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Historic Fayette County mansion for sale on eBay

1802 gem of hand-hewn stone must be removed from Fayette site

Monday, May 05, 2003

By Karen Kane, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

FOR SALE: Twenty-room, cut-stone mansion with detached slave quarters and smokehouse. Must collect and carry.

It's been called "la creme de la creme" of architectural masterpieces, one of the most historically significant homes west of the Alleghenies, and it's on the selling block.

The Isaac Meason House. (AP photo)

Meason House, one of Fayette County's historical jewels, is being advertised on the Internet auction house eBay.

The 1802 house that is one of about 2,000 National Historic Landmarks in the United States, the 2 1/2-story stone slave quarters, the three-story smokehouse -- all are for sale to the highest bidder.

But the four-acre parcel where the buildings sit is not for sale.

The next owner of the Georgian mansion must dismantle and move the buildings.

It's not that owners Terry and Diane Kriss want to build something more modern on their hilltop perch, 1,000 feet from Route 119, just outside Uniontown. They plan to high-tail it out of town.

They just think that selling the house apart from the property is their best chance at recouping the tens of thousands of dollars they say they've spent trying to preserve and protect it from the elements and the encroaching commercial community -- especially their next door neighbors.

 
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"I'm worn down. I've had it. I've been threatening for five years that if things didn't change I'd sell the house in pieces and everyone thought I was B.S.-ing. Well, I guess it's actually come to that," said Terry Kriss in an interview yesterday.

Kriss, 47, moved into the house with his parents and spent many days and weeks at his dad's side, refurbishing the colonial mansion that was built by Col. Isaac Meason. His wife of 25 years, Diane, 42, was his partner all the while.

It was a labor of love. Professional antiques dealers, the couple appreciates history. But they often felt they were alone.

"For years, I've pleaded and begged and borrowed. Everyone has praised us for being such wonderful stewards, but nobody has been there to give us the kind of help we needed," Terry Kriss said.

There have been zoning battles over cell towers and coal mining, not to mention a lingering, bitter feud with their next-door neighbor, a former owner of Meason House. But the final straw came a year ago when the Fayette County commissioners voted to rezone the land in front of Meason House for commercial purposes.

"Anybody can build just about anything they want right in front of this house now," Kriss said.

It's not that he thinks things could get that much worse.

His only access to his property is a 1,000-foot-long, 12-foot-wide driveway that services an auto repair shop.

"To get to my place, you drive past 500 feet of littered debris, wrecked cars that need repair. And surrounding my four acres is a chicken wire fence with "No Trespassing" signs," he said.

The bottom line: "I just can't it take it NO MORE," he said.

His mission is to "find a savior" for the house, then move away.

"I'm done, beat up. There's no hope left in me for making it work here," he said.

What is the house worth? Kriss says it's "priceless." What does he expect to get in the way of bids?

"I don't have a clue," he said.

The mansion was built in the late 1790s by Meason, a prominent figure who had earned military rank while serving in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He became one of the country's first industrialists as the creator of the iron rolling industry.

It was on the Meason estate that, in 1753, George Washington met with Christopher Gist, his scout, to establish the land as the first permanent English settlement in the new frontier.

The mansion is made entirely of hand-cut stone and is said to be the only Georgian-style, seven-part Palladian structure in the United States. It was designed by Adam Wilson, an English architect and stonemason who was brought to America by Meason. Employing the design principles of Italian architect Andrea Palladio, Wilson designed a manor that took artisans more than four years to build. It was completed in 1802.

Inside the house are 11 fireplaces with handmade mantles, including a pair of rare Robert Wellford "goddess of liberty" mantles, a spiral staircase and the original walk-in cooking fireplace in the kitchen.

Meason House stayed in his family more than 70 years, then passed through the hands of several local industrialists, including Henry Clay Frick. Frick sold it to the Cellurale family, who lived in the house until 1970, maintaining a pine tree plantation on the property.

When Joseph Cellurale's mother died, he and his two siblings could not agree on what to do with the property, so a judge ordered that it be sold. That's when Kriss' father, Peter, bought it for $77,000. It was 1977.

Joseph Cellurale Jr. ultimately opened the auto repair shop next door and he has indicated in previous interviews that he would be interested in reclaiming his boyhood home.

Terry Kriss doesn't intend to sell it to him. He said his neighbor has put no stock in preservation.

Meason House will be listed for 29 more days on eBay. It can be accessed in the real estate category at www.ebay.com.


Karen Kane can be reached at kkane@post-gazette.com or 724-772-9180.

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