Heathside Cottage’s mystery adds to its appeal
By Bob Karlovits
Saturday, July 19, 2008
It sits atop Fineview, peering over Downtown like one of the gargoyles that lurk through the house.
Jack Miller from the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation knows some of the history of the home — known as Heathside Cottage — that could have been on its perch before the Civil War. It is dated 1855 on a plaque near its bay window, but continuing research debates that.
"The story is in the bricks," Miller says with a sigh.
Charm from the 19th century is an obvious feature of the home the foundation has up for sale. The two-bedroom home with solidly repointed brick, plastered walls and decorative wood inside and out is being marketed at $189,900.
The home, which had a guest spot in Rick Sebak’s 1977 "North Side Story," also has a one-car garage, a stylistically matching shed, a bricked patio and a garden area that once was a dilapidated home next door.
"I love it," says filmmaker Sebak about the home. "It is the kind of house that just makes you want to visit and spend some time there."
The home is small with high ceilings in its two main levels, but low ones in the basement where former owner Judith Harvey hung signs saying: "The ceiling is low, the archways lower, anyone over 5 feet, DUCK."
Upstairs, the 10- and 11-foot ceilings give space to rooms that otherwise are tight and small. It is not a home for big parties, big people or big families.
The first floor consists of a kitchen-dining room, parlor and den. Upstairs are two bedrooms and a bath, with a skylight over the staircase adding another touch of airiness to the home.
The outside is dominated by ornate, wooden trim that Miller jokes earned the home the name of the "witch’s house" from neighborhood kids.
Harvey, who is retired, serves as librarian of the Frank B. Fairbanks Rail-Related Archive for the foundation. She moved out of the home at the end of June.
Harvey bought the home in 1992 as a project to restore. After her husband died in 1996, she moved in permanently and continued her work, adding ornamental gargoyles as she went. In 2000, she entered into an arrangement with the foundation known as a retained life estate.
Under that arrangement, Miller says, the title of the home was transferred to the foundation, but she retained the right to live there. She remained responsible for taxes and maintenance, but received a charitable income-tax deduction.
She also received a similar deduction this year for the unused part of her donation to the foundation. History & Landmarks officials then received control of the property to manage or market whatever way they wished,
Harvey does not want to discuss matters, but Miller says he believes she simply grew tired the work that comes along with taking care of a property.
Al Tannler, director of historical collections for the History & Landmarks, says no data exists on the construction of the home. But it may be related to a cluster of like homes called Evergreen Hamlet in Ross.
Col. James Andrews, a self-taught stone mason and engineer, bought the Fineview property in 1862, so Tannler believes he "had the home built and may have named it" Heathside, which shows up on a stone above the bay window.
He did work for Joseph Kerr (1816-1888), an architect who designed the Gothic Revival Evergreen Hamlet homes. Therefore, Tannler suggests, Kerr is a likely suspect for the design of Heathside.
That whole story, though, puts it behind the 1855 date, but that doesn’t matter too much, he says.
Bob Karlovits can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7852.