell and her husband ? who also used the sanctuary to promote the vegan lifestyle ? opened the OohMahNee Humane Education Center in the original farmhouse, with exhibits about factory farming and animal issues.

But it didn't last. Short of funding and volunteers, they closed the sanctuary last year, after finding new homes for the last of the hundreds of turkeys, chickens, ducks, cows, goats and pigs. And the couple, who have two young children, is headed back to the city.

The farm's selling points include lots of mature trees, two spring-fed streams and some incredible views of the Laurel Highlands. Last year's remodel of the main house takes full advantage of the views, with at least one large picture window in nearly every room, overlooking the barns and fields. There's also a deck off the kitchen that faces a large pond where injured ducks used to frolic (a sloping beach end made it handicapped-accessible). The addition also includes two new bedrooms, a bath, a laundry and a lower-level office.

The main living area has an open floor plan and features exposed beams that were salvaged from a neighboring flour mill that burned down in 1902. Adding to the room's rustic feel are antique wide-plank poplar floors reclaimed from an old barn in York, Pa.

The effect is less like living in a barn than in the middle of a forest. A pair of skylights in the birch plywood ceiling brings in natural light, and the view from two huge picture windows at the far end is almost completely obscured by leaf-covered branches.

"It's like living in a tree house," says Ms. Mell. "It's wonderful."

The main bath, just off the dining area, has a recycled slate floor and a whirlpool tub with a slate platform and stainless-steel front. The eat-in kitchen has stainless-steel appliances, including a Siemens range with a built-in dehydrator and convection cooking system, and streamlined cabinets from IKEA. There's also a large center island with plenty of storage.

The master bedroom is painted a soft moss green and is brightened by two skylights. Four large windows provide more natural light and an unobstructed view of the Laurel Highlands that extends for miles. A slightly smaller second bedroom, currently set up for children, also has a skylight and a large casement window. The lower level holds a 15- by 16-foot game room/office area with an adjoining full bath. There's also a laundry room outfitted with Whirlpool's stackable Duet washer and dryer.

Underlying the couple's commitment to the environment, all of the surfaces were finished with nontoxic paints and sealers and all of the wood is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. The couple also installed a natural fiber insulation made from recycled blue jeans and bought more than half of the windows from Construction Junction in Point Breeze, which sells used and surplus building materials.

"We really feel strongly about living in a healthy home," says Ms. Mell.

And the farm? Considering its size and location, the possibilities are endless, says Marci Sloan, who is marketing it for Northwood. In recent years, this section of Route 819 has become a mecca for pick-your-own berries. In 2005, the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation planted an orchard of more than three dozen apple, peach, plum and pear trees on the property.

If the buyer would rather raise livestock or board horses, there is ample space for a variety of animals. OohMahNee boasts eight pole barns of varying sizes, including a 60- by 35-foot bank barn and a 40- by-24-foot sheep barn with water and electric. There are also two galvanized steel Quonset huts within walking distance of the main house.

Given its proximity to the turnpike and wealth of biking and hiking trails, the farm could also be turned into a bed-and-breakfast or weekend camping retreat.

The property also includes a historic open-air stone and wood building at the entrance that was built sometime in the late 1800s, when the access road to the farm was the only dirt road leading to nearby Mount Pleasant. Outfitted with electricity and a giant stone fireplace that was rebuilt in 1948, it measures 20 by 20 feet and includes two built-in cabinets and exposed beams. With a little work, it could make an artist's studio or stand for a farmers' market.

Mr. Tracy and Ms. Mell believe the property also comes with an intangible asset: good karma.

"So much good work has been done here," she says. "It has a good aura."

Gretchen McKay can be reached at or 412-761-4670.


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