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North Hills Monthly

There’s No Place Like Home… Even When You’re Traveling

Aug 31, 2015 11:35AM ● By Vanessa Orr
One of my favorite things to do when visiting a different city is to see if there are any ‘famous’ homes that offer tours—anything from the majestic plantation homes of New Orleans, to sustainably built recycled bottle homes in Belize, to stately mansions owned by robber barons up and down the East Coast. Luckily for those living in Pittsburgh, our home state offers a wealth of opportunities for those who want to visit houses where history was made, and it just depends on how far you want to drive.

While many people who live in Pittsburgh are familiar with the Hartwood Mansion at Hartwood Acres, and Clayton, the Frick mansion located in the East End, a hidden gem that is a little lesser known is the Bayernhof Museum in O’Hara Township. The $4.2 million mansion, which was the home of Charles B. Brown from 1976 to 1982, showcases his many passions—from Hummel figurines to rare, antique, self-playing musical instruments, including a Seeburg Pipe Organ Orchestra, once used to accompany silent films. The home’s eclectic pieces, which range in value from $1 to more than $100,000, are only part of the thrill; the home is also filled with secret passages, a ‘cave’ hallway with stalagmites and stalactites, and a jaw-dropping view of the Allegheny River.

One of the state’s better-known homes, Fallingwater, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is less than an hour away in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands. Built in 1936 for Edgar J. Kaufmann, Sr. and his wife, Liliane, the cantilevered home sits atop Bear Run Creek, and incorporates natural elements to blur the lines between indoors and outdoors. Filled with art, including 170 pieces designed by the architect himself, the home is a minimalist masterpiece as well as an architectural wonder, justly earning its title as “the greatest house of the 20th century.”

I highly advise anyone who is visiting Fallingwater to also visit Kentuck Knob, another Wright home located only seven miles away. Built in 1956 for the Hagan family who lived in the house for 30 years, the home, while still architecturally stunning, feels a little less museum-like; it’s easy to picture oneself living there. Opened for tours in 1996, this Grand Usonian-style home also features all-natural materials, as well as a red tile at the door containing Frank Lloyd Wright’s initials. Make sure to take time to wander the nature trail, which is filled with an incredible array of outdoor art, including a piece of the Berlin Wall and kinetic sculptures that move with the breeze.

The Asa Packer Mansion, located in Jim Thorpe, PA, will give you a good idea of how the other half lived back in the day. The home of philanthropist and railroad magnate Asa Packer, who was worth $54.5 million when he died in 1879, the 18-room Italianate mansion still contains the original 19th century furnishings, which is pretty amazing considering that the home remained sealed and undisturbed for 44 years until being opened to the public in 1956. A couple special items of interest include a peacock table, gifted to the Packer family by Queen Victoria, and floor-to-ceiling pink drapes lined with 18 carat gold bullion thread from Paris.

Less ostentatious but just as impressive is the David Wills House, located in Gettysburg, PA. While the house itself is quite distinguished for the time, serving as the home of an Adams County judge, what makes it a must-visit is that you can actually stand in the same room where President Abraham Lincoln put his finishing touches on the Gettysburg Address—a speech that altered the course of history. The Jennie Wade House, where the only civilian casualty of the Battle of Gettysburg died, is just a short walk away.

Valley Forge, PA, holds a wealth of amazing historic homes, from Glencairn, a seven-story medieval castle featuring views of the Philadelphia skyline, and Cairnwood, a Beaux-Arts mansion, to John J. Audubon’s first home in America and the Wharton Esherick Museum. Glencairn, home to Raymond Pitcairn, one of the founders of Pittsburgh Plate Glass (PPG) and his family for 40 years, is now a museum of religious art and history, containing Pitcairn’s priceless collection of artifacts from Egypt, Greece, Rome and early Asian and Islamic cultures. Part of the Bryn Athyn Historic District, the estate also features the slightly less imposing Cairnwood (still a massive, impressive mansion that was home to Pitcairn’s son, John), and the Bryn Athyn Cathedral.

Art is also on display at the John James Audubon Center, which is nestled within a wildlife sanctuary, and at the Wharton Esherick Museum, a studio/house that showcases the artist’s talent from its striking wooden kitchen floor to its one-of-a-kind, hand-carved cooking utensils and mastodon-tusk staircase railing.

This is certainly not a comprehensive list; it’s a big state, and there are a lot more historic and unique homes to visit in Central Pennsylvania and along the state’s eastern edge. Do you have a favorite ‘famous’ Pennsylvania house to visit? Visit us on Facebook and let us know!

For more information on any of the homes listed, see below.

Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board:, 610-834-1550

Bryn Athyn Historic District:, 267-502-2987

John James Audubon Center:, 610-666-5593

Wharton Esherick Museum:, 610-644-5822


Destination, 717-338-1055

David Wills House:, 877-874-2478

Jennie Wade House:  717-334-4100


Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau:, 724-238-5661

Fallingwater:, 724-329-8501

Kentuck Knob:, 724-329-1901


Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau,, 570-421-5791

Asa Packer Mansion:, 570-325-3229

Bayernhof Museum:, 412-782-4231