Rebecca and Dana Ferguson are doing more than simply restoring their 19th century Butler Avenue home.

They’re getting a history lesson as well.

“We keep looking for photos of it to make it the way it was,” Rebecca Ferguson said.

The Kansas natives have a limited knowledge of their home’s past. They know that a farmhouse originally was built on the lot in 1853 and that, according to legend, a tunnel under that building was used as part of the Underground Railroad.

After the Civil War, New Castle native Christian Genkinger built the Victorian-style home seen today. At the time, it had an outhouse, as well as a summer kitchen where the garage now stands. The front yard had a pond with a fountain.

Several renovations were made during the 1930s, including the addition of a lead-lined tank in the attic for storing water indoors.

John Burkot bought the house in 1972, and he and his wife, Idagenne Mitchell, were the last known occupants. Legal papers were exchanged among other families during the 1990s, and the house went up for estate sale in 1999.

“A lot of people wanted this house but didn’t want to put the work into it,” Rebecca Ferguson said.

Several items from the home’s past have been found as the Fergusons progress with their restoration projects. While fixing some bathroom tiles, Rebecca Ferguson discovered a Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph newspaper from 1930.

There’s also a room in the basement that the family refers to as ‘the digging room’.

The room’s unfinished dirt floor is a treasure trove of trinkets from decades past. To date, a vase and coin purses from the 1900s, various tools for making barrels, a necklace from the 1930s and state political propaganda from the 1960s are among the objects found.

The Fergusons have made several trips to the Lawrence County Historical Society to learn as much as possible about their home’s past. They are working to get it on the National and State Security Registries of Historic Homes.

Luckily, they are not alone in their restoration efforts.

Glenn and Mollie Brandt of New Castle were taking a walk last spring when they passed Dana Ferguson teetering on scaffolding outside the Victorian home.

The Brandts had restored their Oak Street home, as well as homes in North Carolina and Virginia, and neighborly curiosity led to a meeting with the Fergusons.

“We had the tools and ladders they needed, so we asked if they needed our help,” Glenn Brandt said.

The Fergusons were touched, and the families bonded over both having lived in Lynchburg, Va.

“We didn’t think they’d come back to help, but they did, and we’re so thankful,” Rebecca Ferguson said.

The Brandts were impressed with the Fergusons’ ambitious project as well.

“Dana has both the extensive knowledge and the mechanical skills to do this, and that really impressed me,” Glenn Brandt said.

Mollie Brandt, originally from Ellwood City, remembers seeing the imposing Victorian home as a child when her family would travel into New Castle.

Rebecca said that several neighbors have taken interest in the family’s plans for the home.

When asked if this would be their last home restoration project, the Fergusons were unsure.

According to Rebecca, “There’s always a home that needs to be salvaged.”

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.