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The House on the Hill

October 30, 2023 | By Dorothy Tecklenburg with contributions from Ardeth Simpson

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The Rush family lived in the Brownlee House from 1919-1944.

Jim Simpson was just 9 years old in 1936 when his parents told him the news. He would spend his summer vacation with his great-grandparents, Samuel and Samantha Rush, at their home in Eighty Four.

His great-grandparent’s house. For Jim, those words held magic. For a city kid growing up in Ingram in the 1930’s, the house meant excitement, it meant animals, it meant family connections and it meant those banisters. In those days, Pittsburgh wasn’t the most pleasant place to spend a summer. The country house offered freedom, clear skies and air that was sweet and breathable. It was Heaven.

Today, you can drive from Ingram to 1253 Route 519 in Eighty Four in about 30 minutes. But back then, with slower transport, it could take several hours. Jim went from one world to another.

It wasn’t just his great-grandparents who lived in Jim’s favorite house on the hill. His grandparents, Frank and Olive Horne, also lived there from 1923 to 1940. With other extended family nearby, everyone had something to offer a 9-year-old city boy.

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James L. Simpson as a young lad.

One of the first things he did upon arrival was to make sure the banisters that guarded the staircases from the third floor down to the first were still polished and fast. It wasn’t long after his parents deposited him at the front door that Jim went to check for himself. Were the banisters still as fast as they were last time? With high ceilings on each floor, there were quite a few steps from the first floor to the third floor, but Jim barely noticed. He made the climb, jumped on and set a new banister record for quickest descent. Yes, the banisters were still in working order.

It was easy to settle into the farm routine. Get up early, grab a basket, and relieve the hens of their overnight burdens. Eggs just tasted better when they were fresh out of the chicken. The chickens lived in the barn, a magical structure for a city boy. There were ladders to ascend, a hay loft to dive into, and hidden areas to explore.

Sometimes he was invited to accompany his great-grandfather to the Herr’s Island stockyards and slaughter house. They loaded the animals in the trailer and Jim learned up close and personal where his food came from.

But running cattle wasn’t the only family business. Jim also loved going with his grandfather, Frank Horne, on the daily milk runs. The family was the conduit for local dairy farmers to get their milk to market. Jim loved getting up early to ride in the truck. They would pick up full cans of milk at dairy farms in Washington and Greene Counties and at farms in West Virginia, and leave empty milk cans. They took the fresh milk to a dairy to be bottled, where they picked up the empty cans to deliver to the farms the next day.

Jim also spent time at his Uncle Bob’s gas station, just over Route 519. Since everyone needed gas, everyone knew Uncle Bob, and Jim became part of those deep community connections.

Evenings, there was no TV, but at that time, Route 519 was level with the large front porch of the house, and the extended family sat and watched the cars go by. They waved and most people waved back - everyone knew everyone out here, and even if they didn’t, they were friendly.

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Samantha and Samuel Rush celebrating their anniversary at the Brownlee House in 1936.

One of the biggest family events Jim ever attended was when Samuel and Samantha celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary at the house in 1936. (Do the math - they were married in 1876!)

The house held wonderful memories, but all things come to an end. In 1944, Jim, now 18 years old, was called to serve his country. But he could not leave for military service without saying goodbye to his relatives and the house he loved. But even then, things were changing.

Jim's grandparents had moved back to Ingram in 1940, and in 1945 Great-Grandfather Rush went to live with his daughter, Florence Rush Lindsey in Washington. The house was sold to Charles and Lucille Miller.

When Jim married his wife Ardeth in 1950, he regaled her with stories about his magical childhood on the farm. She had the honor of meeting two of his surviving relatives, Great-Grandfather, Samuel Rush and his grandmother, Olive Rush Horne.

“Jim was Principal of Peters Middle School,” Ardeth told us. “He never thought his work would take him past the house he loved so often.”

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Ardeth Simpson at the Foundation’s open house.

Working and living in nearby Peters Township meant his favorite house was always on the way to somewhere. He retired in 1985, the same year Ardeth got to see the inside of the house.

“My first visit to the house was when the Millers had it for sale. The second time was when the Stouts had it for sale.”

After seventy years of marriage, Jim Simpson passed away in 2021, but his wife Ardeth was able to see the house’s current lifetime - as the headquarters of the Washington County Community Foundation.

“I visited the house this past August at the open house held by the Community Foundation. They have restored the house to its magnificent glory. It’s a real gem!”