The Waitman T. Willey House
Hidden behind South High Street in the Chancery Hill Historic District is a grand, old home that boasts the best in art, history, and architecture.
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Fred Schaupp breathes life into old homes. For years, the historic Waitman T. Willey mansion—home to one of West Virginia’s first two senators—sat vacant. The now six-bedroom house was built in the late 1830s and underwent several expansions before becoming the home of the Schaupps just four years ago.
Fred has restored 19th century homes in Pittsburgh and Morgantown, and he’s even tried to acquire a castle in his native Germany, but the Willey house may be his favorite project yet. Still, he never dreamed that the house at the intersection of Wagner Road and Allison Street would be available to him. “I had always admired it,” he says from his great, green living room with floor to ceiling paintings. “This is the epitome of what this period had architecturally.” When Fred saw the large home for sale in the newspaper, he told his late wife, and within minutes they’d set up an appointment with a realtor. “We walked through the house, and it needed a lot of work, but what doesn’t of this age?” he says. “So I said, ‘I’m going to make you an offer right here on the spot,’ which I did, and by God, they accepted it.”
Prior to Fred’s purchase, the home was being researched by the Mills Group for the City of Morgantown, who thought it might make a nice museum. The house was so intriguing that architect Michael Mills himself entertained the notion of owning it. “It’s amazing,” he says. But the reality of the work that needed to be done—the infrastructure upgrades and overall repair—was daunting. Fred considered the restoration task a privilege. “It just seemed like a hell of a project,” he says, smiling. Today, he lives there with his daughter, Ulrike.
Michael says the contents of the home themselves are enough to inspire awe, but the work done behind the scenes is truly remarkable. The Mills Group helped Fred secure a historic preservation grant for the home, which required roof repair, new gutters and downspouts, and some masonry work.
Michael says the home is significant both historically and architecturally. The mansion was one of the first residences in what was known as the Wagner, and then the Chancery Hill Addition of the city. According to the report by the Mills Group, most of the home’s architectural influence likely reflected Senator Willey’s travels and the trends popular during the time period—the Greek Revival portico among them. Michael points out the home’s unique, five-column pediment, too, where typically there are just four columns. Visitors to the Willey home will also see that the mansion has two entrances on the same side. Historically, one was the door to the Willey residence, and one was the entrance to Willey’s law office. The first phase of the home was finished in 1842, and then the law office wing was added. Within the house are servant quarters, still embedded in the home. Another living room and a second story were eventually added, as well as a garden area, garage, and other upgrades in the 1900s. “It’s been modernized to some degree, but it still has that historic presence,” Michael says.
The entry to the house is unique, too, with its circular drive and a sculpture of Waitman T. Willey, commissioned by Fred. According to the Mills Group, the Waitman T. Willey mansion originally sat on a large parcel of land in a rural community setting. After Senator Willey’s death, the estate was divided into 78 lots. As they were sold, Chancery Hill Addition was created. The mansion is one of only a few homes that has maintained its position on several lots.
Michael’s appreciation of the home goes beyond its architecture. “When you go in, there are paintings that should be in museums. There are antiques that should be in museums. It is absolutely amazing. It’s a very worldly house and there are some things you wouldn’t expect to see,” he says. “Fred has a great affinity and respect for cultural effects.”