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Joseph Dorsey House

Centerville Boro, Washington County, PA

The Joseph Dorsey House (113 Cherry Avenue) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1]


The Dorsey House is a Maryland house form transplanted to Western Pennsylvania. It is a two-story, four-bay, stone Georgian house, with entrance through the left front bay. The roof is moderately pitched with one low, wide gable chimney.

The walls are irregularly coursed, of random rubble masonry, but the quoins are squared and dressed for added corner strength and to give the illusion of a regularly coursed facade.

The window architraves on the front facade are original to the construction of the house, but the 2-over-2 lights are from the mid-19th Century. The exquisite entrance and cornice are the most distinctive features on this elevation. They are most likely derived from English architectural design books based on early 18th Century English architects' interpretations of Palladian designs. The fluted pilasters and cornices with modillions and dentils are exquisitely executed. The semi-circular fanlight retains most of the original glass. The door is approached by a high stone stoop -- again, original.

The rear facade is three bays, with a door in line with the front portal. It has a transom and simple pedimented canopy; the latter from the 19th Century. The ground story windows are also a later, 19th Century alteration, but the second story 12-over-6 sashes are original to the construction of the house. The front cornice is repeated on the back elevation.

The interior has remained substantially unchanged since it was built. There is not even a bathroom in this section. The fine paneling, wainscoting, mantels and cabinets on both floors still exist in visually perfect condition. Measured drawings of the interior are included in Charles Stotz's book, The Architectural Heritage of Early Western Pennsylvania.

At the southwest end of the house is a one-story and loft brick addition dating from about 1830.

The minor alterations and additions do not conceal or detract from the superb quality of design and execution of the house form and details. The house remains in excellent condition and merits designation as one of the finest 18th Century houses in America.


This is a superb example of what is referred to as the Post Colonial style of architecture found in Western Pennsylvania after the earlier pioneer period log houses and before the Greek Revival. The style defies exact description. It achieves its unique quality and charm from the fact that vernacular builders selectively borrowed Georgian, Roman Classical, Adamesque and other European Renaissance, architectural forms, elements and details, and combined them in the builders' own esoteric way. Thus, a particularly characteristic phase of building exists in early Western Pennsylvania architecture. This development provides a contrast to the building traditions found in other parts of the country.

Washington County is fortunate in having several well-preserved stone houses in the Western Pennsylvania Post Colonial architectural style. Among this group is the truly extraordinary Joseph Dorsey House.

The builder was born at Elliott Mills, Maryland. He came to Washington County and settled in East Bethlehem Township where he built this stone house. He eventually acquired 1,500 acres of land in this section of the county, much of it cultivated by slave labor.

Historically, the house depicts the one-time strong Southern influence in Western Pennsylvania. It was the nucleus of an early Western Pennsylvania plantation, dependent, like its Southern counterparts, upon slave labor. Settlers from Virginia, first, and Maryland, later, migrated across the Alleghenies to settle the Western wilderness and establish farms and plantations.

Architecturally, the Dorsey House is in a remarkable state of preservation, with the exception of mid-19th Century 2-over-2 lights in the front windows, a modern back door and an early 19th Century brick wing, the house is completely intact on both the interior and the exterior.

The front doorway has a delicate fanlight with most of the original glass intact. The pilaster jambs, pedimented portal, and recessed panels on the intrados display excellent, sophisticated craftsmanship.

The Builder of the entrance most likely was brought to this region from the South. Because of its early date of execution, it would have been highly unlikely for a local craftsman to display such skill. This fine workmanship is reiterated in the classically detailed cornice. This, too, remains in perfect condition.

The interior has also remained substantially unchanged since its construction. To this day there is not even a bathroom in the original part of the house. The exquisite paneling, mantels, wainscoting and cabinets on both floors still exist in visually perfect condition.

The Dorsey House transcends its Post Colonial counterparts both in design and execution. It is elegant, dignified and gracious. The house has distinct architectural merit and must be considered one of America's best preserved 18th Century houses.


Stotz, Charles Morse, Early Architecture of Western Pennsylvania, pp. 43-45, 144-145, 52-56, 171; 1936.

  1. Van Trump, Hames D., Dorsey, Joseph House, nomination document, 1972, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.