By Karen Mansfield
As Gregory Barr glanced at real estate listings last year, a house for sale in West Newton caught his eye: the historic Plumer House.
Barr and his wife, Kelly, are outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy riding bikes on the Great Allegheny Passage, so the couple decided to ride the stretch of the trail located in West Newton and take a look at the Plumer House, built in 1814.
“When we got inside, we fell in love with it,” said Barr. “We’re drawn to history, and the Plumer home has a great history to it, and some unique historic features.”
Barr and his wife both were charmed by the wide plank floors, exposed brick and fireplaces throughout the house, and a smokehouse in the back yard.
Barr purchased the property last May from the Mon Valley Initiative, a Homestead-based economic development organization, for $45,000.
Barr’s company, Barr Property Development Inc., completed extensive renovations, and Barr converted the home into an Airbnb, the Plumer Guest House.
“It was always our goal to see it transferred to someone who was going to preserve it and use it. The fact that Mr. Barr is opening it to the public and become an amenity and asset to the GAP trail and West Newton and the community, that’s exactly what we asked for,” said Jason Togyer, communications manager for MVI.
Guests have begun to book stays at the house, which is located one block from the West Newton Bridge, a stunning 113-year-old Parker iron truss bridge adjacent to the Youghiogheny River.
Barr said the location is ideal for fellow outdoor enthusiasts who want to ride the GAP, kayak or fish.
“We use the GAP trail on a regular basis, and we love the West Newton area, and we thought it would be a great fit for people traveling the GAP trail, whether heading to Cumberland and Washington, D.C. or coming from there and finishing at Pittsburgh,” said Barr. It’s under 40 miles from Pittsburgh, so it’s a nice stopping point, a great rest point. I loved it being on the river.”
The 2 ½-story wood frame house – the oldest in West Newton and an example of Vernacular architecture – was built in 1814. In 1846, a 2 ½-story brick structure with two chimneys was added.
In 1979, the Plumer House was accepted onto the National Register of Historic Places.
John C. Plumer, the original owner, was a militia captain who fought against the British in the War of 1812. He was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1830 and the state Senate in 1839. He also served as a justice of the peace.
The Barrs have extensive experience renovating and managing Airbnbs – including homes in Mt. Washington and the city’s North Shore – but this project was unique.
Because of the house’s historical significance, renovations had to meet preservation requirements.
The most labor-intensive projects included renovating the wood windows and preserving and repairing the original pine floors, which the Barrs eventually refinished with a dark stain.
Additionally, the water tanks and central air conditioning were relocated from the basement to prevent them from damage in case of flooding.
“One of the challenges was determining how we were going to set it up to make it function,” said Barr, noting the captive bedrooms – a design feature where a person has to walk through one bedroom to reach another.
The house accommodates up to 12 guests and has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a shared kitchen area, a living room and an outdoor area.
Grab and go breakfast is included, and a pair of kayaks are available for those interested in paddling – Barr noted an approximately six-mile-long stretch from Smithton to West Newton that’s ideal for a two- or three-hour trek.
While the house is historical, it also includes modern amenities, including Wi-Fi, cable TV and a washer and dryer.
Kelly handled the interior design, tastefully decorating with furniture and accessories that enhance the more than 200-year-old home.
The couple researched color palettes of historic homes before they painted the interior wood trim.
West Newton Mayor Mary Popovich said she’s delighted the Plumer House, which for years sat unused, has been restored and converted into a business.
“I’m so glad it’s being repurposed. It is the oldest structure in West Newton, and you don’t want to lose the history in your town,” she said. “It’s a beautiful house.”
She also hopes the Airbnb encourages more visitors to West Newton, formerly a prosperous paper mill town. The Barrs’s Plumer Guest House joins a row of bed-and-breakfast establishments, restaurants, bars and a distillery in town. The 1905 Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Train Station has been converted to the West Newton Visitor Center, and Simeral Square – once an abandoned brownfield – provides a green space overlooking the Youghiogheny.
The historic West Newton Cemetery sits high above the GAP.
Said Barr, “We hope we’re part of the draw. We hope more people will invest in it. We plan to invest in the area even more. We love it. It’s a great house, and the land is beautiful. West Newton, it’s one of the best sections along the GAP.”
To find the home on Airbnb, search for “West Newton Historic Plumer Guest House GAP Trail.”