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Life Ministries Retreat Center (Joseph C. Sibley Estate, “River Ridge Farm”)

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Joseph C. Sibley Estate, “River Ridge Farm”
1914, Louis Stevens. 834 River Ridge Rd., 1.5 miles northeast of Franklin

The siting and complexity of the River Ridge estate, as well as its view toward Franklin, even in the dead of winter, are beautiful. Nearly every element of the original estate survives, including the pumping oil wells, farm buildings, gatehouses, and railroad siding. Joseph Crocker Sibley was a partner in the Galena Oil Works and Galena-Signal Oil Company. He came to Franklin c. 1868 and with his brother-in-law, Charles A. Miller, opened a successful dry goods store. They used their profits to buy an existing oil company and named it the Galena Oil Works. Sibley, while rooted in farming and the town of Franklin, lived his life on the national stage through his political career and powerful friends. He was with President William McKinley at his assassination, and President Woodrow Wilson and William Jennings Bryan drafted their Fourteen Points during a visit to River Ridge in September 1917.

Celebrities arrived at River Ridge via the private rail siding marked by an arch and capped with a twenty-one-ton stone incised with the estate's name. Thirteen miles of roads, six stone bridges, and a series of gatehouses connected the estate-house grounds and model farm. The thirty-three-room mansion was built with irregularly laid stone quarried on the hillside above the house, and laid under the supervision of Ernest Grandelis. Louis Stevens of Pittsburgh designed the house with a central living room core flanked by square towers. The library and dining room border this core at oblique angles and admit light on three elevations. On the east elevation of the core are the working rooms of the house: an office, butler's pantry, and breakfast room. A two-story, gable-roofed rectangular kitchen–servants wing is attached at the southeast. A three-bay, stone loggia built several feet from the house allows light to enter the living room. There were porches and solariums (now enclosed with windows) at each end of the main wings.

Of the twenty-one other buildings on the 1,034-acre farm, one of the largest is the stone house for John L. Hanna, the farm manager. It is an outstanding two-and-one-half-story, intersecting gable structure overlooking the Allegheny River, with a stone campanile Sibley had duplicated from West Point. Several other buildings survive from Robert G. Lamberton's preexisting 760-acre Argeon farm that became a part of River Ridge after 1911. Lamberton's red brick house adjoins his magnificent L-shaped barn of brick and stone construction, four stories tall with entrances on three stories. River Ridge was broken up and sold by the surviving Sibley heir in 1948.

Oil executive Duncan McIntosh had a nineteen-room stone house (1900, John Axelson, builder; 1 mile east of Franklin Bridge on U.S. 322) built from the stone of a nearby quarry whose product was later used to construct River Ridge. Stylistically the McIntosh house is a blocky version of River Ridge, which is a larger and a more sophisticated design. The grounds include stables, a carriage house, residential units built in the 1960s, and a workshop. A red clay tile roof and an octagonal solarium on the eastern elevation do little to alleviate the heaviness of the McIntosh house design, restricted by a steep hillside to the north that exacerbates its dark interior.

Writing Credits

Lu Donnelly et al.


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Lu Donnelly et al., "Life Ministries Retreat Center (Joseph C. Sibley Estate, “River Ridge Farm”)", [Franklin, Pennsylvania], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of PA vol 1

Buildings of Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania, Lu Donnelly, H. David Brumble IV, and Franklin Toker. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010, 527-528.

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