The Colerain Forges Mansion was the home of the ironmaster of the Colerain Forges for over 100 years.
The house was built in four stages between the late 18th century and mid 19th century. The oldest parts are the dining room and hearth kitchen, built circa 1780. The Library and Morning Room date to the 1830s, while the Great Room dates to the following decade. The summer kitchen (now main kitchen) was added in about 1865. The caretaker’s stone cottage probably dates to 1761, with an extensive remodeling in 1838.
From 1828 to 1874, the Colerain forges were manufacturing 1,200 tons of iron annually, and employed about 25 men. The forges were the center of a larger iron manufacturing community that included a mill, store, post office, school, and workers’ housing with ties to Huntingdon, Pennsylvania and Centre Furnaces. The foundations of many of these structures are still apparent. Today, all that remains is the mansion, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. According to the National Park Service, it is one of the few remaining ironmaster mansions “which retains its integrity of location, design, setting, materials, feeling and association.”
According to Africa’s History of Huntingdon County as well as a letter written by Judge William Porter, his grandfather, William McDermott, was manufacturing a form of steel called blister steel at Colerain in the early 1800s until his death in 1816. His son-in-law, David Porter, the ninth governor of Pennsylvania (1839-1845), and his wife Josephine, McDermott’s daughter, lived here for a time. During that time, David Porter also served as the prothonotary for Huntingdon County. The Porters’ son, Col. Horace Porter, would go on to serve as Gen. Ulysses Grant’s aide during the Civil War, including at Appomattox.
In 1831, David Stewart, the ironmaster of the Colerain Forges, and his growing family moved into the house and began building additions, expanding it into the mansion we see today. However, some of their work may have not survived; archaeological evidence, as well as maps and photos from 1919 suggest that a back wing existed where a lawn now stands. The Stewart family lived here until the death of the youngest daughter, Mararetta, in 1919.
Durning the McDermott and Stewart years, the mansion was renowned for its hospitality as a center for music and the arts. Today, Miss Catherine Stweart's sheet music still sits at the piano in the Great Room.
After Miss Maggie's death, the home was acquired by her property manager, Ben Everhart. In 1943, it was bought in turn by Louise Olds McMahon, who had moved back to the area from Manhattan. Louise began the process of renovation, which was continued by her son-in-law, John Pekruhn, a professor of architecture at Carnegie Mellon University. In 1988, John and his wife, Nancy, Louise’s daughter, sold the house to Dorothy Gray Gurney, a historian and law professor from California.
Dorothy, author of Women of the West, was a pioneer in the fields of historic preservation and environmental protection, working her entire legal career to save these important cultural and environmental resources. Her husband, Hartley Gurney, worked by her side as a partner until his death in 2006. Together, they restored the mansion so that each room reflected the time period of its heyday, from the 1780s Hearth Kitchen to the 1840s Great Room.
Dorothy passed away in January 2022. Before her health began to seriously decline, however, she worked with her family to establish the Colerain Center for Education, Preservation and the Arts as a 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation to honor the historic legacy of this property. In 2019, she donated the mansion and its grounds to the Colerain Center, so that it would be open to the public as a resource for educational programs celebrating the rich history of the region.
(All information is from the National Park Service, Africa’s Hostory of Huntingdon County, as well as Huntingdon and Tyrone newspapers of the time period.)
The Stone House, initially constructed before the Revolutionary War, and rebuilt in 1836.