Monday, August 1, 2016

A Mansion, a General, and a Cannonball: Part One

Juniata County, Pennsylvania, has its share of historical mansions, including the 1794 Lily Manor and the 200-year-old Wilson House Bed and Breakfast, both south on Route 35. Another mansion lies east of Thompsontown on Route 333. “Selected stone and unusual length” are two of the phrases I found in old newspaper clippings to describe this place. The current sign reads, "General Evans House," but when it was built, locals used the word, “mansion.” read more

General Louis Evans* lived from 1778 to 1852. He arrived from Montgomery County as a young man, married a local girl, farmed, and built businesses in the Thompsontown area. He served in the War of 1812 and is most famous because of his presence at Fort McHenry during the Baltimore Battle when Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner. General Evans built the east part of the mansion in 1812 and added an addition in 1835.

A distinctive feature of the mansion is the fully functional oak shutters which are double in thickness, probably because the general wanted more security against enemy musket balls. Inside, the mansion has two fire places; one made of Italian marble but now closed off. The hardwood floors are made of American chestnut, harvested before blight wiped out the area’s American chestnut trees. Most enchanting are the wide window sills, pocket doors, and rounded corners in the upstairs hall and bedrooms. The present front door is an original, probably put in place during the building of the 1835 addition. Two other bits of history rest in the front yard, mill stones from the grist mill that the general’s son owned across the street.

This mansion has seen only four family names since members of the Evans family lived there. My husband’s father, Stanley Russell Sieber along with five siblings, moved at a young age to the General’s mansion with his parents David and Isabelle Sieber in the early 1900s. Stan’s brother Ed married in 1941 and brought his bride Ann there to live with his parents. Ed and Ann continued to reside there until their deaths in the late 1900s. Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Blagg bought the mansion and lived there a short time, after which Francis and Mary O’Day took ownership in 1997. The O’Days ran a bed and breakfast establishment at the mansion until they sold it to Seth and Laura Moseby, who currently live there with their two children.

Some fascinating stories told about the place turned up during my research. The first is about a bullet hole in one oak cabinet door. General Evan’s son, Samuel Owen Evans, surprised a burglar who shot back into the room as he ran away. 

Another story concerns a horse once owned by President Andrew Jackson. Jackson’s friend, Representative George Kremer of Middleburg, gave a speech in the House of Representatives that helped Jackson obtain the presidency. In gratitude, Jackson gave one of his horses to Kremer. Samuel Owen Evans married Kremer’s daughter Amelia. They made their home at the Evans Mansion. At some point, George Kremer gave the horse to Amelia. The horse resided on the Evans’s land until it died at the age of 43 on August 1, 1859.   
 *Some documents spell General Evans first name as Lewis, but Louis is on his tombstone.

Juniata County Historical Society records, Evans file, accessed June 29, 2016.
Mott, Jane Cannon. "Famed Bomb had a Home in Thompsontown." Landmarks, Legends, and Folklore of the Juniata Valley, The Sentinel, 1999.
Thompsontown: 250 Years of History 1755-2005. Port Royal, Pennsylvania: Times Publishing, 2005.

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