one yard to rule them all

When John Galley’s wife Lori returned to their Lakemont Drive home from vacation two summers ago, she found a giant pile of dirt in her backyard where green grass had once been.

While she was away her husband, their son Joe and nephew Brian Stewart, began building a home for creatures that exist only in books, film and in Middle Earth fans’ imaginations. The three were building a hobbit hole.

The Shire is a mythical place in J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit book and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Shire is the home of hobbits, small creatures that resemble humans except for their short stature and hairy feet. It is a beautiful and peaceful place where the main protagonist, Frodo Baggins, lives at the beginning of Tolkien’s first book in the trilogy.

“I’ve always thought of Mt. Lebanon as my shire,” Galley says.

Galley, enough of a Tolkien fan to name one of his dogs Frodo, was inspired to begin the project after watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. “I was just thinking about how gorgeous the set is,” he says.

The structure is about four feet tall and six feet wide. The roof is covered in plants and surrounded by potted flowers. There are round windows, hand-cut bricks and a tiled floor. A stone walkway leads to the round, green front door where a decorative doorknob and solar-powered hanging lamp beckons guests inside.

Galley gathered some of the supplies, like the doorknob, from Rollier’s and from catalogs for items that were more difficult to find locally. Friends and neighbors are often intrigued with the unique feature. “It’s a great conversation starter,” Galley says.

The hobbit hole is a home for Frodo, a collie, and a black Pomeranian named Mia. Sometimes, though, the dogs receive visitors … none of them wizards or dwarves like in the novels. “Our neighbor’s grandkids like to play in the hobbit house too,” Galley says.

Galley, who works in the human resources department at UPMC, dedicated many nights after work and weekends to building the hobbit hole. The project took the trio most of the summer two years ago and Galley continues to add new features.

Joe, who graduated from Washington and Jefferson College this past spring with a degree in biochemistry, shares Galley’s love of Tolkien. He says building the hobbit hole with his dad made for some great father-son time.

Lori admits that she wasn’t pleased with the project when she first discovered it. “I asked John, ‘Are you sure you don’t want a spa or a koi pond instead?’” she says.

“But it has grown on me,” she adds with a laugh.