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Boal Mansion

Harris Twp, Centre County, PA

The Boal Mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1]


The Boal Mansion owes its appearance and character to three separate stages of building activity that took place in the years 1789, 1798, and 1898-1905.

The first building on the site was a simple 1-1/2 story stone house with a one-story shed roof on its western face. This structure is now the kitchen and kitchen hall of the Mansion. A large cooking type fireplace is located on the southern wall of the kitchen. It has a hearth lined with cut stone blocks and lacks a mantle or mantle shelf, instead, a board with a molded edge lies flat against the wall above the hearth. All carpentry and hardware in this early section is simple and rustic, reflecting its original character as a frontier dwelling. It has been painted the same blue-gray color as the later parts of the Mansion.

In 1798, the second David Boal made a great enlargement to the homestead. A two-story atone house was built abutting the north facade of the original house. The new house was a 30 by 55 feet Georgian dwelling with a side-hall plan. The facade of this three-bay house faced in a northerly direction with its ridgepole parallel to the road as was the English custom.

In 1898-1905 the house received major additions and re-styling by Theodore Davis Boal. The additions, characterized by Beaux Arts tendencies in terms of Classicism and grand scale, included extending the 1798 three-bay facade to the west by two full bays; this exterior east wall of the dining room. At a later point in time this portico was enclosed, increasing the size of the room, with the piers then being expressed as pilasters on the exterior. This treatment was repeated in the east facade of a new servants' wing constructed at this time against the south way of the 1789 cabin.

Along with this definite stylistic transformation on the east front, the north facade was also altered. Boal chose not to detract from the integrity of the original three bay facade in adding the two new bays. His solution was to create an in antis portico with three matching two story columns that supported an entablature.

After these additions and alterations were carried out, the house took on a rambling villa appearance and could be truly classified as a mansion in the continental sense of the term. The building was effectively reoriented toward the east where it was complimented by a formal garden that featured dual pathways to the two new pedimented and columned rear additions, interspersed of course with the humble kitchen house. Thus the eastern facing elevation was an attempt to create symmetry and picturesque balance in an essentially asymmetrical building situation. This treatment can be described as Beaux Arts Classicism, and is no doubt a reflection of the author's training at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris during the 1890's.

At some later date in the 20th century, Col. Boal further enlarged the mansion by the addition of a farmers quarters attached to the south wall of the 1898 extension mentioned above. This building was designed to match the end wall of the 1798 portion of the house so as to retain the symmetrical format of the east elevation.

Other additions include the solarium at the southeast corner of the present structure and the open porch at the northeast corner. From an east view of the mansion these two additions match each other.

The interior of the house, like the exterior, is for the greater part, clearly the result of Col. Boal's classical perception of the house. However, much has been retained of the former stages of the mansion's architectural history. The kitchen wing still retains the large cooking fireplace, old window sills, glazing, molding and hardware.

The 1798 portion of the house by the second David Boal overshadows the older kitchen house in both size and formality. The interior of this section on the ground floor was divided into five parts -- a front hall with a stairway toward its back and a back hall (both along the western side of the house) and a drawing room, library and dining room to the east. This plan is typical of Georgian three-bay houses.

The front hall with its splendid staircase is the principal feature of the 1798 house. The stairs are of the "dog leg'd" variety even though a strong curvilinear momentum is suggested by the balusters winding out of a volute on the first step and by the graceful turning back of the handrail and the stair end at the first landing. The stair balusters are turned and are of graceful proportions. The chair-rails of the hall continue up the stairs along the stair wall.

The drawing room has a fireplace with a stone-lined hearth. The crown of the hearth is made up of stone arranged in a flat arch with keystone. The mantle consists of engaged Doric columns supporting the entablature, and the frieze is paneled.

The fireplace in the library is quite similar to the one just described although the articulation is slightly varied.

The dining room fireplace is noticeably larger. It possesses no columnar articulation beneath the ends of the mantle entablature, merely a simple frame. The entablature itself is ornamented with triglyphs and guttae.

All rooms in this 1798 section possess chair-rails and door frames while the window frames are molded with wooden bulls-eye adorning the top corners.

There are three fireplaces on the second floor of this part of the house. These are smaller than, but stylistically related to those on the first floor.

The interior of the 1898 additions amply reflect Col. Boal's classical themes that were carried out on the exterior.

The Columbus family Memorial Chapel was built in 1916. It is a one-story, gable entrance way.

Also located on the property are a hipped roof carriage house built in 1898. Today this building is used as apartments. The carriage house has double square columns, gable dormers and a centre cupola with bell.

The Boal barn is currently used to house a summer theatre group. This cross-gable frame barn has rectangular louvered windows, two ventilator cupolas and a round stone silo.

Also located on the property are a stone smokehouse and two outdoor fireplaces.


Abstract: The Boal Mansion and Museum is a complex of buildings and objects that are significant for their architecture, their two-century association with Pennsylvania Military History, and their connection to the historical development of Boalsburg Village and vicinity. In addition, the property includes the family chapel that belonged to Christopher Columbus and his descendants, which came into the possession of the Boal family in the nineteenth century. This family still controls the property and operates it as an historic house museum, easily the most important and well-known facility of its kind in the entire region.

The architectural significance of the Boal Mansion lies in the interesting and pleasing series of additions that add to the building's sense of historic continuity by retaining the quality and character of each previous portion.

For example, the oldest portion of the house, a small 1 1/2 story stone house c. 1789, still serves as the kitchen and connects the 1798 addition with the 1898 servants' quarters. Respect for this little monument to the original Pennsylvania Boal (David the elder) has made successive generations retain its essential integrity and preserve its woodwork, detailing, and hardware.

In the same spirit, extensive additions placed on the house by Theodore Davis Boal in 1898 does not obliterate the character of the three-bay Georgian farmhouse that David Boal, Jr. built in 1798. By extending the house to the west via an in-antis portico rather than a flush facade, Theodore Davis Boal protected the integrity of the original portion of the face. Such a sensitive treatment is a tribute to both the author's respect for the original house and his own skill as an architect, trained -- like Richard Morris Hunt and H. H. Richardson at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.

This training is also reflected in other 1898 additions carried out to enlarge the mansion and accommodate servants in the same building.

The architectural treatment of additions is significant for its use of classical elements that unify a house that has had portions built on three separate centuries by members of the same family.

The military history and tradition of the Boal family goes back to Europe. However, associations with United States military history began with David Boal the elder who came to the colonies and, like so many of his Scotch-Irish brethren, enlisted in the Continental Army. David Boal is recorded as a Captain in the Cumberland County Militia, Second Company, Seventh Battalion of 1780. He was reportedly wounded in battle and received depreciation pay. It is believed that he received land for his service and traded the same for the present property with Rubin Haines, an early landowner in what is now Centre County.

David had a son of the same name who, though too young to participate in the revolution, returned to County Antrim to fight the British in Ireland. David, the younger (1764-1837) was also captain of a local military organization known as the Spring Creek Phalanx of the National Guard.

In the late 1890's the Boal property was turned over to the brother of the direct Boal line, Theodore Davis Boal. Theodore's father was George J. Boal (brother of Elizabeth) who went west to become a prominent lawyer in Iowa City representing big eastern companies. He was quite wealthy and able to send his son to France to study architecture. Theodore, like his famous contemporary, Theodore Roosevelt, was quite an adventurer and was known to have spent a year as a cowboy in the West before leaving for Paris. After returning from the Continent he took possession of the Boal Mansion and proceeded to enlarge and remodel it. His distinguished military career began while the mansion was his home.

In June, 1916, Col. Boal organized, equipped and trained a privately financed company that was shortly thereafter mustered into service as the Machine Gun Troop of the 1st Pennsylvania Calvary, later to become part of the 107th Machine Gun Battalion of the 28th Division. They first served under General Pershing at the Mexican border and took part in actions against the forces of Poncho Villa.

By the time the United States entered World War I, the Boalsburg Machine Gun Troop had obtained some fame among military circles. The Troop went to Europe with the 28th Division and the 107th saw distinguished service in battle, a credit to its founder and early patron. Col. Boal did not, however, remain with Company A, but was called to serve on General Charles H. Muir's staff. For his service, Col. Boal received the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism.


Holden, Harold. The Chapel of Christopher Columbus and the Boal Mansion: The Story of an American Heritage. Columbus Chapel and Boalsburg Estate Society, 1956.

Linn, John Blair. History of Centre and Clinton Counties, Pa.. Philadelphia, Pa: Louis H. Everts, 1883.

Pennsylvania Archives

Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. Brochure, The 28th Division Shrine.

Scott, Hugh. Old World Heritage: Columbus Relics at Boalsburg, Pa., Were brought Chapel in Spain. The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, February 7, 1954.

States Publication Society. Pennsylvania in the World War: An Illustrated History of the Twenty-Eighth Division. Vol. I, 1921. Pittsburgh-Chicago.

Stevens, S. K. Pennsylvania: Birthplace of a Nation. New York: Random House, 1964.

  1. Ramsey, Greg, and McLaughlin, Bill, Centre County Historic Registration Project, The Boal Mansion, nomination document, 1978, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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