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Milestones Vol 8 No 3--Summer 1983

The Vicary House which received its name f rom its builder still stands at 1251 Fourth Avenue in Freedom after 157 years.

Captain William Vicary received a grant of land for his services in the War of 1812. His wife, tired of her lonely life during her husband's long absences at sea persuaded him to migrate westward.

Although some historians claim that the Captain built his home on the land received from the government for his services in capturing four British ships, the records appear not be agree with this fact. Mr. William J. Bowan of Baden, a local historian and a member of the Beaver County Historical Research Foundation, has done some research at the Recorder of Deeds office at Beaver County Court House. He has discovered that the mansion was actually built on a Depreciation Land Grant made to Mark Wilcox which had been purchased by William Vicary.

Captain Vicary did receive a grant from the government for his services. This land extended from Dutch Run in Freedom to Crows Run. It would appear, however, that the building was not erected on that ground.

In 1826, work was begun on the building. The Tax Records show that William Vicary was first taxed in 1827. He spent some time in Sewickley, Pennsylvania before coming to Beaver County. While there, he became acquainted with Ephraim Blaine, whose son later ran unsuccessfully for president and Father George Rapp, head of the Economice settlement at Ambridge who were helpful in advising him in the selection of this property.

Building with massive dressed stone blocks was relatively uncommon construction for the 19th century. The mansion represents a typical illustration of a local vernacular style of architecture. The use of this process resulted in early western Pennsylvania houses acquiring a rugged character, massive proportions, and architectural simplicity.

Interior features are stone partitioned walls and numerous fireplaces on two floors. The rooms are arranged around a wide hall with a winding rear stairway. Eight of the rooms are eighteen feet square with walls two feet thick from basement to third floor.

There have been some major changes to the house through the years, including a classical style front porch which was added ca 1900; a two and one

half story addition; conversion into apartments; replacement of window-f rames and sash; removal of a large kitchen fireplace, and removal of a ten foot high wall which once surrounded the property.

William Harvey, a descendant of the Vicary family, remodeled the entire house in 1900.

The Beschoffbergers occupied the house until Hazel Nannah's father became the owner in 1924. In 1948 Hazel Nannah inherited the property and had the house remodeled into apartments which were in use until after the property was purchased by Penn-DOT.

In 1955 the house contained twenty rooms, an attic and a cellar. The three families occupying the apartment were:

Mr. & Mrs. Gerald Phillips and their children

Mr. & Mrs. Donald Beatty and sons

Mrs. Linda Rechel and children

Two features of the house have survived modernization and vandalism.

The door is solid oak with wrought iron strap hinges that travel its entire width, ending in sockets that fit over pins set in the door frame. In the tophalf of the door are ninety beveled squares of thick textured glass. The lock is the old iron type that used a key six inches long. A bell, dated 1860, is rung by turning a crank that resembles the handle of an old coffee grinder. Over the door is a stained glass fan-light.

A Jeffersonian mantel is still intact in the mansion.

There are various legends and unsolved mysteries connected with the Vicary House.

Captain Vicary is supposed to have hidden his treasures in a secret cache in the old mansion. Each new occupant has been aware of this tale and has searched diligently, taking measurements and tapping walls but to no avail.

There is a story concerning a so-called "Bride's Room" which was painted white except for a black mantel. The room contained a huge white bed and white furniture. It is said the room was decorated in this manner preparatory to a marriage. When the marriage did not take place, the room was sealed off, never to be used again. No one knows who the bride was nor why the room was sealed off.

A large family mausoleum of matching cut stone was constructed at the rear of the house which added to the legends of ghosts, wraiths and eerie cries heard in the night near the buildings. In 1925, four bodies; three adults and one child were removed.

It is said that the first Catholic mass ever celebrated in Freedom was said in this house by an itinerant priest, a friend of the Vicarys who were Protestants.

The Pittsburgh Press Rote Section of March 30, 1975 states: "The historic 20-room mansion overlooking the Ohio River Boulevard in Freedom has been saved, however, not through a miracle but through the efforts of the Beaver County Historical Society (Foundation), some history minded, letter writing friends of the Society and, in the final analysis, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT)."

The village of St. Clair was laid out in 1837 by Captain William Vicary and was often called "Vicary Extension" or "Vicary." It was incorporated as a borough by a decree of the court March 25, 1867. St. Clair united with Freedom in 1896.

The Vicary House was acquired by the Pennsylvania Deparment of Transportation when they purchased the land for a highway right-of-way.

The house has a strong association with both history and legends through its colorful builder and his family.

Penn-DOT offered the house to the county but county efforts to secure the property have been stymied by a legal battle between the owners and Penn-DOT over the value. Penn-DOT paid $30,000 for the portion of the house it took for construction of the Freedom by-pass.

The Pennsylvania History and Museum Commission executive director pointed out that the National Register is an official roster of districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects that are significant in American history, architecture, archeology and culture. The Register identifies national historical resources considered worthy of preservation as a link to the past.

The Vicary House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C. on January 10, 1975.

The Beaver County History Societies are hopeful that the property will soon be acquired by the county and become a Center for Beaver County History.