On 500 wooded acres in West Virginia, about an hour south of Pittsburgh, a Gilded Age estate commissioned by the Vandergrift family awaits a new owner and new purpose.
Overlooking the Ohio River on a hill in Wellsburg, the 73-room mansion was built c. 1901 at the request of Joseph B. Vandergrift, son of Jacob J. Vandergrift, the riverboat captain and Pittsburgh financier who lived for a time in Pennsylvania’s oil region.
Vandergrift called his summer estate “Vancroft,” but sold it in 1904, starting a string of owners that included Mount Saint George Land Co. The Knights of Saint George incorporated a care home (that is no longer operational), adding 22 bedrooms to the 39 in the mansion. The property, currently held in a trust, is listed for $3.8 million.
“It is very cool,” says Jayla Robinson with Paull Associates, the Wheeling, West Virginia-based the listing agent. “I joked with my broker that I can add ‘history tour guide’ on my resume now. When I do showings of this place, I tell people to allocate a couple of hours. You’ll spend more time in some of the rooms — they’re so detailed. It’s just breathtaking, magical.”
Though it has been vacant since the last owner, Gene Valentine, died in 2019, the utilities are still on, and the property — most recently called Aspen Manor — has a tenant-occupied cottage. A caretaker performs checks and any necessary maintenance twice a week.
The site is gated, so visitors must be accompanied by Robinson, who has fielded around 30 calls since listing it in late August and conducted roughly a dozen tours. The property could be used as a high-end destination, a summer camp, a hunting lodge, a wedding venue, or another care home.
A history of the property compiled by William Earle Brinker — who lived there from 1911, when he was 5, until 1925, when his family returned to Wilkinsburg — listed 31 buildings and facilities, including a pump house, spring house, corn crib, animal pens and gas wells. Among the structures were a bowling alley, gymnasium, dog kennel, greenhouse, blacksmith’s shop, power plant, five windmills, and a clubhouse where Vandergrift had an office and held dog fights and cockfights in one room.
During Vandergrift’s ownership, a fire destroyed a rear portion of the mansion, according to Brinker. “This damaged section was rebuilt with some modifications,” he writes. “The water tower was not rebuilt. The swimming pool was housed in, but the interior plastering and fittings for the pool were never completed. According to the story, the fire was contained by the use of two dynamite blasts.”
During the Brinker family’s ownership, a dairy barn and two silos also were destroyed by a fire caused by a trespasser, he notes.
When he lived there, Brinker says, “there was a large rose garden on the southwest side of the mansion. The rhododendron on the northeast side of the house were gorgeous to see in full bloom. The roadways on the property were lined alternately with fast-growing poplar and slow-growing maple trees.”
Vandergrift, a horseman, had a figure-eight racetrack built on site, but the south part of the track later became a cemetery, Brinker says. In addition to the gardens, he recalls several orchards, with fruit and nut trees, and a vineyard that the Knights of Saint George later expanded.
Alden & Harlow of Pittsburgh, which designed philanthropic institutions and country homes for prominent families including Andrew Carnegie and the Mellons, drew up the plans for the estate for Vandergrift, according to a nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places submitted in the 1980s.
“Many of the blueprints of the manor house and other structures still exist and are carefully stored at Vancroft,” the form states. It’s not clear whether historic designation was granted.
“People love history — that may be why it sells,” Robinson says. “When I listed this, it has been so private and secluded for so long that a lot of locals didn’t know it was there. There are springs and streams throughout the property, and some flat, grassy areas. At one time there were [gardens].”
In addition to the mansion and connected care home, 10 other structures remain on the site, including a barn, gazebo, shed and workshop. The mansion has a commercial kitchen, library, billiard room, and a chapel that was built where a swimming pool once was. At more than 54,000 square feet, the estate has a full basement, central air, electric heat, elevators, and public water and a sewer.
Many of the furnishings remain in both the mansion and care home, including a Turkish room and Japanese room. A buyer could include the furnishings in the sale.
“Everything’s negotiable — you bring the offer, and we go from there,” says Robinson. “Some of it needs some love, but where can you find a tract of usable land that’s 500 acres? I’ve really grown to love it. Each time I go there, there’s something that I didn’t notice the first time, something beautiful.”