The Big Brickhouse began its journey somewhere between the years of 1870 -1875. The property on which it sits was purchased by Archibald James (AJ) McKean at the age of 40 on November 20, 1869. AJ was Mercer’s pharmacist and later the acting president of the First National Bank of Mercer. The courthouse records show the deed transfer from Joseph Forker (of the later Sharon, PA Forkers) to AJ McKean in 1869. Shortly after purchase the former Forker home which sat on this parcel was moved a block away and now sits at the corner of Venango & Shenango Street (now Margaret Lucas Law Practice). AJ & his wife Elizabeth (Kerr) then started construction on this beautiful home sometime after 1870 and they would go on to continue to raise their 7 children here. The house stayed in the McKean family until 1958 when AJ’s youngest daughter & last surviving household member, Elizabeth, sold the home to the Shaffers. After Elizabeth sold the big house she built the small brick home directly across the street, so she was still very close by. The second owners (Shaffers) of the home converted the once single-family home into a 3-unit apartment as an income producing investment. During this time, many walls were constructed within the home to divide the units, and the marble fireplaces were removed from each room and used for fill under the back porch and driveway. This was a decision that the Shaffers later deeply regretted, but could not undo. The other original feature of the home that was removed sometime after construction but before its second owners took possession was a cupola/widow's walk that sat atop the 3rd floor with windows overlooking the surrounding town. The stairs leading to this lost feature are still intact today, but lead directly to the roof where the sawed-off boards can be seen. There is also extensive water damage on the 3rd floor ceiling due to past water leakage surrounding the cupola. It is assumed that due to its inability to be properly weather fitted the cupola was removed, by the McKean family. To -date we have been unable to recover any old photos of the home pre- removal of the cupola or fireplaces, the search continues.
In 1985 the home welcomed its 3rd owners after sitting empty for 2 years. This is where our family enters the story! John & Norma Struthers and their two young children (ages 1 & 4) purchased the property in need of significant repair and in dilapidated condition for $20,000. They made this their family home for the next 5 years as they worked to rejuvenate the home’s original elegance and remove the apartments, bringing the house back to its original floor plan & uncovering again many of its hidden beautiful treasures. We joke that Mom and Dad were the original Chip & Joanna Gaines! During this time, John & Norma also operated the house as a Bed & Breakfast, The Struthers Guesthouse.
In 1990, after 5 years of “blood sweat & tears”, John & Norma sold the home for $98,000. All their improvements were done by themselves personally and on a severely limited budget, saving their pennies just to buy a gallon of paint. After years of renovations & pouring their passion into the house they were able to sell for a profit and use the funds to build a life out in the country closer to the Struthers' Farm.
The third & fourth owners of the home occupied the residence for 8 & 2 years respectively. During that time the large fans in the 1st floor parlor were installed and the cistern on the 3rd floor was removed. The fifth owners, Robert & Deborah Thompson, purchased the home in 2002. They made the house their home until 2022. During their time as owners the Thompsons maintained the home and improved immensely on the work started by those before them. Their list of improvements is numerous! They restored the Mansford style slate roof, added the second-floor master bathroom (previously a 4th bedroom in the main house quarters), converted the bathroom off the kitchen to a full-service pantry, added all new hardwood floors throughout, re-wallpapered and painted as needed, and updated the kitchen. They also added the chair rail up the front stairway, installed all new windows (the 1st since construction), added the fireplaces in the large parlor and bedrooms, and converted the soffit under the Mansard roof to vinyl for maintenance purposes.
The sixth owners of the house are us (Carfolos & Struthers- owners #3) again! The difference is that the children (me) are now grown with a family of our own to help us embark on this next journey together with the Big Brickhouse in town.
Let the next adventure begin!