Manheim Historical Society focuses on Keath House restoration

By on February 18, 2015

Saved from the wrecking ball and moved to its current location along East High Street in Manheim in 1995, the Keath House has been described as “a diamond in the rough.” The log home’s owner, the Manheim Historical Society, has launched an estimated $100,000 project to restore the 18th century landmark.

Once the home is restored, the organization plans to use it as a site for period demonstrations, to house exhibits and for special events. Kay Hetrich, a member of the group’s Keath House Committee, said, “The interior of the Keath House has been gutted, but it’s structurally sound. Once restored, it will complement the adjacent Fasig House, a late 1700s log home that now houses Colonial artifacts.”

“Manheim contains a large number of historical and older buildings that have been underutilized or are in need of repairs and updating. The older buildings found in our commercial district are invaluable assets. Our community has a strong historic preservation organization in the Manheim Historical Society, which is key to preserving our community’s character, heritage and uniqueness. Leaders, such as the members of the historical society, have educated our community on the importance of saving our history for the vitality of the future,” said Doreen Ober, Main Street manager with the Manheim Downtown Development Group.

Reported to be the oldest existing home in Manheim, it is believed to date to the founding of the town by Henry William Stiegel in 1762. Named for Peter Keath, a blacksmith who purchased the property in 1887, it was moved from its original location on the southwest corner of North Main and Colebrook streets. Hetrich said that the significance of the Keath house is that it is typical of houses built by ordinary people in the 18th century, and very few of the structures remain in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Restoration of the Keath House will be a $100,000 project (Photo by Rochelle Shenk)

Restoration of the Keath House will be a $100,000 project (Photo by Rochelle Shenk)

“These buildings were small and the people who lived in them eventually built larger houses, leaving the log homes to decay or be converted for other uses,” she explained.

The first floor consists of three rooms — the kucke (kitchen), into which a central fireplace opened for cooking and heating; the stube (stove room) behind the fireplace, which would have been used for other housework or Bible reading; and the kammer (sleeping quarters for the parents). Children would have slept in a second floor loft area. The only source of heat, the fireplace, would have warmed the first floor and sent some heat to the loft.

Reconstruction of the fireplace and first floor are the first phase of the project, which will begin this spring. The historical society has a $50,000 contract with Restore ‘N More Inc. of Manheim for this phase.

“The fireplace is the main thrust of our part of the project since the fireplace will drive all the other restoration work. It would have originally been built of brick or stone. Because Manheim at that time was a more rural area, it’s likely that it would have been built of stone. We’ll be using stone,” explained Gary Baer of Restore ‘N More.

The limestone for the fireplace will be repurposed. It currently serves as a stack stone wall separating the Keath House from the Manheim municipal parking lot on North Wolf Street. Baer said that the limestone would have been used in some type of structure before it came into the possession of the historical society.

Baer and Restore ‘N More are no strangers to historic restoration. Not only does the firm specialize in historic restoration, preservation and rehabilitation of residential, church, museum and commercial structures, but its offices and warehouse are housed in a restored and rehabbed 1880s cigar warehouse. The building had been slated for demolition, but Restore ‘N More purchased it and restored it in 2000.

“Manheim is a wonderful community, there’s such a wide variety of architecture. We’re excited to be part of this project,” he said.

Manheim Historical Society treasurer Tony Greiner said that the organization also has a $10,000 contract with Worley & Obetz for an HVAC system. Electrical work and an alarm system will also need to be installed.

Other work to be done as part of the historical society’s Keath House restoration effort includes cleaning the interior walls; repairing the exposed interior chinking (the broad white band between the logs that was originally applied to the hand-hewn logs to eliminate drafts and act as a weather seal); replacing the front porch roof; replacing the clapboard siding on the west side of the house with siding of similar width as the rest of the house; and constructing the stairs to the loft area. Greiner said that some of this work may be done by volunteers. Furnishings, including a stove in the stube area, are also included in the overall project.

The Keath House’s move to its current location was a community effort. The house itself was donated by realtor Herb Hess, and funds for the move were realized through donations from the community. Funding for the restoration project is also a community effort.

To date approximately $25,000 has been raised for the project, including a $5,000 grant from the Anne Brossman Sweigart Charitable Foundation and donations from individuals and area businesses. Donations have also been received from the Manheim Sertoma Club and the Manheim Lions Club.

For further information about the Keath House restoration project, contact the Manheim Historical Society at 665-7989. Contributions for the renovation project may be sent to Manheim Historical Society, P.O. Box 396, Manheim, PA 17545, attention: Keath House renovation.


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