The Historic Baldwin House
Preserved & Maintained
By The Sullivan County Historical Society
The land on which the property now known as the Baldwin House sits was marked out as lot # 1 and the north half of lot #2 on Michael Meylert's original plot plan of Laporte. Michael and his father Secku Meylert had been resident agents in New Milford, Susquehanna County, for the Clymer, Merideth, and Bingham landholdings. The Meylerts purchased 33,000 acres of land for themselves in what was to become Sullivan County in the 1840's with money borrowed largely from the Clymers. The Meylerts were among the prime movers in the creation of Sullivan County from Lycoming County in 1847 and were instrumental in the selection of their proposed village of Laporte as the county seat. By 1850 there were six families living in Laporte, including that of William and Susan Faneher who acquired the Baldwin House property from Mevlert and Clymer. William Fancher was a carpenter and a member of a family which had settled in Susquehanna County near Montrose in 1807. He is recorded as having aided in the construction of the Lehigh Canal and "in building the first house in Laporte, Sullivan County..." It seems probable that he was brought to Laporte to work for the Meylerts and that he constructed a dwelling for his own family. The Fanchers had returned to Susquehanna County by 1863, at which time the Laporte property was sold to Benjamin L. Cheney for $500.
Benjamin L. and Amanda Reynolds Cheney had been residents of Laporte since at least 1856 when he was clerk of the Quarter Sessions Court and their eldest son, Charles F., was born. B.L. Cheney was a professional surveyor who served as County Surveyor from 1859 through 1865. In 1866 he "assisted" in the preliminary survey of the Muncy Creek Railway, later the Williamsport and North Branch. The Cheneys had two additional children, William M. and Rosalia ("Rose"). At tile time of his death in 1872 at age 57, B.L. Cheney owned the Baldwin House and a farm in Laporte Township. He also conducted a general store and the Laporte Post Office in a building on Main Street, dealing in "drugs, medicines, groceries, dry goods, etc." (including hardware). Amanda Cheney, who was 21 years younger than her husband, inherited both the House and the position as postmaster. William M. Cheney, her younger son who died in 1921, owned and edited the Sullivan Republican newspaper from 1884 through 1896 and served a term as Sullivan County Commissioner from 1890 through 1893. Charles E Cheney built the Cliff Hotel in Eagles Mere in 1884, later owned a general store there, and also ran a seasonal restaurant there in the late 1920's. Rose Cheney married first Bert Van Fleet and then Willis D. Edmister, a lawyer with whom she lived in Binghamton, New York.
Amanda Cheney lived in the Baldwin House and may have had the Post Office there prior to her remarriage to Lewis Zaner in 1884 and their moving to Muncy. After his death in 1887, she probably returned to Laporte where she was a resident early in the Twentieth century. For several years before her death in 1922, however, she lived with her daughter in Binghamton, and the House was a summer "cottage" for that part of the family. Charles F. Cheney and Rose Edmister, the surviving children, jointly inherited the property,, but the Van Fleets and Edmisters were the ones who used it. A year before his death in 1929, Charles deeded his interest in the Laporte holdings to his sister. She and her family continued to use the House as a summer residence until 1943 when it was sold to Harriet D. Murray who lived next door.
In 1946, Mrs. Murray, who had let the House sit empty, sold it to Guy M. and Margaret W. ("Peg") Baldwin who moved into the House with their twin sons Guy and Tony. Guy Baldwin had a coal business in Williamsport as well as several small sawmills in Sullivan County. Later he established a sawmill in Muncy Valley. Peg Baldwin taught English and Business at schools in Williamsport and Sonestown and also taught for many years at Williamsport Technical lnstitute/Williamsport Area Community College. She was also the author or co-author of books and articles about Little League Baseball and Sullivan County history. After the boys left home and her husband died in 1969, Peg continued to reside in the House until ill health forced her to move. In 1995 the family sold the property to the County and the Historical Society for "noncommercial, historical purposes....providing the public with a glimpse into the past as it existed in Sullivan County".
Physical Structure & Furnishings
As the Sullivan County Historical Society began restoration of the Baldwin House, we were fortunate that the House had less modernization than many places that age, probably because there had been only three families who lived here. After the Baldwins purchased the House, they installed drywall throughout and added the parlor fireplace. They also divided what had been a long room facing the patio in half, using one section for a small kitchen. The rest is now the entry for the Baldwin House Museum. The Baldwins also removed a porch which extended the length of the House facing Muncy Street, replacing it with the present portico.
The House is constructed with posts and beams and plank walls. It appears to have been built in at least three sections. The main part is rectangular facing Muncy Street and dates from about 1850. A long, narrow addition was constructed on the south side behind the main house before 1872 as a kitchen. The rest of the kitchen wing was probably added in the 1870's.
In restoring the interior of the House to the time between the 1860's and 1880's, research was conducted to discover what paint colors and wallpapers had been used here. Based on this research, the woodwork throughout the House is painted grey; and the kitchen is yellow. Wallpapers are typical of the period and resemble those used in the House.
While doing repairs in the kitchen above the plank wainscoting, we discovered that the upper walls were made of tongue and groove beaded boards and that they had been wallpapered over at least seven times. The first layer was a lining consisting of newspapers in most areas and oilcloth in others. The earliest newspaper date was 1882, and we can assume that the paper was added no earlier than 1883 or 1884. Because of this, we chose to restore the walls to the natural finish, as they had never been painted. All the drywall in the kitchen was removed.
Furnishings for the House generally date between 1850 and 1880. They reflect the life of a family over a period of years and tend to show how a reasonably prosperous village house would develop as circumstances improved. From the 1872 inventory prepared after B.L. Cheney's death, we know the House contained a parlor with carpet, curtains, a couch, a rocking chair, other chairs, a center table, stove and lamp. There was also a well equipped dining room, a kitchen, and three bedrooms. Other items present in the House included a violin and "trunk", a clothes wringer, wash tubs, a map, a large iron kettle, a spinning wheel, a post office case, and a shot gun.
We hope you take as much pleasure in viewing this House as we have had planning and working to achieve what you see today.
When the Baldwins purchased the property, there was no significant landscaping except the presence of several large lilac bushes. Guy Baldwin built the patio using large stones brought from the east side of Lake Mokoma and equipment from his business. He also built the stone wall supporting the terrace and had the area backfilled with good soil. Peg Baldwin's father was a frequent visitor and delighted in bringing his daughter an assortment of plants, bulbs, and shrubs. These are the foundation for today's perimeter screening.
The Baldwin's twin sons built the playhouse in the yard with their father's help. The boys decided that they too wanted a terraced patio. Using stone left over from the main house project, they built what you now see on the east side of their playhouse, which is now used as a garden shed.
During the past few years, the Sullivan County Historical Society has been "reclaiming" the yard. Heavy pruning and cutting back years of overgrown lilac, wild rose, honeysuckle, and rhododendron has been achieved. A white picket "wren hole" fence has been constructed along the front of the property. Behind the fence, a low stone wall was built to terrace the bank where a perennial flower garden has been planted. Wren houses, placed atop the gate posts now have their first resident house wrens.
A three year plan for the future of the property includes planting of an apple orchard, a bramble patch, medicinal and culinary herb plots, a vegetable garden, a meadow of native wildflowers, and an area for native ferns and shade-loving plants.
The state of this yard and garden depends entirely on volunteer help. If you would like to participate in creating and maintaining these plantings either through giving your time or some of the needed plants, please contact the Historical Society.