For much of the nineteenth century, the well-camouflaged plaque property at 327 Wilgus Avenue (then 285 East Third) was the sole dwelling in its neck of the woods. The deed records do not confirm its build date, but according to its National Register nomination form, it likely originated as a small brick farmhouse in the 1830s. By 1857, Irish immigrant John McCracken had added a wing to the west of the main block. In 1866, his heir sold it to local contractor and brickyard owner Garrard (aka Garrett) Davis Wilgus as part of a sizable land transfer.
According to historian Robert Peter, Wilgus had been manufacturing bricks since he was eighteen years old: “he began business without capital and has worked his way by hard knocks.” This narrative may be embellished, as Garrard was the nephew of Asa Wilgus, the builder of the avant-garde Pope Villa (which Benjamin Latrobe designed). In 1850, 16 enslaved laborers were contributing to Garrad’s operation. By 1881, his workforce had swelled to 250.
Often using the bricks that he produced at his own yard near Seventh and Chestnut, Wilgus participated in the construction of numerous notable buildings including the Phoenix Hotel, the old opera house (demolished), and the Gothic cottage in the Episcopal Burying Ground.
Wilgus’ numerous modifications to the house, which included an east wing, a central gable with trefoil window, and eave brackets, gave it a hybrid Gothic-Italianate appearance. A two-story rear extension with a wooden porch was also added by 1907 (and removed by 1934). After Wilgus and his wife, Agnes, died in the early 1890s, their children carved up their expansive holdings. The house and its adjoining acreage passed to daughter Tibbs, the wife of bookkeeper Irvine Prather. In 1906, the Prathers further subdivided the land, cut the road for Wilgus Ave, and sold the house to the Foster siblings.