The Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum is located in Meadville, PA and available for tours Wednesday through Sunday in the afternoon. These tours are free, although donations are encouraged.
My recent visit was on a very pleasant summer afternoon, with nary a cloud in the sky and temperatures in the mid-70s. It was the kind of glorious summer day that we have here in Northwest Pennsylvania. In my opinion, they more than make up for the atrocious winters. There is something about the light here in Meadville, perhaps it is by virtue of being at a more northerly latitude, that is especially gracious. Or perhaps it is just because it IS sunny and warm, when cold and snowing is such a more common occurrence!
On a day like today, all is bright and vibrant. One feels more alive just to be outside. And one can see why someone would want to build and perfect a mansion in this location – near the lovely French Creek (recently named Pennsylvania’s River of the Year), adjacent to the equally lovely Allegheny College, and (at the time) surrounded by farmland. The house has a very long and interesting history, with multiple owners who each built on what was already there. Today, it is owned by the Crawford County Historical Society, who have done a tremendous job in reacquiring long-lost furniture and other objects owned and used in the house as far back as the 1840s.
The home is a joy to tour. The furnishings, the woodwork, the design of the rooms, and even the wallpaper all transport the visitor back to the turn of the 20th century. The home, while clearly magnificent and could only have been owned and occupied by a family with some means, is also comfortable and at a small enough scale that one could even imagine living in it today. The rooms are certainly on the large size, most of which easily held a tour group of 8 plus docent. And the 10-foot ceilings are not something we see in many homes today. But, with a couple of exceptions, the furniture was not grand in scale nor were there the kind of imposing fireplaces that you see in places like Mt Vernon or Winterthur. In fact, the dining room table was set for 8 while I was there and it looked quite cozy. The formal parlor was comfortably large, but not even as big as some “great rooms” that you can see in homes built in recent years. A gaming room was almost cramped what with a large display case / cabinet, small gaming table and chairs, and not much else.
In the rear corner of the ground floor is the only “modern” room in the building – a kitchen made to look as it would have in the 1930s, or as it did when the last family to occupy the home was there. The kitchen had previously been in the basement, so as to avoid some of the heat generated by the tremendously large oven. But modern sensibilities, along with the development of newer kitchen appliances, led it to be relocated back to the ground floor.
The tour includes the bedrooms on the second floor, which include a mix of original, reproduction, and period furniture and other items. Owing to the glorious weather, we were given a special treat when the docent led us outside to the second-floor balcony. The balcony encircles the entire house, affording lovely views of the treed landscape. We learned that the Historical Society occasionally uses this balcony for different events, including wedding receptions, teas, and others.
There is a third floor, with more bedrooms, but it is off limits to visitors, owing to its tight stairway, deemed not safe by the county fire marshal. It was somewhat surprising then that we were allowed to descend back to the ground floor by way of the servants’ stairway, also a rather cramped passageway. But it was worth seeing for the view it gives into how such a household actually operated once upon a time.
The tour, which lasts approximately one hour, was very pleasant. The house has quite a number of lovely items and the docent told some pretty interesting stories about them. She was able to knowledgeably answer many questions about things ranging from the wallpaper to the “grandfather clock” in the hallway (I was surprised they were using that term, but perhaps populism won the day there!). The Baldwin-Reynolds house is an amazing treasure to have here in Meadville. For anyone with an appreciation of old homes, antiques, local history, etc, it is well worth a visit.
Upon leaving, I stopped by the pond located in the “front yard.” It has a gazebo in the middle and is surrounded by flowers and other water-loving plants, making it a particularly picturesque spot on the home’s grounds. While surveying the pond, I noticed it was teeming with the biggest tadpoles I’d ever seen! Scores of them, filling the pond. Someday soon, that pond is going to be quite the noisy spot! I hope the neighbors won’t mind!