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Salvaging the Gamble House: Day 1

Meet the Gambles

Much to my chagrin, day one of the salvage job on the Gamble house found me hard at work at my day job, while two of our guys pulled out the mantles, tile, and fireplace insert from the Gamble house–some of my favorite features. 

A little bit of background on this beautiful home: The earliest records I can find point to Harry English Gamble and his wife, Mary Elizabeth (Hegarty) Gamble. The two were married on December 12 of 1893, which is around the time the house would’ve been built. Harry had worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad for more than twelve years at that point, in both the Juniata and Altoona machine shops. He was only thirteen years old when he started with PRR on June 1, 1881, and rose through the ranks to become assistant foreman at the Altoona blacksmith department. He stayed with PRR for more than fifty years, until his retirement.

Harry was the son of associate Blair County Judge Robert R. Gamble and wife Isabelle Robinson Gamble. He and his wife, Mary, who was the granddaughter of an Irish immigrant, had two children: Harry Robinson Gamble, born in 1900, and Elizabeth Mae Gamble, four years Harry’s senior, who never married.

Young Harry has been the metaphorical key to unlocking this family’s history. In the home, the owner found several steamer trunks, which I purchased from him. I also bought a stack of old architecture books out of the attic when we previewed the house. The name “H.R. Gamble” on the trunk and inside the covers of the books was the starting point for my research.

Young Harry was a member of Altoona Area High School Class of 1918, and attended Pennsylvania State University in State College, where he was a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. He graduated from Penn State in 1922 and subsequently attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he obtained his master’s degree in Architecture around 1924. Afterward, he taught at the University of Michigan before taking leave in 1929 to travel and study abroad. He and his wife Anna (Kessner), a Pittsburgh native, had their eldest son Harry (“Hank”) in France in 1930; their second son, Frederick (“Fred”), was born in Pittsburgh two years later. The family later moved to Ft. Lauderdale, FL, where Harry worked with architect Russell Pancoast before passing away on August 16, 1947. 

The elder Harry Gamble, the blacksmith, passed away in 1949 at age 81, leaving only his daughter, Elizabeth, as heir to the house. She, in turn, passed away in March 1971. I do not know whether she was still residing in the house at the time of her death, though I hope to learn more over the coming weeks. I also don’t know anything yet about who owned or lived in the house after the Gambles. My interest, generally, is in the original owner(s) and/or architects of the properties we salvage. Is it strange that I always take a quiet moment, when we first arrive on a job, to thank those people for the gifts they have left behind for us? 



Day One

When we did our walkthrough, a few things really stood out to me as pieces I needed to save. The mantles in the foyer and the living room–the two original front rooms of the house–were definitely near the top of the list. 

The guys were just as eager about the mantles as I was, so that’s where they chose to start on day one. The removal of the first mantle from the foyer took less than twenty minutes–possibly a record! They were able to salvage the original tile surround fairly easily, but the fireplace insert–used for coal!– was a bear.

The second mantle from the living room ended up a surprise, not for what was behind it, but for what wasn’t–it was never part of a working fireplace in the first place! There was just a wall behind that vinyl tile. The mantle was probably original to the house, though, based on the similarities to the foyer mantle, so I’m going to be doing some hunting to try to determine if it could have come from another part of the house. (A total renovation was done in the 60s or 70s, which you will be able to see from some future photos showing the wood paneling and drop ceilings that were installed in the entire first floor.)

The guys finished up the day by removing a few of the many interior wood shutters. We’ll have lots of those stockpiled when this project is done. They also saved the original brass doorbell, which is coated to the hilt in gray paint. Can’t wait for you to see the entry doors in my next post!