Preservation into the Future

Past and current owner contribute to preservation of Locust House, a National Register of Historic Places site

Times Observer photos by Josh Cotton Above, the Locust House. Below, a fireplace that dates to the home’s construction in the 1830s as well as the woodwork on the main stairway. Below, the beams that run the length of the house with, inset, a photo that shows the brickwork as well as one of the pegs used int he home’s construction.

When Irvine died in 1868, he left his wife half of the home and garden and “a small piece of ground connected with the adjoining farm for planting potatoes,” the NRHP application explains. “The furniture was left to his daughter, Rachel Irvine Bachop, who lived in the other half of the house with her five children.

“Anything left to her was on the condition that she would have nothing more to do with her husband, William Bachop. The reason for that condition was not explained in Guy Irvine’s will.”

Evidently, that was a promise that Rachel kept as the last descendent of Irvine’s to reside in the house was his granddaughter, Rachel’s daughter, Louisa Bachop Briggs, and her daughter, Alice Briggs Higgins and family.

Caring for the dignified home doesn’t appear to have been much of a priority to these descendants – their chickens lived inside in a room over the kitchen – leaving the home in a “pretty sad state,” the application states, when it was purchased by Will A. Walker in 1940.

Walker, the publisher of our predecessor, the Warren Times-Mirror, purchased the mortgage on the property and foreclosed.

The Walkers gave the home the nickname that most know it by now – “The Locusts.”

Their contribution to the house goes far beyond just naming it.

The Walkers renovated the entire home – removed all the vegetation, removed a portico and porch off but went to painstaking efforts to ensure the home remained as original as possible.

They razed all of the out buildings except the outhouse due to their poor condition.

Those structures were replaced with a garage and carriage house, which are becoming a historical part of the home in their own right.

The only significant change the Walkers made to the interior of the home was to remove one of the three original staircases and replace it with an elevator.

Before 1940, the only light sources were the 56 windows and the fireplaces.

That changed when the Walkers added modern utilities – gas, electric, septic – though the original outhouse remains.

When the town of Russell came to Will Walker and said that Irvine’s grist mill needed to be torn down, Walker took the stone and used it to build a small barbeque and pond in the back yard, preserving the sign on the front of the original mill as the front of the barbeque.

During the 1940 restoration, a new bear fence was also made by Al Keely of Russell that copies exactly from the original.

After a year of renovation, the Walker family moved in and used the home as a summer home, maintaining a permanent residence in Warren.

Will Walker and his wife, Nell Granquist Walker, had two two daughters – Ann, who passed away in 2013, and Jane, who died about 10 years ago.

In 1962, the application states, Jane, and her husband, Robert Kopf, moved in, had a new heating system installed and moved into “The Locust” on a year-round basis while Anne lived on a house near the country club.

“They also modernized the kitchen on the south end, the north kitchen having been made into a sitting room circa 1940,” according to the NRHP application. “They also restored one of the chimneys which was destroyed by fire in 1875.”

Kopf owned Hammond Iron Works (which would later become Pittsburgh Des-Moines and was the firm that did much of the fabrication of the St. Louis Gateway Arch).

Hammond did the ironwork on the back patio of the home.

Jane Walker was also a chandelier aficionado and several beautiful fixtures hang throughout the home.

They had three sons and those sons were the invididuals who sold the property to the current owner after it sat on the real estate market for seven years.

That means the home has only changed hands twice – 105 years in the ownership of the Irvine family, over 70 years in the Walker/Kopf family and three years for the current owner.

Many offers were made in those seven years, according to the current owner, but none were the “right fit.”

“There are easements on the property so that the property is maintained historically,” the owner explained.

A couple examples? Trees larger than eight inches in diameter can’t be cut down and none of the buildings can be torn down.

Additionally historical accuracy is provided by annual audits from the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, who has been inspecting it since 1978 when the home was added to the National Register.

The Conservancy is a resource for the owners, giving all kinds of suggestions on things such as paint color and wallpaper. The head curator at Falling Waters has been one of the inspectors.

And that takes on added significance as the owner has expressed a desire to maintain the historical nature of the home and “restore it to its former self.”

While it has been maintained well, sitting empty for seven years took a toll – gutters and drainage proved problematic, utilities needed updated and the wells needed re-done.

But what is original overwhelms any work that has needed to be done.

The home has shifted so little that the original interior doors still close nearly perfectly.

The first floor floors – made of American Chestnut – date to construction.

The woodwork is all original as are the fireplaces, several of which have been restored to operating condition.

The locks one some of the doors also remain.

However, it’s impossible to talk about what is original at the home without talking about the beautiful black locust trees that grow in the front courtyard.

They were planted when the house was built in the 1830s and the Walkers added all of the smaller locust trees on either side of the house in the 1940s.

About 50 of the original locust trees remain and the Walkers planted 400 additional locust trees, as well as other species including Chinese Redwood.

The home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 13, 1978 and included for its date of origin, architecture as well as landscape architecture.

The current owner is committed to “trying to keep the original feel of the place,” acknowledging that Irvine and Weatherby “put their personal traits into it (and) put their own wood into it, their own style.”

“The history is still here.”