Neville House and Bower Hill
Neville House, 'Woodville House' on Chartiers Creek
IT WOULD BE QUITE A FEAT of the imagination to remove the verandahs, the Victorian Gothic decorative touches, even the little bedrooms, and return the house in one's mind's eye to the steep-roofed home that John Neville knew, five rooms and a central hall with a log kitchen at one end. It was not a 'Southern mansion' in either size or form, not the home of a Virginia gentleman as popularly envisioned. Yet that is, in fact, what it was. This was the home of a general, a former commandant of Fort Pitt, a man of wealth and education. John and Winifred Oldham Neville's home was deemed 'a temple of hospitality.' Its window panes still bear the signatures of guests and relatives, scratched into them with the point of a diamond. The parlor was the scene of at least two weddings, that of Major Abraham Kirkpatrick to Mary Ann Oldham John Neville's sister-in-law), and their daughter Eliza's marriage to Christopher Cowan.
THE INTERIORS reveal this way of life: the little plantation house is also a country seat from not long after the earliest settlement of Western Pennsylvania. The hallway, dining room, kitchen, parlor, and two bedrooms off the parlor have been restored, in part with complete accuracy, in part in a manner consistent with the place and period. Both informed hard work and good luck have contributed to the restoration of the house and our knowledge of its history.
The parlor has a modern carpet, woven in Brussels to a design of the late eighteenth century, while the furniture is of the period but not of the house. The wallpaper reproduces one actually used in the parlor; the replica was out of print, but the few last rolls were discovered by chance.
In the dining room the carpet and furnishings are once again not original but in keeping, while the walls are painted in a bright verdigris green popular in the late eighteenth century.
The bedrooms are papered in a replica of a pattern of c. 1815 that was actually discovered in the room under nine upper layers. Waterhouse Wallhangings, which reproduced the paper, is now selling it as the Woodville pattern.
The nursery is restored as to trim.
Restoration of the kitchen, the original log structure of 'Woodville," was completed in 1993. The fireplace wall is of bare log and the wainscotting elsewhere is dark red brown.
Restoration of the Neville house has taken years and is continuing; but the zeal and care of restorers and the leadership of devoted volunteers are being rewarded.
A FAMILY HOME FOR TWO CENTURIES
THE CASUAL EVOLUTION of 'Woodville' into its present form is still something of a mystery. Related generations of Nevilles, Cowans, and Wrenshalls added to and modified the house as they saw fit. It appears that a log building of c. 1775, now clapboarded, was the start. Then, after General John Neville and his son Presley were released from British imprisonment in 1781, construction began in earnest: a house with two ground-floor rooms and two upstairs under a steep roof, with dormers well up on its slopes, that hints at the Nevilles' Virginia origin.
John Neville soon gave "Woodville" to Presley and moved near by to his new, more pretentious 'Bower Hill,' which he was not long to enjoy. As collector of the new and hated federal excise tax on whiskey, John Neville was a major target in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, and after John shot and killed a local farmer at his door, other farmer neighbors burned 'Bower Hill'. 'Woodville' survived and spread, thrusting latticed verandahs forward, clapboarding the log kitchen, sending out bedrooms to the rear under extended roofs, and, as a final touch, assuming Victorian Gothic forms in its upper windows.
In 1973 Mary Wrenshall Fauset, the last occupant, died, and 'Woodville' stood deserted. At this time the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers was planning a flood-control project for the adjacent Chartiers Creek, and the house was in danger. In 1976, though, the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, a nonprofit historic-preservation organization serving Allegheny County, bought the house from the Wrenshalls and sought a means of saving it. Landmarks and willing friends have since brought 'Woodville,' one of six National Historic Landmarks in Allegheny County, to its present state.
"Woodville," the John and Presley Neville house, is owned by and is a museum of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. Landmarks, the Neville House Auxiliary, the Allegheny County Committee of the National Society of Colonial Dames of America, and various individuals constitute the Advisory Committee that restores, maintains, and shows the house.
The Neville House Auxiliary was formed in 1976 in the Chartiers Valley where 'Woodville' stands and where the Nevilles once had 400 acres. The Auxiliary now includes more than 200 dues-paying members, and welcomes new memberships.
FOR INFORMATION on house tours, rentals, or special events, or to become a member of the Neville House Auxiliary, call (412) 471-5808.
How to Reach "Woodville"
'Woodville" is about twenty minutes southwest of downtown Pittsburgh. From Pittsburgh, follow the Parkway West (Route 279) to Route 79 South, where you will take the Kirwan Heights Exit 12. Turn left on Route 50 (Washington Pike). "Woodville' is within one half-mile on the left.
Neville's Pittsburgh House
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