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Built in 1896, the Lehner Grain and Cider Mill serves as a testament to Verona's immigrant and industry-rich history.
Along the banks of the Allegheny River in Verona sits a historic 19th century mill that has been resurrected, thanks to the ingenuity and foresight of a local archeologist.
Built in 1896, the Lehner Grain and Cider Mill serves as a testament to Verona's immigrant and industry-rich history. The building’s namesake, Charles Lehner, immigrated to Pittsburgh from Switzerland with his wife Mary Magdalene Huber, originally settling on Pittsburgh's North Side. Records show Lehner then moved to Plum Township after he suffered heavy loss from the Butchers Run Flood of 1873, and then on to Verona with his family, where he built the grain and cider mill.
The mill was in operation for nearly a quarter of a century when it closed in 1920. Following Lehner’s death in 1908, his son Joseph, took over the business. However, Joseph died while still a young man, leaving behind three sisters and his mother, none of whom could continue the business.
The mill, located at 560 Penn Street in Verona, serves as the headquarters of Christine Davis Consultants, a cultural research management firm that, appropriately, specializes in archeological studies and historic preservation. Davis, the firm's president, discovered the building while exploring options to relocate her company, located at the University of Pittsburgh Applied Research Center (U-PARC) in Harmar Township.
“I had always loved the riverfront,” says Davis, an Oakmont resident. “I was out driving around, looking at properties, and came down James Street. I saw the building, and thought it was beautiful, even though at the time it was surrounded by concrete and asphalt."
She envisioned the building's potential and called the owner to see if he was interested in selling. He agreed, and in 1996, a century after it was first built, Davis took ownership of the Lehner Grain and Cider Mill and set to work on its restoration.
"It was a big, barn-like structure. There was no electricity, no heat and it had only stone walls. It was cold for a while," she says.
The Lehner Mill was built in an era which Davis refers to as a “significant junction in technology.” While many grain mills were operating with water wheels, the Lehner mill had cutting-edge steam engine technology. In fact, the Lehner mill was the only steam grain mill in operation on the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania.
“We checked the records for the entire river in Pennsylvania and there was nothing like it,” Davis notes. "We wanted to respect and protect the integrity of the building."
During reconstruction, the building's original craftsmanship and timber frame construction were preserved. Two of the original stone walls were kept and exposed. The building's open floor plan was also maintained.
The first floor houses the firm's computer workstations, while a kitchen and bathrooms have been added to the second floor. Davis also kept the large wooden doors which at one time provided access for horse-drawn wagons to drive through the building. She also worked to restore the building’s natural setting along the riverfront, which had been paved over with asphalt.
The company also kept the artifacts which they uncovered during the restoration, including the grain elevator and large brushes used by mill workers. Also still intact is Lehner’s original engraved nameplate on the outside of the building.
To help protect its place as a historical resource, Davis pursued the arduous process of listing the Lehner Grain and Cider Mill on the National Register of Historic Places. In order to qualify, a building must meet certain specific criteria and documents proving its age, integrity and significance must be submitted. It was during this yearlong process that Davis learned the surprising fact that the mill is the only historical property in Verona listed on the National Register.
Remarkably, Davis says she recently received a letter from a member of the Lehner family in Switzerland, who was searching for information about her ancestors’ life in Verona. The letter found its way to Davis after being sent to the Verona mayor’s office. She said she looks forward to corresponding with the woman and sharing what she’s learned regarding the legacy of the man who once owned this unique, historic property.
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