A slice of farm life in Brighton Heights

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In the late 1970s, Mary Ellen Goff was single, working as a nurse at St. Francis Hospital and looking to buy a house in Squirrel Hill or Highland Park.

When homes in those neighborhoods proved unaffordable, her boyfriend, Bob, suggested she search in Brighton Heights.

"I wanted a farmhouse. I wanted some space around me," Mrs. Goff recalled.

Brighton Heights House Tour
  • Features: Visitors will receive a piece of chocolate at each home. Proceeds benefit the Brighton Heights Citizen Federation.
  • When: Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, May 17. The starting point for the walking tour is Legion Park, corner of Brighton Road and Davis Avenue.
  • Tickets: $15, on day of the tour. To buy $12 tickets in advance, visit the Web site www.brightonheights.org.

The two-story farmhouse she purchased in 1978 featured a big front porch and half an acre of land. It's one of nine homes featured on tomorrow's fifth annual Brighton Heights chocolate house tour.

Located at 972 Davis Ave., the Goffs' home originally was part of a 16-acre farm that belonged to several generations of the Koch (pronounced Cook) family between 1865 and 1977. In their basement, the Goffs found an old photograph of the Koch family standing outside the farmhouse.

John Canning, a retired history teacher who lives on Jacksonia Street, North Side, researched records at Brighton Heights Lutheran Church, where the Koch family belonged.

Mr. Canning determined that George and Elizabeth Koch were German-speaking farmers and probably the first settlers in the area, then called Davisville.

"They predated any of the families up there when they moved there," he said.

A map shows that Davis Avenue once ended at the farmhouse now owned by the Goffs. The Koch home was on Mr. Canning's paper route and he delivered newspapers there between 1951 and 1955.

By that time, John Koch, one of two sons of George Koch, owned the Davis Avenue farmhouse and lived there with his wife and five children. A path connected to another nearby farmhouse owned by John Koch's brother, George, who lived closer to Harbison Street.

Mr. Canning, who was born in 1939 and grew up in Brighton Heights, recalled that when his family had coal delivered they called the Koch family.

"One of those guys would shovel it into your coal cellar for you," he said.

In city directories, the Kochs are listed as gardeners, and Mr. Canning theorizes that they sold their produce at local markets.

After Mrs. Goff moved into the farmhouse, friends used sledgehammers to help her remove Lincrusta, a deeply embossed wall covering, from the walls of the dining room, which doubles as a library.

Three years later, when she married Bob Goff on May 24, 1980, the couple held their wedding reception at the farmhouse.

It was an eventful day, not just for the obvious reasons. For a wedding present, her sisters bought her an Amish porch swing.

"We didn't know how to hang it, so it fell down," Mrs. Goff said.

The old homestead's flaws presented challenges, too.

"My screen door was falling off. The plumbing clogged, and my brother-in-law used the snake in the pipes because the caterer couldn't use the garbage disposal."

Still, she said, "We had a square dancing band. We had a great time."

From the big porch, visitors enter a center hall. Off that hall is a TV room, a living room, a dining room and a kitchen. At the end of the hall is a teal and yellow bathroom that dates to the 1940s. There's also a laundry room, which Mrs. Goff believes was once a back porch.

One day, while Mr. Goff was trying to fix a light fixture in the living room, the whole plaster ceiling fell down, covering him in 100-year-old dirt and black soot.

"It was pretty funny at the time," Mrs. Goff said. "He wanted to put pine beams on the ceiling. We ended up having to put dry wall up first."

Renovation of a second floor bedroom required cutting holes in the walls. Then, their cat, Marshmallow, crawled into one of the holes and got stuck.

"So we had to cut a hole in the wall to get the cat out," Mrs. Goff said.

Over the years, the couple removed asbestos siding and put up vinyl siding, replaced most of the windows and updated the wiring. A decade ago, they installed air conditioning and a whole house fan.

A few years ago, they put on a new roof and rebuilt the front porch, which accommodates 10 people.

"The columns were taken down and refinished. We had a new porch floor and painted it red," Mrs. Goff said, adding that her husband stripped and varnished the oak swing that's a memento of their wedding day.

"We redid the kitchen back in 1985. We didn't know what we were doing," Mrs. Goff said, adding that her husband, who draws kitchens for Trazinski Design Group in the North Hills, now has lots of ideas for updating the space, which is 15 by 16 with a 9-foot-high ceiling.

"If I'd known a year ago that the stock market was going to tank, we could have done a really nice kitchen with all that money that went away," Mrs. Goff said.

Marylynne Pitz can be reached at mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.


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