"My Walnut Hill Property"
History of the Museum Property
Alexander L. Irwin (also known as A. L.
Irwin) bought 14 acres and 76 perches of land from Jacob Stover May 3,
1860. This piece of land was part of the original tract of land belonging
to John Allison that is now known as the Tayamentasachta Environmental
Center. The 1860 county tax records indicate that Irwin built the house,
that is now Allison-Antrim Museum, in that same year.
A - Tayamentasachta, B - Museum, C - Middle School site, D
View is looking South
In Alexander L. Irwin's last will and
testament he described his 14 acres and 76 perches as "my Walnut Hill
property". This geographic area is limestone area with deep, rich,
loamy soil in which walnut trees thrive. This fact verifies that, no
doubt, there was a great chance that walnut trees were, at one time,
prolific on this property.
The Irwin family owned "Walnut
Hill" for 73 years, from May 1860 until the death of Sarah Annie, his
last surviving child, in December 1933. The two youngest daughters, Sarah
Annie and Margaret Belle, never married. Upon the death of Sarah Annie the
property was willed to the United Presbyterian Church of North America in
We surmise that the property, while
under the 2 1/2-year ownership of the church, was rented. The church then
sold it to Cletus L. and Maude C. Zimmerman in September 1936. The
Zimmerman's owned the property until 1988 when they sold it to Robert and
Jeanette May. Allison-Antrim Museum then bought the property in April
Who was Alexander L. Irwin? He was born
September 15, 1811 and died September 22, 1890. The "History of
Franklin County, Pennsylvania - 1887" states that A. L. Irwin was one
of the 22 "incorporators" of the Greencastle and Maryland
Turnpike. We discover the following from the book, "When War Passed
This Way". Irwin was a prominent merchant and the hall in his East
Baltimore Street store was used for entertaining during Christmas 1863.
During the Civil War, A. L. Irwin was a member of the committee that,
"raised enough money to pay the extra fifty dollar bonus to all who
Persistent research, through census
records, obituary notices, and cemetery records produced the following
information about Alexander L. Irwin.
We believe his family was originally
from the Newville area as several of the family members' obituaries
mention that they were members of the United Presbyterian Church in
Newville. Early in his life he arrived in Chambersburg and opened a
hardware store. His first wife, Sara J., died in 1848. They had four
children - James Montgomery, Alfred L., Jane E. G., and G. W.
We have not yet found James M. and
Alfred L. listed on census records for this area past September 8, 1860,
when they were last mentioned as living at home in Greencastle. Neither of
them is buried in the family plot at Cedar Grove Cemetery, Chambersburg,
Pennsylvania and neither were they listed as surviving children of
Alexander upon his death on September 22, 1890. James M. would have been
20 in 1860 and old enough to fight in the Civil War. In 1860, Alfred L.
would have been about 15.
Jane E. G. married Scott Snively and
moved to Wyoming. She may have been the only surviving child from A. L.'s
first marriage, having A. L.'s only grandchildren.
Alexander's second marriage was to
Martha J. Means. They had at least five children, the last two being fraternal twins. The children were Thomas M., Alexander Fleming, Sarah
Annie, Margaret Belle and Josiah Smith. Alexander died at the age of 25
and Josiah, fraternal twin of Margaret Belle, died at not quite three years
old. The three surviving children from the second marriage did not marry,
leaving no heirs.
Alexander L. moved to Greencastle in
1855 or 1856 and established Greencastle's first hardware store. It was
located on the eastern most, southeast, outside corner of the square where
the Brendle block is now located. Irwin's business prospered and he
amassed a considerable fortune and was able to live retired for a number
The house he built is a two-story, three
bay hipped roof building, constructed of brick on a limestone foundation.
It is oriented to face south, although all four facades are prominent.
South Ridge Avenue did not exist until the mid to late 1950's when the
high school was built. At the time the house was built, Leitersburg Road
was the main highway. Huge old boxwoods embellish the front, east, and
west facades. The east half of the first floor was assigned to the service
aspects of everyday life with a kitchen and dining room.
The brickwork at all elevations is a
variation of Flemish bonding with alternating header and stretcher bricks,
arranged in a decorative pattern. The fact that Flemish bonding, quite
time and labor intensive, was used on all four elevations is an indication
of Irwin's wealth. The architecture of the house is of the Greek Revival
period with Italianate and German vernacular features. The house is in
good condition and retains much of its original detailing - pine floors,
cast iron locks, ceramic knobs and escutcheons, paneled doors, and molded
The homestead also included a barn,
which was where the G-A Middle School parking lot is located, a summer
kitchen/wash house, and a necessary (out house). A limestone kiln was
situated along the Leitersburg Road southern border of the property.
The property was divided up during the
years that the Zimmerman family owned it until by the time Allison-Antrim
Museum bought the property in April 1998, the acreage of the property was
only a little over one acre.
The Irwin family history, house, and the
remaining property remain a marvelous example of Greencastle-Antrim's