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Landmark was known only as home to Pa. woman

September 02, 2000

Landmark was known only as home to Pa. woman



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer


ROUZERVILLE, Pa. - It may be old and it may be historic, but even if Robert E. Lee did stop by for lunch 137 years ago, to Mary Bonbrake it was just home.

And she hates the idea that after an auction next weekend someone else will own the big brick house at 11240 Buchanan Trail East that she lived in most of her life.

Bonbrake turned 102 this year. In 1997, because of infirmities brought on by her long years, she moved out of the old house. She lives in Hoover House, an assisted-living home in Waynesboro, Pa.

The old house belonged to her grandfather, Peter Rouzer. Rouzer came to the area from Thurmont, Md., after the Civil War and bought 45 acres east of Waynesboro. He founded the village there that carries his name.

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Mary Bonbrake moved in with her parents when she was 8 years old.

"My sister and I carried our dolls into the house," she said.

It could not be learned when the house was built. It is known that around the time of the Civil War it was a tavern run by George Stephey.

Lee, during the retreat of his Confederate troops from Gettysburg on July 5, 1863, stopped at the tavern for dinner with some of his officers. According to Jacob Stoner's book, "Franklin County and the Cumberland valley of Pennsylvania," published in 1947, Lee gave Mrs. Lewis Stephey a silver drinking cup which the Stephey family treasured for years.

Mary Bonbrake remembers the story about Lee because it had been passed along in her family through the generations. She remembers that Mrs. Stephey "served everything she had in the house" to Lee and his officers.

She also remembers that a spring behind the house was the source of water for a distillery on Midvale Road and that street cars on the Baltimore-Pittsburgh route passed by the house.

She said the house has fireplaces in seven of its nine rooms and that it had five rooms downstairs. She got her own room after her older sister married and moved out.

Mary was the oldest of three sisters and one brother and has survived them all.

"I'm the oldest and I'm still alive," she said. "I'm surprised at that, but I'm glad that I still have my mind.

"People come in here and ask me what happened years ago. I read a lot and I have a good memory," she said.

She never married. She graduated from the Pennsylvania Business College in Lancaster, Pa., and worked for 38 years for the Landis Machine Co. as a secretary. She has lived alone in the house ever since her father died.

She said she doesn't like to think about the auction.

"I hate to give the house up, but no one in the family wants it," she said. "That's why I've been depressed lately.

"If you lived in a place for 90 years, naturally you'd love it, too."

Someone who Mary Bonbrake doesn't even know is also concerned about the future of the old house.

Earl Gilmore bought a home about a mile east of the old house on Old Route 16 a year ago. Gilmore, 75, retired here from Connecticut and considers himself to be an amateur historian. He spent hours in the local history room of the Alexander Hamilton Memorial Free Library in Waynesboro learning local lore, including the history of the old brick house.

"I just hope nobody buys it and tears it down for a parking lot or something like that," he said.

He said he is trying to launch an effort to get the state to install a historical marker in front of the house to note its historical significance.

Matthew S. Hurley, the auctioneer who will sell the house and its contents Saturday morning, said it is being advertised as commercial or residential property.

"It has endless possibilities," he said.

The area the house sits in is zoned commercial. It's flanked by a new car dealership on one side and a liquor outlet on the other.

The auction on the contents of the house, including many antiques, begins at 8:30 a.m., Hurley said. The house will go on the block at 11 a.m.

It will not be an absolute auction, in that the attorney representing Mary Bonbrake in the sale can refuse any bid.

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