Many of you may pass by the Buhl and Passavant house on a regular basis as you travel down Main Street in Zelienople,PA, but I’m not sure many people are aware of all the rare treasures that await you on these properties steeped in history.
The Passavant House
As you approach the Passavant house, you can’t help but block out everything else going on around you and go back in time. As I walked along the brick pathway I was greeted by Catherine and Sue. These women are very passionate and knowledgeable about the history behind the two houses, and Zelienople in general.
We started the tour outside and Catherine gave me some of the general history behind the house. Just to give you a small summary of what I was told; Detmar Basse, the founder of Zelienople, named the town after his daughter Zelie. Eventually Zelie got engaged to Philippe Passavant in Europe. Basse would not give his blessing to the two unless Zelie moved back to America with Philippe. Zelie and Philippe were married in Frankfort, Germany. and then, as promised, moved to America and lived in what is now call the Passavant House. Philippe built a store on Main Street and became Zelienople’s first merchant. The Passavant House remained in the Passavant family until Zelie and Philippe's granddaughter, Emma Passavant, died in 1956.
We walked into the newly built gazebo that ties in with the small, charming details on the house. Surrounded by the brick path and exposed wood ceilings, the gazebo is really an eye catcher and is the perfect place for small, local events.
As we worked our way back towards the house we passed the summer kitchen where Zelie would do most of her cooking. Summer kitchens were often used back in the 1800’s. Since kitchens originally were in basements they became a fire hazard to the home owners. So, the idea was to have the kitchen outside, separate from the house so if there were to be a fire the whole house wouldn’t burn down. In front of the summer kitchen is the Herb Garden where some of Zelies favorite herbs are planted, such as sweet basil and comfrey.
To finish the outside portion of the tour, Catherine showed me flowers that were planted into a stump of a black walnut tree that was cut down on the property. It just so happens the stump is in the shape of a heart and they call this the “heart” of the garden. Catherine also mentioned a waterfall that will soon be placed into this area. The tour was just getting started and I had already learned all of this compelling information about this beautiful estate.
We entered the home through a central doorway and I was greeted by an elegant, and graceful interior. Here, we discussed more history about the Passavant family. On display at the entrance was Zelie’s hymnal, her bonnet, and also a record book of Philippe's store.
We then went into the parlor and what I found interesting in that room were the wreaths that were on display. These intricate, detailed wreaths were actually made from human hair and were sometimes made for mourning lost loved ones or just used for decoration in general. We made our way into the dining room where I learned some more history about the Passavant family. Eventually we made our way upstairs to the library which had hundreds of books as well as old letters Zelie had written out to family and friends. This gives a personal take on what was happening in Zelienople back in the mid 1800’s.
The last room we looked at upstairs was the bedchamber. This is where Zelie would homeschool the children during the day. Almost everything in this room had a story behind it. Catherine pointed out a pillow on the bed which had over a dozen signatures sewn into it. When events were hosted by the Passavant's they would have people sign their names in a guest book and then the ladies would embroider them on a pillow. The last room we went into before the tour was complete was the kitchen. The kitchen features Zelies cherry table, some of her favorite cookie cutters, and an old high chair used for the children.
It is astounding that you can still come to the house and see all of these valuable,rare items. You truly get to go back in history and imagine exactly how the Passavant’s operated on a daily basis.
The Buhl House
Although I only had a short amount of time left after touring the Passavant house, Catherine insisted on doing a quick look at the Buhl house. The Buhl house was more about the history of the town in general. As we walked to the back part of the Buhl house things got very calm and peaceful as I heard only the sound of trickling water from a small waterfall located in the corner of the house. We quickly looked around inside and again I was amazed at all the things that were on display here, and things Catherine and Sue had so much knowledge on. Built in 1805, the original owners of the house were named Christian and Dorothy Buhl; in one of the rooms we walked through, those two along with their eleven children’s portraits were hung around the room. There was a wide variety of items on display in the Buhl house, things such as army attire, women’s clothes and shoes, childrens toys, old school desks and supplies, and so much more! I wish I would’ve had more time to talk to Catherine and Sue about all of these extremely rare and extraordinary possessions of Zelienople all on display in the house.
I highly recommend taking a tour of both of these remarkable places. There is so much to see and learn, you will take away so much throughout the entire tour and be shocked at the things you can still see on display at these places. Whether it’s something fun to do on the weekend with family, a school field trip, or a club outing there is something everyone will find fascinating.