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Blair County Historical Society (Elias Baker Mansion)
Elias Baker moved to Blair County from Lancaster County in 1836, only one year before a six-year economic depression hit. This poor timing appeared to plague him throughout his business life. He expanded the Allegheny Furnace iron plantation ( BL18), already on his land, and then commissioned this mansion on a knoll overlooking it. In 1844, he commissioned drawings from Robert Cary Long Jr. (1810–1849) of Baltimore, son of the renowned architect of the same name. Long drew up plans, but was so tardy in supplying specifications that Baker fired him. His contractor, Charles B. Callahan of Bellefonte in Centre County, completed the project in five years. Baker's dreams were larger than his income, and building the house strained the family's fortunes. Several changes, often for reasons of cost, were required. The Greek Revival styling and central-hall plan remain unchanged from Long's plans, but Baker's constant financial woes caused the contractor to specify that the columns, which originally were meant to be cast iron, should be made of cheaper materials. The base, capital, and bottom third of each column are cast iron, while the upper portion of the shafts is brick parged with Johnstown cement and fluted by hand. The entablature and pediments are all covered with cement, painted to imitate stone. The gray limestone used to face the exterior was quarried nearby. The stones are set with strips of lead at the joints. The north elevation, the principal facade, has a pediment supported by six fluted Ionic columns, while the rear elevation has a similar two-story pedimented portico, but with square columns, simple capitals, and a second-story porch. Family members lived in the house until 1914. It was leased to the Blair County Historical Society in 1922, and purchased by the society in 1941. In 2000, the house underwent an extensive exterior renovation.
There are several iron plantation houses extant in western Pennsylvania. The Isaac Meason House of 1802 ( FA27) is the most architecturally significant, but the Baker House is the best ironmaster's mansion from the mid-nineteenth century. Between this complex—which includes the Allegheny Furnace located one and one-half blocks north—the Daniel Royer House ( BL29), and the Mt. Etna Furnace complex ( BL28), a complete story of early iron making can be told in Blair County.
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