A Tale of Two B&Bs
Many people wonder what it would be like to live in a historically restored house. These two inns offer a little bit of that experience — without all the work.
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By Gretchen McKay
Don't let appearances fool you — each of these B&Bs involved lots of work, particularly the Oak Noggin Bed & Breakfast, the name given to one four-year project.Dale and Betty Graff knew when they began constructing an artist's studio and woodworking shop out of two century-old log homes that the project would be neither simple nor cheap.
What the couple didn't plan on was that the two-story structure built behind their 20-year-old Colonial house in Jefferson Hills, Pa., would end up as a bed-and-breakfast.
It started out simply enough in the summer of 1996. Deciding they wanted to use an old house as a jumping-off point for their new studio, the couple made arrangements to look at an abandoned house for sale in West Virginia. Then, paging through the local Pennysaver, Betty noticed an ad for an 1826 log house — free, you haul.
Soon, they were standing on an embankment two miles from their home, inspecting a two-story clapboard house covered with Insul-Brick. Tearing off a small section of the siding, the couple was thrilled to discover a row of hewn white oak logs in near-perfect condition.
In agreeing to "take" the free log cabin, the Graffs were faced with two dilemmas. First, they'd have to uncover the original log structure. Then, they'd have to figure out how to disassemble it and move it to the empty lot beside their home.
It took the couple and their children nearly two months, working nights and weekends, to strip off the various layers covering the 18-by-20-foot house and remove the mud-and-clay chinking between the logs.
The interior was equally labor-intensive. The tongue-and-groove wallboards, for example, were hidden beneath 25 layers of wallpaper, and more than 200 tin cans had been sliced open and nailed to the logs to try to keep out drafts.
What made the arduous job a little less tedious, says Dale, were the interesting artifacts they discovered stuffed into the chinking and walls: old nails, Bibles, bits of quilting.
For help in moving and reconstructing the house, the Graffs turned to Roland Cadle, a veteran craftsman from Greene County, Pa., who helped reconstruct the log cabin at the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center. He numbered the 40 logs, then, using just ropes and two helpers, he carefully dismantled the house and delivered it to the Graffs' house.
The following summer, the couple acquired a second log home. They needed a few of the timbers to replace logs damaged by moisture and insects on the first log house. They also wanted to expand it a bit, adding a kitchen and bathroom.
A friend remembered another abandoned log home, still full of furniture and sporting its original pole rafters, less than a half-mile away.
Having watched Cadle take apart the first house, the Graffs decided to dismantle this one and move it themselves.
The following spring, Cadle started erecting the two sets of tagged and numbered logs, and by midsummer, the steel roof was on. The Graffs spent the next year finishing the inside with scraps salvaged from the two homes. The tongue-and-groove flooring in the addition, for example, was original to the 1826 house.
The idea of turning the log home into a bed-and-breakfast, Betty says, sort of "evolved" as the building slowly took shape. Not only would it allow it to be used more often, the Graffs reasoned, it also would allow the house eventually to pay for itself.
The Oak Noggin Bed & Breakfast's four rooms exude a quaint, Early American charm (think Daniel Boone, only with central air and heating).
The Graffs feel they've created the perfect getaway while also preserving a piece of local history.
"This is what was here," says Betty. "If we hadn't come along at the right time, it would have been bulldozed away."
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