House tour to feature East Washington's Victorian era homes

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People from the world over flock to Cape May and San Francisco to see famous Queen Anne and other Victorian era houses in those regions. But, in our own neck of the woods, the town of Washington has its own collection of stunning "painted ladies," as the colorful houses are called.

Starting at 1 p.m. Sunday, the Washington County History and Landmarks Foundation (WCHLF) will stage a guided Leading Ladies walking tour of the East Washington Historic District. The tour will be led by members of the foundation and by Lu Donnelly, one of the authors of "Buildings of Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania" (University of Virginia Press, 2010), a book in the 60-volume series on American architecture by the Society of Architectural Historians.

The 26-acre East Washington Historic District received its National Register designation in 1984, said Sandy Mansmann, WCHLF coordinator.

The historic district lies within the streets of East Wheeling, East Beau, South Wade and Chestnut, with South Wade and East Beau being the main crossroads, Mrs. Mansmann said.

The tour will begin at the president of Washington and Jefferson College's house, located at 238 E. Wheeling. Guides will describe the architectural details of homes along the way.

"The walk will not be a quick run-by, and since its an architectural tour, we won't be entering any of the homes," Mrs. Mansmann said.

"One house on the tour will have seating on the porch and serve as a rest stop."

To give homeowners a heads up about the tour, the WCHLF sent out postcards to apprise them of the time and day of the walk-by.

"They can either come out and greet the tour takers or shut their blinds and ignore us," Mrs. Mansmann said.

The historic district abuts Washington and Jefferson College, which owns several homes that have since been converted to student dormitories. Almost all of the homes on the tour are from the Victorian era, show a variety of styles and date from the 1880s. However, one is an old farmhouse that dates back even further.

"The buildings indicate a time of great wealth and sophistication in Washington," Ms. Donnelly said. "Income from sheep farming, glass production and oil and gas extraction stayed in the city and prompted owners to seek out architects and skilled contractors to design and build homes of which they could be proud."

Ms. Donnelly points out that Frederick J. Osterling, who designed the county courthouse between 1898 and 1900 and the Washington Trust Building in 1902, also designed at least one large house in the area of the tour.

"Seeing the works of respected architects inspires people with the means to commission large and impressive homes like these," she said.

The WCHLF is printing a tour program with research gathered from the nomination for the historical district designation and from the foundation's files.

"Tour takers can expect to see lots of balconies, towers, turrets, porches and gingerbread along the route, a signal that some of the architecture of the houses may be based on architect George Franklin Barber's pattern houses from the 1880s through 1900," Mrs. Mansmann said.

At the W&J president's house, where visitors will be given access to the first floor, house manager Michelle Sprowls, will talk about the home that originally served as the home of glass mogul James Duncan.

Ms. Donnelly has lived in Pittsburgh since 1975 and served by mayoral appointment the city's Historic Review Commission between 1978 and 1985. She is currently on the board of Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation and writes a column in Western Pennsylvania History magazine.

She also has authored several books and National Register nominations on Allegheny County topics and organized an exhibition on Western Pennsylvania barns for the Heinz Architectural Center at the Carnegie Museum of Art.

"The juxtaposition of Washington and Jefferson College with so many architect-designed buildings and the handsome houses in the historic district creates an opportunity for architectural tourism," Ms. Donnelly said. "I would love to see Washington-East Washington sponsor tours of these houses as often as they celebrate the county's covered bridges."

The cost of the Leading Ladies tour is $15 per person. For reservations, phone 724-413-9921.

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Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: First Published October 17, 2013 1:50 AM


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