The History of The Old Red House
Located on Grovedale Winery’s property, right next to our tasting room, is the Old Red House. You may have seen it and wondered what the history of the house entails, and what is it used for now? Here’s the history of the building dating all the way back to 1816.
The Old Red House, containing 30 rooms and located in the center of Grovedale Farm, is large like everything else about the historic property. In the 1850 census, 5,553 farms were listed in Bradford County, averaging 95 acres, with assessed values averaging $627. Grovedale at that time was assessed at 635 acres and valued at $6,548 – more than six times the county average acreage and more than ten times the average value
The property that came to be Grovedale Farm was first owned by Matthias Hollenback, a trader merchant whose trading posts along the Susquehanna included Newtown (Elmira, NY), Tioga Point (Athens), Wysox, and Wyalusing. It was said that by the turn of the 19th Century he could ride from Elmira to Wilkes-Barres without ever leaving his property.
In 1816, Matthias bequeathed 640 acres, approximately a square mile, to his son-in-law Charles Fisher Welles, then residing in Towanda, when Welles married his daughter, Ellen Jones Hollenback. Welles was the first Prothonotary, Clerk of Courts and Register & Recorder in the newly formed Bradford County in 1812, serving until 1818.
Welleses Move into Log Cabin
In 1820, Charles and Ellen moved to Wyalusing to a log cabin located on the inherited property and assumed management of the grist mill and the farm. The farm was best known as a dairy farm, but the Welleses also grew wheat, corn, rye, oats, buckwheat, and potatoes.
Construction on the spacious Old Red House, whose third floor included a full-sized ballroom and quarters for six servants, wasn’t completed until 1841 – a dozen years after the death of Matthias Hollenback at his Wilkes-Barre home. Over ensuing decades, it would also house the son of Charles Fisher Welles, George H. Welles and his family, and his grandson Fisher Welles, Sr., before the house was mysteriously abandoned in 1918 after a disagreement between sisters, Virginia, and Marguerite Welles. It remained unoccupied for more than 60 years.
A companion home, the Bixby House, was built for Jane Mary Welles Bixby, the daughter of Charles Fisher Welles, in the late 1840’s. In 1890, the Bixby House was occupied by the family of Charles’ grandson, Fisher Welles Sr., whose three sons, Fisher Jr., Clayton, and Jack, would later manage the mill, farm, and property.
In 1940, Fisher Welles Jr., then manager of Grovedale Farm and the nearby Welles Mill, bemoaned the task of maintaining so many old buildings, numbering at around 40 at the time, even after tearing down a dozen other which, he declared, could not be reasonably repaired. He once noted that “the homestead house (the Old Red House) is the worst Jonah of all. Empty for over 20 years, it would cost a fortune to put in living condition.”
Nevertheless, John R. Welles returned to Wyalusing in 1949 after a career with the Federal Burau of Investigation to ultimately manage the Welles Mill operation with brothers, Fisher, Jr. And Clayton, Sr. He also extended the agricultural life of Grovedale Farm by investing in a herd of beef cows.
And yet the Old Red House itself would remain vacant for another three decades.
In 1985, P. Dean and A. Kay Welles Homer, daughter of John R. and Amelia K. Welles, decided to restore the Old Red House for use as a funeral home. Improvements and renovations were made on all three floors, including a second-floor apartment, over the next decade until it was completed in 1995.
So, the Old Red House did survive and thrive. In 2008, the great-great-great grandson of Charles Fisher Welles, Jeff Homer, and his wife, Kim, moved into the adjacent Bixby House, started raising a family and opened Grovedale Winery and Vineyards.
Visit our winery for a wine tasting and a chance to visit a great historical site in Wyalusing, PA.
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