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October 25, 2014
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Custodians of history; Living in a 200-year-old house

John and Dawn Harvey stand in front of the historic Wilmot House in Bethany, PA.
Photos by David B. Soete


Both bedrooms feature wide plank wood floors, and the bathroom (formerly the sewing room) has a clawfoot tub. An unusual feature of the bedrooms is their spacious closets. Most houses of this period had small or no closets, using wooden wardrobes instead.

Artworks abound. Dawn opens the door of a cabinet that sits under a window in the hallway to display the hidden radiator. The attractive radiator covers were crafted by previous owner Alex Baker.

John and Dawn agree that the house is comfortably warm in winter, due mostly to the insulation added during the major renovation. Since the Bethany Glass windows are single pane, the Harveys use temporary storm windows for extra protection against cold.

We head down to the back of the house, where the Harveys have their kitchen, originally the dining room. Though the kitchen retains a colonial feel, with its large fireplace, plank floors and original windows, it has modern appliances. A bathroom has replaced the old pantry, which has moved into one of the closets beside the fireplace. The other closet is home to the refrigerator. “I like the history, but there’s nothing like modern wiring and plumbing,” says Dawn.

Once more we descend. This time, we feel the air grow colder, and I am reminded again of spectres and spirits. Almost entirely underground, the fieldstone cellar was the original kitchen. A large meat hook hangs threateningly from the ceiling. “Tall people have to be careful,” John warns, with a smile. “The Pub” is furnished with comfortable chairs, where people can gather casually before the large stone fireplace that extends into the room.

There are things about this house that took some getting used to, the Harveys admit, but most of them are great. There is privacy in the house. “Here, if the TV is on and you don’t want to hear it,” says Dawn, “you close the door. Also, we have a real sense of community on this street, which is wonderful, but if we want to feel like we live in the country, we go out back. We really like having both.”

What advice would they give to someone who is considering purchasing a historical house? John answers. “I would say first step would be getting Zeke Boyle to restore it. He did a masterful job of preserving the historical characteristics and yet upgrading the house to make it livable. Here, we feel that we’re custodians—that we’ve been given something that it’s our job to care for and upgrade carefully.”

Dawn’s attitude is that a house should not be a museum. “I don’t want to feel that my kids have to not touch anything when they come here.