CENTRE FURNACE MANSION
Restoration of the Centre Furnace Mansion
The Centre Furnace Mansion was where the Centre Furnace ironmaster and his family resided. Here, the ironmaster could oversee the operations of the furnace business, located within view from the southwest corner of the house. It is appropriately called a mansion, since a mansion is the largest house in a village. This was the largest and grandest house in Centre Furnace Village. It sits on a small knoll and looks over the community.
The Centre Furnace Mansion as it stands today has seen extensive renovations during it’s nearly 200 year existence. Starting as a typical Georgian house, a two story ell was added to the back of the house in 1846. Just after the Civil War, the Mansion was renovated again to include a large front porch with “gingerbread trim”, expanded eves and decorative brackets, peaked dormers, larger windows and changes in paint colors. Members of the Thompson family lived in the house until 1912. In a 1920 letter from his father to David Garver, it was described that the house had fallen into despair. Garver did purchase the home and lived here until 1975. He made many improvements including running water and electricity. Finally, coming around nearly full circle, most modern day conveniences were removed bringing the home back to its early days with the growing Thompson family.
Today visitors enter through the side door to the “Hearth Room” on the ground floor of the Mansion. This room is named for its large fireplace and the iron lintel across the top, which was cast here at Centre Furnace. The first ironmaster’s house, where founder John Patton lived, was built about the time the furnace started in 1791 or 1792. Tax records indicate that is was a one-story log house with a separate log kitchen. The kitchen is about the same size as the Hearth Room, so we think it might be the same room and the original hearth and lintel. This kitchen would have been used not only to cook meals for the family who lived here but also for all the single men who worked at Centre Furnace. Some months, over 600 meals were served here.
The first floor of the Mansion is what we think of as the 19th-century public area. Centre Furnace stopped producing iron in 1809, and started again in 1826. At that time, the Mansion was rebuilt as a large brick Georgian (very plain and symmetrical) home sometime between 1826 and 1832. By 1832 James Irvin had bought an interest in the furnace; within 10 years his brother-in-law, Moses Thompson, had joined him in the business and moved into the Centre Furnace Mansion as resident ironmaster.
Moses and Mary were great hosts, and did quite a bit of entertaining. A wide front hall was a necessary staging point for visitors, and the Thompsons would have furnished it to show off.
This is the “modern” kitchen, built in 1846. Mary Thompson must have been delighted to have her own kitchen where she wasn’t competing with all the dirty furnace workers!
The dining room is decorated to the 1840’s when the Thompson’s first moved in. The dining room mantel was built in the “federal” style, popular in the early 1800’s when America was still a new country. Much of the furniture in the Mansion now was originally in the house (the silver is an example); others, like the sideboard, were from other Centre County homes.
Southeast Parlor (Founder’s Room)
This east front parlor is often called the Founder’s Room. In 1855 James Irvin and Moses Thompson donated 200 acres of their land, as well as money, in the hopes that the proposed Farmers High School would come to Centre County. It did, and that “high school” is now Penn State. The story is that the founding papers were signed in this room.
Moses and Mary Parlors
Across the hall from the dining room and founders room are two parlors that are separated by pocket doors, which open to create one large room. These rooms have been restored to the 1860s and 1870s, after the Thompsons “Victorianized” the Mansion in the early 1860s. It was important to them to continue to show their wealth and social standing, so they made drastic changes to the house.
It was very important in the 19th century for a family like the Thompsons to separate their public and private life. Moses carried out his business from his home, and he and Mary entertained extensively. The second floor was their refuge, their family space.
Madison Garver bought what is now the Centre Furnace Mansion for his son David in 1920. Renamed “The Evergreens”, it was David’s home from 1920 until his death in 1975. He made many improvements in 1920, including adding electricity and running water.
This was probably the master bedroom, with the fanciest fireplace and stove in the Mansion The metal-looking plates are made of isinglass, which is similar to mica. The wedding dress on display was worn by Elizabeth, Moses and Mary’s second daughter, when she married John Hamilton in 1875.
Northwest Bedroom (Children’s Room)
Six Thompson children grew up at the Centre Furnace Mansion; we have set up one room at the Mansion as a children’s room, with children’s furnishings and toys, some of which have been returned to us by descendants of those Thompson children. The side rails on this crib come down so that it could be converted from a crib to a bed as a child got older.
Hanging in the bedroom across the hall is a picture made of hair and wax. We think that the curls in the middle are from a little boy’s first haircut. All the flowers are made of colored wax. This kind of art was a sign of good education for ladies.
All of the rooms on the second floor have closets. A frequent theory is that closets, viewed as unnecessary luxuries, were taxed. Whether true or not, most early 19th century houses did not have closets, but Centre Furnace seems to be an exception.
Plaster removal in the back east room revealed a doorway that we believe was part of the narrow servant staircase, probably dating from before 1846 addition. Today, this room in the Mansion has been turned over to exhibits. On display is the Miniature Mansion – an exact replica of the Centre Furnace Mansion which clearly shows all the architectural changes that have been made to the Mansion over the past 200 years.
Second Floor Ell – Library and Enclosed Porch
The Library is located above the 1846 kitchen, in the ell that was added onto the house. The stairway to this room from the kitchen is believed to be the original stairwell from the front hall, recycled when the main stairwell was expanded during the Victorian era. From this room, there is also an additional stairwell to the attic. This room may have served as an office space for the business during the furnace operation. Today, it serves as a research space and library for the Centre County Historical Society, housing hundreds of books about local history, antiques, architecture, gardening, preservation, and other related materials.
The third floor, which contains 7 windows and no fireplaces, is believed to have once housed the Mansion servants who worked and resided in the house. Today, the third floor is used as office space by the Centre County Historical Society.