By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
The Levi Shinn House, located along Rt. 19 in Shinnston, celebrates a genuine milestone this year!
It has been 240 years since the house was originally built. Certainly anyone who owns a home can appreciate how much is involved in regular maintenance and repairs, so one can only imagine what is involved when an aged log structure reaches 240 years old!
Since 1972, this log structure has been privately owned by the Shinnston Historical Association (SHA) and that organization takes tremendous pride in preserving the area’s oldest dwelling as a link to Shinnston’s history. It houses many artifacts and memorabilia and the house serves as SHA’s headquarters – where their meetings are held, programs, events, dinners and tours are hosted.
It has undergone some far-reaching construction work in recent months. Although nothing in the main part of the house has been altered, changes were needed in an add-on area at the rear of the house that was originally built as a porch and later became a kitchen area.
Bobby Bice, president of the Shinnston Historical Association since 2008, says this recent remodel has required some extensive work. A further concern was of course cost AND trying to maintain the structure’s authenticity as much as possible.
“The porch addition in the back was only about a third of the length of the house, and it was sloped quite a bit for water runoff … really resembling a ‘lean-to’. That slope remained when the porch was enclosed as a kitchen sometime around 1913,” Bice explained. “Later, a small porch was built off of that kitchen which was eventually enclosed as well. Still more was added onto this back addition as years passed to make it the same length as the house.”
These additions were all prior to the SHA taking ownership, and Bice noted that each addition had different ceiling heights. That was left as it was when the house was restored in the 1970’s.
The back addition contained a kitchen and bathroom at the time it was gifted to the Shinnston Historical Association. However, according to Bice, one of SHA’s founding members insisted that a second bathroom be added so that if and when the house would be open to the public, male and female visitors would not be sharing the same restroom.
“The walls in the back addition were all paneling and the ceiling was foam tile with a linoleum floor,” he added, noting that when they recently uncovered those walls, they found newspapers from the mid-1900’s that had been used on one of the exterior walls to help insulate against drafts! “In addition to the sloped floor, there was also a slight step down into the kitchen, but all of that has changed now.”
The project entailed a lot of work, partly because through the earlier years, there had been so many “pieces” added at different times. Had the cost not been prohibitive, Bice said it might have been easier to have just rebuilt the entire back portion of the house! They did, however, gut the rear additions and start from scratch with new walls and ceilings, new floor (no longer sloped!), and a new layout.
Work on this project began in December of last year and was completed on August 1st! Bobby noted that weather was a problem initially because the only heat in the main house is 18th century heating consisting of two large fireplaces, and the winter months were just too cold for workmen to make steady progress.
After exposing what was beneath the walls, ceilings, and floor, workers got down to the ‘bare bones’, so to speak, and much beneath the visible surface was updated as well.
“For example, the existing water lines that serviced the kitchen area were replaced and several new electrical outlets were added along with an update to the existing electrical wiring. The back door has been moved; the floor has been leveled; and the kitchen is now rearranged somewhat and confined to one end of the addition with water lines running on an inside wall. There are now a couple of new windows – one in the kitchen and another in the bathroom. One bathroom was removed to be used as a small storage space. There is a cathedral ceiling in the kitchen area now, and recessed lighting and two ceiling fans have been added. Also a couple of baseboard heating units were installed in the back addition. Otherwise, nothing else in the house was altered,” he continued.
In fact, as the addition’s walls were removed, they decided to leave the logs exposed on what was once the back exterior wall of the house. This required filling in chinking where it was missing … and this leaves evidence of different stages of the structure’s past and contributes to its history of being the oldest house in this part of West Virginia.
“During the addition’s remodel, an old well was also discovered under that part of the house and there is what remains of a very large trunk of an old tree against the foundation of the house,” he said.
Bice noted that during construction, every effort was made to purchase needed supplies locally, but the lumber for the flooring, walls, and ceiling is all air-dried V-groove poplar and had to be purchased from a company in Heaters, WV.
Work was done by Tim Sharpe, owner of William R. Sharpe, Inc. Sharpe is an electrical contractor and engineer and developed a genuine interest in the project, offering some valuable ideas and input.
“He had a clear understanding of our vision for renewing the structure while keeping its integrity as much as possible; – our intent was not modernize it. Two of his employees, John and Jack Marks, also spent many hours working on the house and donated some items for us to use. Others helping to get the job completed were Roger McCray, Mike Thompson, Rick Snodgrass, Brian Ladayne, and Connie Sharpe. Duane Gump and Shinnston Plumbing came to our rescue several times too and were really helpful to us. Our governing board would also like to thank our neighbors who were patient with us throughout this lengthy renovation process,” Bice concluded.
Last week, there was much post-construction cleanup going on at this historic landmark and new curtains were added at the windows … all in preparation for the Shinnston Historical Society’s annual picnic that was held on Saturday.
These recent changes may spark some interest among community members and visitors to the community who may want to take a peek at its recent makeover. The Shinnston Historical Association hopes to open the log house for those interested guests sometime in September. Watch for an announcement to appear in The News & Journal’s calendar of events.
Some people have speculated that the Levi Shinn House was moved to where it stands today. However, that supposition is false; its location along Rt. 19 in Shinnston is where it was originally built. Its biggest change is what has developed around it through the years!
The historic Levi Shinn House truly offers a window into Shinnston’s past, and all of the work that was recently done to refresh it was done to ensure that it will remain intact for future generations to enjoy.