Feat of Claysville: Montgomery House a triumph of architectural styles


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Everyone -- not just Victorian house lovers -- does a double-take when they see the Montgomery House in Donegal, Washington County. The lacy wood "gingerbread" on this commanding, three-story house just outside of Claysville doesn't so much define the building as consume it.

The house, which mixes six different styles according to preservation architect Terry Necciai, is one of the most-recognized private homes along this stretch of the old National Road. And it's for sale.

"Everyone knows it," says Dorothy Walsko, an agent with Howard Hanna's Washington office who has the house listed for $349,900.

"The mansion? That's the king's palace," Betsy West of Northwood Realty Services agrees with a laugh.

   
More information

Open houses will be held today from 1 to 3 p.m. at 103 Wayne St., and 1 to 4 p.m. at 1274 Route 40, Claysville. Information: Betsy or Bill West, Northwood Realty Services, 724-222-6550, ext. 310 or 335, or www.northwood.com, MLS No. 691941; Dorothy Walsko, Howard Hanna Real Estate, 724-222-6040, ext. 233, or www.howardhanna.com, MLS No. 685061.

   

She has a more typical old house for the old town of Claysville, laid out in 1817. The modest yellow building at 103 Wayne St. is for sale through Northwood for $139,900. Built sometime in the 1860s, the three-bedroom, Colonial-style house has two exposed brick fireplaces and original hardwood floors. The front door leads to a wide staircase.

But if it's woodwork you're after, you really need to walk a few blocks east to 1274 Route 40 (West Main Street), the Montgomery House. Legend has it that the five-bedroom house constructed during the 1870s was the first in Claysville to have a bathroom. But even without that distinction, the house would be one for the history books.

It was built by William Porter, who -- here's a shock -- was a wood planer and lumber yard owner. In 1901, he sold it to the Montgomery family, which owned it for 79 years and in 1974, had it listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1980, the house was sold to the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese for use by its next-door neighbor, Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Sunday school and classes were held there but by 1987, the house had fallen into such disrepair that the church was planning to demolish it. Historians objected and it was instead sold to Kathleen and Terrence McAuliffe, who spent the next dozen years restoring its period details and adding modern upgrades.

The couple had the original panes installed in new Queen Anne-style window frames, covered the mansard roof with fish-scale shingles cut from discarded slate shingles, hung antique crystal chandeliers and put up Victorian-era wallpaper. They couldn't save the original horsehair plaster when new wiring, plumbing and hot water radiators were installed.

But they did preserve one key element of the house's original Italianate style: a windowed turret that rises some 10 feet above the roof line.

The front parlor features gold-leaf details, an original fireplace with mirrored over-mantel and ceramic tile surround, and stained-glass windows with interior shutters. The wide-plank wood floors are also original. The formal dining room has a built-in china closet and another decorative fireplace.

The gourmet kitchen, which boasts granite counter tops and an integrated Sub-Zero fridge, is obviously not of the period. But it doesn't exactly scream "21st century" either, thanks to faux-marble-painted walls, black-and-white tiled floors and custom cherry cabinetry with old-fashioned bubble-glass inserts. It opens onto a covered back porch and a free-standing porte-cochere over the driveway.

One of the home's most spectacular architectural details is a large stained-glass window on the second-floor landing. It leads to a small room with marble floors and paneled walls and ceiling that was used as an office. Four steps up is a luxurious bath, complete with a copper clawfoot tub with carp "legs" and an open circular shower. A second full bath features a built-in vanity, faux-yellow-marble walls and hand-painted clouds on the ceiling.

The bath in the master suite, which encompasses most of the third floor, is even more elaborate. Along with a walk-in shower and double vanity, it features a platform whirlpool tub with fixtures in the shape of swans.

The property also includes a Gothic Revival carriage house at the end of the driveway that the McAuliffes have rehabbed into a four-car garage with a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor. Known as the Margaret Derrow house, it originally stood next door on West Main. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A small English garden off the back porch is planted with fragrant roses, hydrangea and lavender.

Mrs. Walsko acknowledges the $300,000-plus price tag is on the high side for Claysville, especially for a home without a lot of acreage. But the price is nearly half what it was when it went on the market four years ago, at $649,000.

Convenient to the interstate and blessed with low taxes, it could be used as a bed-and-breakfast, with the new owners living in the carriage house.

"Everything is perfect," says Ms. Walsko.

Old-house lovers will find many other bargains in Claysville. The house at 103 Wayne St. is just one block off the main drag, which is lined with Civil War-era homes. Many have covered front porches, with room for furniture and a swing. The house at 103 Wayne has the porch, plus a detached garage that's been remodeled to make room for a workshop, and a landscaped back yard.

"It's like a step back in time," says Mrs. West, the Realtor. "The meat market is still on Main Street, and people meet in the morning at the little breakfast place. It's a town where people get out and walk around."


Gretchen McKay can be reached at gmckay@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1419.


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