old house saved

Old House Saved ~ Before and After of The Tarbell House of Titusville PA ~ National Preservation Month

Sometimes it is so sad when we see the path of neglect that old houses have taken. It lifts my heart when one is saved. In honor of the last day of May 2021’s National Preservation Month, we retell the story of an Old House Saved.

On November 5, 1857, Ida Minerva Tarbell (1857-1944) was born in a log cabin on a farm in Erie County, Pennsylvania, to parents Franklin S. Tarbell and Esther Ann McCullough Tarbell.

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Ida and her mom Esther.

When Ida was 13, her family moved to Titusville where her father father constructed  this house in 1870 with materials salvaged from the grand Bonta House hotel at Pithole, an oil-era boomtown not far from Titusville. In fact, Ida’s father was the first manufacturer of wooden oil tanks after oil was discovered not far from this home.

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Tarbell house sometime before 1920.

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You could often find Ida in the cupola, and even though her father lengthened and remodeled the home, adding more to the second floor, the cupola remained Ida’s favorite room in the house.

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The family lived in the beautiful Italianate home until 1918. It is here that Ida became a pioneer in investigative reporting with her expose “History of Standard Oil.” Originally published as a 19-part serial in 1902 in McClure’s Magazine, the piece was an indictment of how John D. Rockefeller and the oil monopoly drove her father, as well as many others, out of business.

After the Tarbells sold the house to Lee and Inez Green, the new owners began renovations. Unfortunately, in 1920 during those renovations,  fire destroyed the cupola and former east wing of the home. The Greens wound up adding gables and a peaked roof, and in 1922 subdivided the lot.

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In 1983, Marvin and Barbara Gibson bought the now neglected home from widow Inez Green. Apparently, the house was too much for the Gibsons, and it was sold to AMC Mortgage at a tax sale in 2006.

In 2007, the Oil Region Alliance (ORA) purchased the home, commissioning an historic structure report and preservation plan. Renovations began in 2008.

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No interior photos existed of the original house, so the design was dictated by the style of the era. The last piece of the puzzle was reconstructing and adding back Ida’s beloved cupola. It was built on site with twin curved windows on all four sides. Inside is a reading nook. In 2016, the cupola was lifted up by crane to complete the restoration.

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