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Molly Fleming House

California Boro, Washington County, PA

The Molly Fleming House (616 Wood St.) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.


The Fleming House stands at 616 Wood Street in California Borough, Washington County, Pennsylvania. It is in an area of middle class housing three blocks south of Third and Wood Streets, the core of the present California Business District. The house sits on an irregularly-shaped lot bounded by a common driveway to the north, a recent concrete retaining wall to the south, an original concrete retaining wall to the west, and a wooded area to the east. The retaining walls are small scale elements not included in the resource count. Concrete steps and a sidewalk lead from the street to the front of the house. The stretcher bond brick house was built for Molly Williams Fleming in circa 1912. The 1 1/2 story bungalow is rectangular in shape with a pyramidal hipped roof with hipped dormers, Craftsman and Colonial Revival details, and a recessed wraparound porch. The house has good integrity with only minor alterations.

The facade of the Fleming House has three openings oriented to the west. The most dominant feature of the facade is the large recessed wraparound porch. It sits on square brick piers joined by wood lattice work. The brick piers support the original wood deck with an original wood balustrade composed of square wood posts, narrowly spaced square section balusters, and a wide wood handrail. The five square wood posts of the porch are tapered from the top to the bottom. These fluted posts are Colonial Revival in style with wood bases and simple capitals. On the.north side of the porch is a newel post with details similar to the columns. It marks a second set of porch steps to the side yard. The posts of the porch support a plain wood frieze that extends around both the inside and outside of the entire porch. The original narrow board ceiling of the porch remains intact and is stained a dark color. The porch ceiling has two original Craftsman style square copper light fixtures or lanterns with hipped covers at the top and opaque glass panels on each side. The original wood electrical channels used to service these fixtures remains intact. Two similar light fixtures flank the front door.

All the first floor windows and doors have sandstone lintels and sills, some of which have been painted. Two asymmetrically-placed fixed sash windows with transoms flank the front door. The wood frieze of the porch covers the lintels of both windows. The front door, with transom above, has four raised carved panels and two glazed panels. On the north side of the porch is a secondary door to the dining room. Similar to the front door, this door has four raised carved panels and two glazed panels, but the transom has been closed. Modern wood shutters were added to the north and west window openings in recent years.

The north elevation of the house has three window openings. Two of the openings are within the recessed porch. Both of these openings are original twelve pane casements. The third opening is a large bay window with tripartite double hung sash windows. Four carved wood consoles support the bay with both sides and divisions between the three windows having recessed wood panels. A small hipped roof with exposed rafter ends caps the bay. The rear elevation has four openings with a small recessed porch on the southern corner supported by a square fluted column. The southernmost opening was originally a door to the kitchen which was subsequently closed off during a mid twentieth century renovation. Next to this former door is a long narrow replacement window. Projecting several feet from the mass of the house, is the portion of the house containing the present door. It was placed in a former window opening during the renovation. The fourth opening on this elevation is an original narrow horizontal window with four fixed sash.

The south elevation has five openings. The westernmost opening is an original set of double hung sash windows placed at the landing of the interior main stair. Below this set of windows is a small window with a jackarch lighting the stair to the basement. Further east is a window opening to light the service stair, a double hung sash window to the kitchen, and another window opening enclosed with shutters to the kitchen.

The pyramidal hipped roof has four hipped dormers, intact wide eaves, and exposed rafter ends. The dormers to the north, east, and south have exposed rafter ends similar to those of the main roof. These three dormers also have original double hung tripartite windows with fifteen square panes over one large pane. Raised wood panels accented in green trim serve as decorative separations to each window in these large dormers. The smaller dormer on the south elevation which has one double hung sash window rather than three, with fifteen square panes over one large square pane. Toward the center of the roof is a small square red brick chimney. Historic photographs from circa 1927 indicate the original roofing material to be slate. In 1995, asphalt shingles resembling slate replaced a previous asphalt shingle roof Also in 1995,new copper gutters and downspouts were installed. Originally, all the dormers had finials at their peaks.

The house sits on a raised basement constructed of glazed tile block. On the north elevation are two small square openings underneath the bay window. On the south elevation is a non-original bulkhead basement door concealing the steps to the basement. Re-grading of the lot in the circa 1990, completely covered two arched window openings at the basement level on the south elevation .

The interior plan of the Fleming House is compact, typical of bungalow style houses. "The first floor consists of an entry hall, a living room, a dining room, and a kitchen. All the first floor rooms except for the kitchen have original hardwood floors, deep baseboards, original window and door trim, original plaster walls and ceilings, and darkly stained five paneled doors. The hall has crown molding.

For a house of its modest size, the Fleming House has a large entry hall dominated by an elaborately carved wood stair. Located in the southern corner of the hall, the open string stair with wall stringer rises an initial flight of seven steps to a rectangular landing with paired sash windows. The stair then turns and continues in a second longer flight to the second floor hall. The stair has paneled spandrel, molded handrail, square paneled landing newel posts, and a square paneled main newel post. Each turned wood baluster has a square base and head. The main newel post rests on the bottom step which extends beyond the newel post in a semi- circular fashion. The newel post retains its original fittings for a lamp. On the opposite side of the hall is an alcove. The alcove also has an arched opening with original wood trim, a large fixed window with a transom, and an original paneled window seat. The window seat is U-shaped and is built-in to the wall. The hall also has crown molding. The opening to the rear hall on the east side of the entry hall mirrors the arched opening of the alcove. The living room, to the north of the hall, has an unusual two part molding at the ceiling comprised of a simple piece of trim at the ceiling with a much wider piece of carved trim below. The carved trim appears to be an historic addition. The room has three windows with original stained trim.. The largest of the three is fixed sash with a transom. The other two are casements.

The most elaborate room in the house is the dining room with its coved ceiling, bay window, fireplace, and secondary access to the wraparound porch. The plaster ceiling of the room has molded intertwining foliage extending around the entire room. At the north end of the room, is a large bay window with a built in window seat.

The mantelpiece on the south end of the room, while not original to the house, is of the same period. It has an opening flanked by wood carved columns with Corinthian capitals, a mantel shelf, and a built-in oval mirror. This mantelpiece was installed by the present owner.

On the southern side of the first floor hall are two original five paneled doors. One opens to the basement stair, and the other opens to a closet under the original service stair of the house. Directly to the east of the hall is the kitchen and historic pantry, now the rear entry. In circa 1950, the window and door openings of the kitchen were reconfigured. New cabinets and a ceramic tile floor were also installed while the service stair was closed during this same period. The result was a more usable space creating a minor impact on the integrity of the house. The service stair originated in the western corner of the kitchen and extended to the second floor hall. The service stair, which has been closed off, is completely intact. The window that provided light to the stair was made inaccessible from the inside, but it is still visible from the outside. On the second floor the service stair opening has been covered and converted into a storage closet.

On the second floor are three bedrooms and a bath. The bedrooms are located in the large dormers of the house while the bath is in the smaller dormer to the south. The finishes on the second floor are original including the hardwood floors, the five paneled doors with oval knobs, and plaster walls with simple molded trim. In contrast to the first floor, the hardwood floors are laid in a parquet pattern. An original pendant light fixture illuminates the second floor hall. At the top of the main stair is a door to the south which originally opened to the service stair. A walk-in closet is also located on the east wall of the hall while another storage closet is-on the southern wall, near the bathroom door.

The east bedroom has a fireplace with carved wood Colonial Revival style columns and a mantel shelf. Narrow glazed tile surrounds the fireplace opening with similar tiles used for the hearth. On the north wall of the room is a walk-in closet. The windows in this room are original to the house and maintain their original trim. The north bedroom has a similar set of windows with original molded trim. While different in plan, the other two bedrooms have similar finishes, but do not have fireplaces. The bedroom to the west also has a walk-in closet. The bath, located in the small dormer to the south, has original black and white ceramic tile on the walls and floors. On the east wall is an original arched opening to a walk-in shower room with an original light fixture on the wall of the shower. As in the other rooms of the house, the windows in the dormer are original.

The basement of the house is accessible either from the bulkhead on the east side of the house, or stairs from the first floor. The basement is divided into three rooms. A large room to the west was converted to a recreation room with a half bath. To the east is a laundry room and to the south is a storage room. The floors are concrete, except in the recreation room where carpet has been installed.

The Fleming House has an unusually high degree of integrity in a town where most historic houses have been heavily altered for student housing. While the house has seen some change, it retains details such as the wraparound porch with original light fixtures, exposed rafter ends, an elaborately carved main stair, original hardwood floors and baseboards, and an elaborate dining room with a coved ceiling and an intact bay window. The Fleming House is an excellent regional example of early twentieth century middle class housing.


The Molly Fleming House is significant ... as a regionally important example of early twentieth-century bungalow architecture, combining Craftsman and Colonial Revival elements. The presence of California University of Pennsylvania has resulted in numerous historic middle and upper class houses being purchased by the college or divided into rental housing for students. As a result, most historic houses in California have been heavily altered and no longer retain architectural integrity. Only scattered examples of typical nineteenth and early twentieth-century middle class housing remains intact. Of this type, the Fleming House is a rare intact example of bungalow architecture. The period of significance is the date of construction, circa 1912.

Named for the California Gold Rush, California was founded in 1849 and became a borough in 1853. After the town was established, California developed mainly as a boat building center, subsequently becoming home to the Southwestern State Normal School. This school was a state teachers college for the area south of Pittsburgh and is now California University of Pennsylvania. Railroads reached California in the 1890s in response to a number of newly established industries including a glass factory, planing mills, and coal mines. The area along Pike Run, to the west of the town, became the center of seven of Jones and Laughlin's coal mines.

The original 1849 California town plan we a grid with a small town square at the center. The streets were all of equal width. In the later half of the nineteenth century, the four hundred original blocks in California were subsequently divided into lots measuring one hundred fifty by fifty feet. The town did not have any areas of dense building since the lots were large. This resulted in evenly diffused buildings across town. The larger buildings were built along California's streets and avenues between 1890 and 1910; California's period of greatest growth. The small square, while at the physical center of California, was not the center of business for the town. California had instead scattered corner department store and bank buildings a few blocks away from the river. Along some streets, smaller commercial buildings formed fragmentary rows interspersed with houses, civic buildings, and churches. Subsequently, between the years of 1910 and 1920, the town expanded. The land on the edges of town, not part of the original plan, was divided into lots as population increased and demand for housing grew.

In June of 1902, a locally prominent coal operator, T. J. Underwood purchased four acres of land for $5,000 on the southeast side of Wood Street which, at the time, was on edge of the borough and undeveloped. The area just to the south had scattered houses which eventually were supplemented with newer houses. In the subsequent year, Underwood erected a large frame Queen Anne style dwelling with a wraparound porch which still stands. Sanborn Maps indicate several small outbuildings associated with the house were built around the same period. By 1907, on the opposite side of Wood Street from the Underwood house, the land had also been sold and divided into lots, many of which had houses. In 191 1, Underwood sold less than one acre of his land, with permission to use the existing Underwood driveway, to Molly Fleming. The present house, according to architectural detailing and the Sanborn Maps of California, dates to circa 1912. The neighboring Underwood property continued to shrink in size over the subsequent years as houses of various styles were erected on the divided land.

Molly Fleming (nee Williams) was born in 1892 in Belle Vernon, Westmoreland County, daughter of James and Maggie Williams. She married Samuel Fleming, an Irish immigrant who was the Assistant Manager of the Pittsburgh Mercantile Company store in California Borough. Samuel Fleming suffered from Tuberculosis and died in 1910 at the age of 32 in New Mexico. It is assumed that Molly erected the present house with her husband's money two years later. Being widowed at young age, Molly soon moved out of town. She later remarried and returned to town, becoming Molly Minck. Her second husband was the owner of a service garage in California. Molly died in Cleveland, Ohio on 20 June 1961 and is buried next to her first husband, Samuel Fleming in California's Highland Cemetery. Her obituary, in the Brownsville Telegraph, names three children: William F. Fleming, James Minck, and Margaret Cotesworth.

From its construction in circa 1912 to the present, the house has been owned by a number of middle class and upper middle class families. Molly Fleming sold the house to local historian Nan Hornbake in 1915. The Hornbakes were prominent in the early history of California Borough. From the late 1920s to the late 1930s the house was owned by the Alva Martin Family. In the 1950s it was owned by local lawyer Charles Keller and his wife. The present owner . purchased the house and lot in 1989, becoming its tenth owner.

The various architectural styles present in California chronicle successive building campaigns from the town's inception through the mid twentieth century. The earliest houses of the town date to the 1850s and 1860s. Several of these are brick Germanic style houses with two- stories, four-bay facades, and two doors to access two different rooms on the first floor. They also generally have end chimneys, stone window lintels and sills, and a three-room floor plan without a central hall. Nearly all of these houses retain their original form, but in most cases have replacement windows and doors, a new porch, and additions to the rear and side. The same time the four-bay houses were being built, similar two-story, central hall, five-bay brick houses were also constructed. These scattered four and five-bay houses were overtaken in number in the 1890s and through the 1920s by Queen Anne, Bungalow, Craftsman, Shingle, and Colonial Revival style houses.

The Fleming House is an excellent regional example of the bungalow form. Typical of the form, the house has a small footprint and is well-suited for a city lot. The dormer front, gable front, and the hip roofed bungalow are common subtypes found in many suburban neighborhoods. The Fleming House is an example of the hip-roofed bungalow with four hip-roofed dormers. Common traits of the bungalow are a one to 1 1/2 story building, a prominent, low-pitched roof with wide overhanging eaves, and a large front porch included under the main roof. Also common to the bungalow is the use of darkly-stained woods throughout the house in the original hardwood floors, paneled doors, trim, and stair. The Fleming House has both Colonial Revival style and Craftsman style details including fluted porch columns, exposed rafter ends, original exterior Craftsman inspired light fixtures, casement windows, and a large wraparound porch. The floor plan of the Fleming house is a typical bungalow layout with a living room, dining room, and kitchen. The house, however, has some remnants of the earlier Queen Anne style including a large hall with an open stair and alcove with a paneled seat, and a large dining room with a coved ceiling, plaster carving, bay window, and fireplace. The house also retains a service stair; an unusual feature for a house of its size.

The popularity of bungalows was a result of their compact plans, overall economy, and nationwide availability. During the peak of the bungalow's popularity several mail-order companies such as Sears, Montgomery Ward, and Aladdin offered these compact houses to middle class people looking for quality at a reasonable price. While it is not certain that the Fleming House is from a catalog, it is very similar in design and detailing to the Princeville model from the Sears catalogs of 191 1-1918. Since a number of companies and catalogs existed, many local builders and contractors had access to them. This type of house was built in large numbers in many surrounding communities of western Pennsylvania including Donora, and Monongahela. In Donora, a section of the town called Cement City, contains approximately eighty poured-in-place single, double and quad concrete houses with typical Prairie and bungalow detailing such as low pitched roofs, wide eaves, smooth planes, three and four over one double hung sash windows as well as casement windows. These houses were built between 1916 and 1917. Cement City was listed in the National Register in February of 1996. Representative of the period's catalog houses in Monongahela, there is an intact circa 1920 LaSalle model bungalow at 400 Meade Street. It has a hipped roof, wide eaves, and large hipped dormers. While not the most prolific house type in California, a small number of bungalow style houses in addition to the Fleming House do exist. Southwest of the Fleming House on Wood Street are three bungalows at numbers 626,889, and 891. These houses have smaller footprints and were built of lesser quality materials. They retain their identifiable 1 Vz story bungalow form, sloping roofs, large gabled dormers, but much of their original detailing has been covered or removed. Any defining elements of the Craftsman or Colonial Revival style are gone. The houses have been clad in modern aluminum siding and have had their roofs covered with asphalt shingles. Original casement windows have also been removed or replaced. It is likely Judging from their exterior appearance, that the interiors of these houses have been altered as well. These house have poor integrity.

A large 2 1/2 story house with Craftsman detailing at 217 Fourth Street is also contemporary to the Fleming House. This three-bay house has a hipped roof of slate, several dormers, and wide eaves with wood brackets. The eaves have been covered with aluminum siding and many of the double-hung sash windows have been replaced with aluminum and vinyl windows. The house was apparently brick, but was completely covered in stucco and painted dark gray. Similar to the Fleming House, the windows and doors all have stone lintels and sills. Many of the windows are original three or four over one double hung sash, echoing the Craftsman style. The house, while retaining its original footprint and some original detailing was significantly changed by the application of stucco to the masonry exterior. A Colonial RevivalfShingle style 2 Vi story house stands at 322 Liberty Street. This five-bay house has a hipped roof of slate, two hipped roofed dormers, and several original three-over-one double-hung sash. The first level of the house is brick with an integral porch. The second level and the dormers above are clad in wood shingles. Portions of the original slate roof have been replaced with asphalt shingles. New aluminum gutters and downspouts were added to the house as were aluminum storm windows.

The most prolific forerunner of the bungalow in late-nineteenth/early-twentiethcentury California was the Queen Anne style house. The Queen Anne style exists in varying degrees of detailing throughout the town and is often mixed with Colonial Revival and Craftsman elements. Simple two-story, frame vernacular Queen Anne houses are numerous in California. These houses have two-bay facades with gable ends facing the street. Many of these examples have retained their original form, but have few, if any, original details. Generally, these modest houses had six room plans and were built by lower class families. As the original town grew, additional lots were laid out and many of them were small with the houses placed close to the street. Two of the best preserved examples of this type can be found at 510 Wood Street and 229 Third Street. Number 510 Wood Street is a 2 1/2 story two-bay frame house. It has slate roof, original wood siding, gable end shingles, and some original windows intact. The porch on the facade is intact with round wood columns and a wood porch floor. A similar 2 1/2 story frame house is located at 229 Third Street. It has more applied detailing including wood siding at the first level and wood shingles at the second level. The gable end of the house has shingles, and wood sunbursts. One of the side elevations of the house has a bay window. Several of the windows appear to be original double-hung sash. One side of the porch has been enclosed and awnings have been added.

Other houses from the same time period include the 2 1/2 story brick veneer Mahaney House at 428 Wood Street and the Jennings/Gallagher House at 429 Wood Street. The Mahaney House has four-bays and a hipped roof with cross gable and dormers. The original roof material was removed and replaced with asphalt shingles. Like the Fleming House, the Mahaney House has sandstone lintels and sills. Nearly all the windows have aluminum storm windows. The hipped roof porch is intact with wood columns and brick bases. The three large brick chimneys of the house are deteriorating. This house was for many years used as student housing and only recently has been converted back to a single dwelling. The Je~ings/GaIlagher House was listed in the National Register in March of 1996and is a three-bay 2 Vi story brick house. It was built in 1903 and has several slate-covered cross gables echoing the ones of the Mahaney House across the street. These are the only relatively intact examples of what was originally a consistent fabric of middle class housing throughout California. Many middle class houses of this period were toin down by the college and replaced with new campus buildings. Other examples were destroyed for other reasons. Some of the houses have additions making them barely recognizable as examples of historic styles. One such example is the Underwood House next to the Fleming House which has had its walls sided and many of its decorative Queen Anne detailing removed in conversion to a fraternity house. The above mentioned intact houses are widely distributed across town. There is no eligible district in California Borough.

The Molly Fleming House is an important regional example of early twentieth-century middle class bungalow style architecture in a town where many other contemporary examples have been taken over for student housing, poorly remodeled, or simply tom down. The Fleming house is representative of middle class housing once' common throughout the town of California. The Fleming House clearly has the look and feel of a middle class bungalow house of the early twentieth century. The house retains its exposed rafter ends, wraparound porch, fluted columns, large hipped dormers and overall original form. It also has many original casement and double hung sash windows. The Fleming House has an intact floor plan, first floor rooms with large proportions, intact wood work, original hardwood floors, and an elaborate dining room with a coved ceiling and bay window. The quality and level of interior detailing suggests a larger, more elaborate house, especially the coved plaster ceiling in the dining room and inclusion of a service stair. The Fleming House is a regionally rare and intact example of an early twentieth-century bungalow. This house is a vital link to middle class architectural history in a town where surviving examples are in danger of being engulfed by the success and continuing development of nearby California University.

Major Bibliographical References

  1. Brownsville Telegraph. Obituary of Molly Minck. 20 June 1961.
  2. Caldwell, J. A.
  3. Atlas of Washington County, Pennsylvania. Condit, Ohio: JA Caldwell, 1876.
  4. Crumrine, Boyd. History of Washington County. Philadelphia: L/H Everts and Company, 1881.
  5. Gowans, Alan. The Comfortable House: North American Suburban Architecture 1890-1930. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1986.
  6. Graf, Mary Beth. Member of the California Area Historical Society; Interviewed by Clinton E. Piper, 1 1 February 1997.
  7. Hornbake, Nan. One Hundred Years of Progress of California, Pennsylvania 1849-1949. Waynesburg, PA: Sutton, 1949.
  8. Keller, Charles. Former owner. Interviewed by Clinton E. Piper, 27 June 1996.
  9. Lancaster, Clay. The American Bungalow 1880-1930. New York: Abbeville Press Publishers, 1985.
  10. Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of California, Pennsylvania, 1907 and 1913.
  11. Stevenson, Katherine Cole and H. Ward Jandl. Houses by Mail: A Guide to Houses from Sears, Roebuck and Company. Washington, D.C.:The Preservation Press, 1986.
  12. Washington County Deeds, Washington County Courthouse, Washington, PA.
  13. Street Names
    Wood Street