Friday, September 3, 2010

McKennan-Klair House

The McKennan-Klair House
Partially on a suggestion from a reader, we'll take a look now at an old house that has connections to a famous name in the area (McKennan), as well as a prominent family that I believe is getting its first mention here in this blog (the Klairs). On top of that, this home happens to be one of the oldest still standing in the area. The McKennan-Klair house sits on the north side of Limestone Road, just north of Milltown Road. It was built in two clearly-defined early phases, with a couple of 20th century additions. And although the large bank barn that once sat across the road is gone, there are a few outbuildings still extant on the property.

The land on which the house sits, like most of Mill Creek Hundred, was originally granted by William Penn. In 1706, John Ball, a blacksmith by trade,  purchased the property from the original grantee. Ball had several land holdings, and according to Scharf, operated a bloomary (a furnace for the production of iron from ore) somewhere "near St. James Church", probably on White Clay Creek. It is not known exactly when Ball erected his home, but is thought to date to the 1720's. This oldest part of the house, the left side as you're looking at it, is made of brick covered in stucco, and has two windows on each of its two stories and a centered door. There is a kitchen wing on the rear. After passing through the hands of a John Robinson (and being the subject of a court-settled land dispute), the property was purchased in 1765 by Reverend William McKennan.

From the Pennsylvania Gazette

If the name sounds familiar, it's probably because the road not far behind the property, McKennans Church Road, was in fact named after him. The church, of course, is Red Clay Creek Presbyterian, where McKennan served as pastor from 1758 until his death in 1809. McKennan, who despite his religious positions owned several slaves on his property, was a pillar of the community for over half a century, and I'm sure will be discussed in more detail another time in a dedicated post. A year after Rev. McKennan's death, the property and home were sold to a farmer from Montgomery County, PA -- Frederick Klair. It was Klair who would soon expand the house and upgrade the farm.

In 1818, Klair built the fieldstone half of the house, which, like the brick section then almost a century old, is two stories high and one room deep. Because the lot slopes gently to the east (right-hand side), Klair's section of the house has a walk-in door to the basement on the side. A few years later, in 1823, Klair built a large stone, Pennsylvania-style bank barn on the opposite side of Limestone Road. This replaced an older frame barn that dated to the McKennan residency or earlier. The stone barn was torn down in 1978 to make room for a housing development, but it stood close to the road in what is now the backyards of two of the houses. There are also several late 19th century wood-frame sheds and shop buildings on the property, as well as a stone springhouse that I would guess dates to the early 19th century, contemporary with the other Frederick Klair additions. Finally, two 20th century additions were added to the rear of the house, but neither compromises the historical integrity of the earlier parts of the home.
Springhouse behind the McKennan-Klair House
After coming into the Klair family in 1810, the house remained with them for the rest of the 19th century(upon Frederick's death in 1857, the property passed to his son Aaron, then Aaron's son Jonas Stidham Klair) and almost all of the 20th centuries (passing into the Armor family through J.S.'s daughter Bertha). I'm not positive on this, but the house was sold in the late 1990's and I think it may be out of the Klair/Armor family now. Either way, as its National Register Nomination form describes and shows, the interior details of the house are still in magnificent shape. This house, tucked a safe bit back from one of the busiest roads in the area, is a tangible link to the earliest days of Mill Creek Hundred.


  1. Scott,
    I had seen this house before but didn't realize that it was once the home of my wife's GGGG grandfather Frederick Klair. Thanks for the enlightenment!

  2. Where is the historic home site in relation to the cemetery? I did check out the cemetery's oldest grave markers, including Rev. McKennon, and took several photos.

    Hate to say it, but it seems there are "sprits" hanging around still, even in broad daylight. The proof is in the photos. And I'm no "ghost hunter", just appreciative of cemetery art, though I must say in this cemetery, no frills or fanciful tombstones...plain and simple.

  3. From Red Clay Presbyterian, you go down McKennan's Church Rd, past Delcastle GC and Rec to Milltown Rd. Make a right on Milltown, then a quick right to go north on Limestone Rd (Rt 7). The house is on the right, just before Carousel Park is on the left. Probably less than a half mile on Limestone. Remember, though, it is private property.

    Interesting about the cemetery pics. And yes, the headstones and markers tend to be kind of plain. Only a few stand out, like Swithin Chandler's.

  4. Scott-

    I believe the front of the property has a stockade fence, so it is hard to see from the road- drive past it several times a week and never noticed it before your article.