Rachel Carson's restored family homestead will open in June

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Like many preservationists, Jeff Slack likes crawling around in old houses to see what they are made of. Last summer, he climbed into the attic of a late 1930s addition to Rachel Carson's Springdale home and emerged covered in coal dust and mineral wool insulation.

That exploration was a key step in restoring the house to what it looked like when the budding environmentalist lived there, said Mr. Slack, a preservation planner with Pfaffmann + Associates.

Carson, the "Silent Spring" author who sounded an alarm about the dangers of pesticides, grew up on a 60-acre farm in Springdale. While the house lacked electricity and running water, her south-facing bedroom windows afforded a kaleidoscopic view of nature and the Allegheny River. She lived in the house from 1907 through 1929, and the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mr. Slack's work took him to the adjoining attic addition, which allowed him to look at an exterior wall dating to 1867.

"The attic of the addition protected this original siding from the weather," he said.

He carefully removed a piece of original wood siding that became the model for new Eastern hemlock siding that is being installed this month on the home's exterior. The lumber, salvaged from a 19th-century Pittsburgh building, was milled in the style of old-fashioned plank siding. Rock wall insulation was added, too.

Originally, the Carson homestead had two rooms on the first floor, a rear first-floor kitchen wing and two upstairs bedrooms that date to 1867. A series of back rooms and a two-story addition on the side were added in the 1930s.

The house, Mr. Slack said, typifies a vernacular style of Pennsylvania farmhouse with two front doors on the first floor, a window adjacent to each entrance and four windows on the second floor. Many scholars believe one entrance was for guests entering a homeowner's parlor while the other was private, opening into a dining area and work room.

The cost of restoring the home's exterior was partially paid for through a Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund grant totaling $137,500. The funds are disbursed by the Allegheny County Redevelopment Authority.

The first phase should be finished in another month.

Danelle Ardell, one of eight board members overseeing the restoration and an energy engineer with Noresco, wrote her master's thesis about restoring the Carson homestead in a sustainable manner. Ms. Ardell said a celebration will be held some time around May 27, which was Carson's birthday. In June, the house will reopen and tours will be available two days each month or by appointment.

There is no deadline set for the project's completion; officials are considering additional restoration and making plans to interpret the house for visitors.

"The front porch will be a big thing to re-create," Ms. Ardell said, adding that it was an important part of the Carson family's life.

After the family left, Angelina Sober, who taught English at Springdale High School, purchased the house and added rooms.

"We want to take off the parts of the house that were put on after the Carsons lived there, the addition that was done in the 1940s," Ms. Ardell said.


Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.


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