Woodville Plantation has new president, building replica slave cabin
Nestled between commercial buildings on Washington Pike south of Heidelberg sits one of the oldest houses in Allegheny County, the Woodville Plantation.
Chances are that you have driven on Route 50 past the national and state historical landmark and museum without even noticing it. Woodville’s new president, Bob Eckle, a Canonsburg businessman, wants to change that.
“We are lacking attendance associated with public relations and media outreach,” said Eckle, who is in the energy business and self-employed.
Woodville Plantation upcoming events:
• “Eastern Woodland Native American Cultural Immersion with Ghost in the Head,” 6:30 p.m. Aug. 6. Bonfire and hands-on material culture display with Ghost in the Head, a Huron Native American re-enactor. Admission is $15 for nonmembers and $10 for members.
• “Wigle at Woodville,” 6:30 p.m. Aug. 12. Join Wigle Whiskey and the Neville House Associates to learn all about John Neville and Phillip Wigle’s involvement in Western Pennsylvania’s biggest insurrection, the Whiskey Rebellion. Admission is $45 for nonmembers and $35 for members, and includes beverages, samples and dinner.
• “Military Miniatures and Wayne’s Legion Encampment,” 1 to 5 p.m. Sept. 11. Celebrate “Britsburgh” and see a special display of military miniatures, hand-painted toy soldiers, and war gaming dioramas featuring the late-18th and early 19th-century armies of North American and Europe. Also visit with the men of Wayne’s Legion, re-creating the army of the United States that was based in Pittsburgh in the 1790s. Admission is $5 per person.
Eckle, a self-admitted history buff who has a strong interest in local history, became involved with Woodville, also known as the Neville House, four years ago.
“We would like to make it a Pittsburgh tour destination,” he said.
The oldest part of the house, which once sat amid 14,000 acres of property, dates back to 1775, while the main section of the home was constructed 10 years later. The house was the home of John Neville, who fought in the Revolutionary War and had a major role in the Whiskey Rebellion.
Eckle said Woodville, now two acres in size, attracts roughly 2,000 visitors a year, the bulk of whom are from Western Pennsylvania, “mostly families, and school and social groups.”
The house, itself, is in fabulous shape and offers people a look at how people lived in the late 1700s. On its website, Woodville is described as a “temple of hospitality,” and many of the home’s window panes bear the signatures of guests and relatives who used a tip of a diamond to write their names.
Most of the house has been restored with historical accuracy, including the wallpaper and carpet designs. It also features original items such as a checkerboard floor and cross-hatched lock boxes, as well as the original roof, which was built in 1785.
On the grounds, Eckle is planning to construct a slave cabin replica. Many visitors to the plantation don’t realize there had been slaves in Western Pennsylvania.
“Pennsylvania abolished slavery in 1786,” said Eckle, who hopes to have the cabin completed by the summer of 2017. “People were allowed to keep their slaves, however, until they passed on.”
On Woodville’s grounds, there are chicken and turkey coops. While the turkey coops are empty, the chicken coops are not.
“The kids who visit like playing with the chickens,” he said. “People, in general, are surprised by so much history we have here.”
To help raise the profile of Woodville, Eckle hired Kelly Linn, former curator of the Fort Pitt Blockhouse at Point State Park and director of the West Overton Museums in Westmoreland County, as the plantation’s director.
Woodville is open for guided tours every Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 6 through 12. For more information, visit www.woodvilleplantation.org.