NORTHUMBERLAND — The oldest building in Northumberland Borough and its contents will be auctioned off in May.
Auctioneer Jeffrey Dunkelberger, of Paxinos, said the contents of the former Jerre Wirt Blank Funeral Home at 309 Water St. will be available for sale in an online auction until May 19, and the building itself will then be auctioned off at a date to be determined. Longtime funeral director Jerre Wirt Blank died on Nov. 22 at his home at the age of 82.
“There are not many properties like this that come up for auction,” said Dunkelberger, with 31 years of auctioneer experience. “There’s not a lot of opportunity for a property like this and items inside to be sold. It does need repairs, but for it to be mostly intact, it’s a neat thing.”
Graydon Dunkelberger, auction manager, said a new property owner could turn it into a bed and breakfast or high-end apartments.
“It would be nice to see someone restore it back to what it was,” he said.
History of the building
The building, also formerly known as the Elliot-Davis House, is considered the oldest home in the borough. The lot was previously owned by Joseph Priestley. The house was built in three parts. The original section, at the rear, was constructed in 1772. Additions were made in 1811 by John Boyd, a Northumberland merchant, and in 1876 by William Elliot, a railroad contractor. It has operated as a mortuary business since 1927, according to records from the Northumberland County Historical Society and The Daily Item archives.
The four-story building has 44 rooms, not including the cupola above the fourth floor. The building is embellished with a tower, a slate Mansard roof, heavy cornices, rounded topped windows and stylized corner quoins. The high windows on the first, second and third floors are typical of the Mediterranean Italian villa style. The boxes or Mansard roof is typical of the mid-19th century French Second Empire. The early two-story brick structure facing King Street is a four over four — four rooms on each of two floors stacked on top of one another — central hall Colonial, according to historical society material.
The property has had many owners, including the Elliot family starting in 1860 and the Davis family starting in 1927. Blank purchased the property in 1977, according to historical society material.
“Someone said the owner added the cupola back in the day to make it the tallest building in Northumberland,” said Jeffrey Dunkelberger.
Inside the building
The building is full of fireplaces, high arched doorways and ceilings, massive wooden doors and ornate stairwells. The mortuary business was located on the first floor and the second floor was living quarters.
“It must have been in the 1800s quite the place,” said Jeffrey Dunkelberger. “Both sides of the building are like mirrors of each other. Once you know where you’re at on one side, you can go on the other.”
The third and fourth floors need extensive repairs. There’s water damage, cracking or collapsed plaster, cracked windows, and exposed original brick wall and frame, among other damage.
The building also has at least four horse skulls somewhere in the floorboards. Blank gave an interview with The Daily Item in October 2011 about finding two of the four skulls when remodeling an upstairs bathroom between the first and second floor in 1984.
Elliott found the skulls during his renovations and wrote on them saying, in effect, that they were found in the ceiling between the first and second floors and were put there “the reason we know not why.” A second message on the skulls said the Davis family had discovered them there in 1926, according to reports in The Daily Item.
There are more than 600 lots of personal property for sale, which include mortuary equipment, paintings, photographs, books, furniture, pre-Civil War documents, dishes, kitchenware, trinkets, clocks, appliances, decorations, and hundreds of other items. There’s even a wooden sign that used to hang on the building that reads “Elliot-Davis House. 1772-1875. 1811.”
A daughter’s memories
Penny Hupp, Blank’s daughter, said her parents were divorced when her father purchased the building. She only spent time there during the summer.
“When I was in high school, I did have a Halloween sleepover party with a bunch of girls,” said Hupp. “At that time the third floor was completely unfinished and super creepy. The perfect setting. They still bring it up when I run into them.”
Blank loved living in that home and in Northumberland in general, said Hupp.
“He was Sunbury born, but considered Northumberland home,” she said. “His hope was for someone to enjoy, and preserve the history of the property he held so dear.”
Hupp’s siblings David Blank and Abby Nunn said their fondest memories are of annual family KFC Christmas parties. The six grandsons would run around the big place playing chase. David Blank would also run funerals there when he and his father were partners.
The online auction for the contents of the building can be found at hibid.com (https://hibid.com/catalog/363279/blank-estate-online-auction/?fbclid=IwAR38dLXs9rOm15GDDZhIhw6sfHCstv0w4uv6RwlwcQ1o9_s6ygc4fiihciI).
Bidding started on April 16 and will end on May 19. The first lot will begin to close at 5 p.m May 19.
The auction for the building will be held both online and in person.