Hollidaysburg Historic District
The Hollidaysburg Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
Hollidaysburg is sited on a hilly tract overlooking the Beaverdam Branch of the Juniata River. The town is laid out in a dog-leg grid; a square known as the Diamond is at the intersection of Allegheny and Montgomery Streets, the center of the original 1796 grid. The highest point in the District is 1040 feet near Spruce Street; the lowest point is 960 feet at the old Pennsylvania Canal Basin on Juniata Street. The Blair County Courthouse (National Register 1976) is at 1011 feet allowing its 5-story spire to be seen from several miles distance. Hollidaysburg is located in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains and faces the 1382 foot Chimney Rock Ridge. Architectural styles within the District include Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Victorian Gothic, Romanesque Revival, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and Neo-Classical. Hollidaysburg maintains a high degree of integrity, especially considering the number of working class neighborhoods in the downtown area. The district contains 457 buildings, of which 33 are significant, 395 are contributing and 29 are intrusive.
The Hollidaysburg Historic District is predominantly residential and commercial. Confinement of manufacturing activity to the Juniata Street Canal Basin (now a Conrail yard) has insured that the town has retained its original scale and density. The only manufacturing concerns within the district are a planing mill (823 Walnut Street) and a small feed mill (101 Montgomery Street) at the northern and southern edges of the district.
The town is distinguished from surrounding development primarily by geographic features. The curve of the railroad tracks that follow the former bed of the Pennsylvania Canal define the southern and southwestern edges of the district. The tracks and the Beaverdam Branch divide Hollidaysburg proper from Gaysport, annexed by Hollidaysburg in 1923. The northern edge of the district is defined by the Female Seminary/ Presbyterian Church hill, which serves as a division between the downtown area and the late 19th and early 20th century neighborhoods that developed later to the north, especially along Penn Street (State Rte 36) where a trolley line afforded easy commuting to Altoona after 1893. The town's scale and density along with the sheer presence of the Presbyterian Church and the Courthouse define a definitely urban yet compact space that is distinct from the surrounding housing developments and the city of Altoona. From the east, the narrow curving Route 22 cut next to the Conrail yard affords a traveler a sudden glimpse of the town and defines its edge; the extreme eastern end of town is not part of the district due to insufficient historic resources and highway corridor intrusions.
Several neighborhoods are present in the Hollidaysburg Historic District. The earliest buildings centered around the Diamond, site of the hotel and tavern that were the town's chief reason for existence. With the advent of the Pennsylvania Canal in 1832 and the Allegheny Portage Railroad in 1834, the Juniata Street area became a neighborhood of warehouses; commercial buildings straggled up the Montgomery Street hill. The largest hotel was on the Diamond and the residential district was in the Mulberry/Blair area. A second residential area was developed in the late 1830s above Allegheny on Montgomery. When the County was established and the Courthouse completed in 1847, a neighborhood of lawyers' houses and offices sprang up around the Union/Allegheny intersection. Residential development was pushing east along Blair and Mulberry Streets and even crossing Penn Street, which was the edge of the uptown at mid century; much of this was working class housing. With the exception of the Walnut Street hill, which developed later, the town west of Penn Street is consistently composed of buildings built on the sidewalk or with tiny yards.
A few buildings such as the Courthouse and the Condron Opera House tower over their neighbors, but most of Hollidaysburg's downtown buildings are 2 1/2 stories or less. The Allegheny Street commercial area is dominated by residential scale buildings with ground floor storefronts. Many were built as house/store combinations, while others had storefronts added after the Portage Railroad closed and the business district moved to Allegheny Street.
Pushed out of their Allegheny neighborhood, the more fashionable residences appeared east of Penn Street around 1855. Houses in the Allegheny/Walnut corridor are detached with large lawns and setbacks. A combination of middle and upper class houses filled in the upper section of the old grid. Houses here are less expansively sited and a mixture of on the sidewalk and setback siting gives expression to the mixture of styles and era that is present as well. Outside the downtown, building heights are consistently 2 1/2 to 3 stories.
Hollidaysburg's early architecture is consonant with the country Federal of such neighboring towns as Newry. The district contains 56 Federal houses, some dating from the post Civil War era. Stylish houses of the 1830-1839 period are brick sidehall houses two rooms deep or centerhall houses one room deep. Generally cut brick flat arches are above the windows; the doors have fanlights and sidelights with segmental arches above; in several examples, this ensemble is echoed at second floor level by a similar window with paneled lower surface. A set of double town houses (308 and 310 Mulberry Street) and the five-bay Flemish bond house at 411 Mulberry Street that was the home of G. R. McFarlane, industrialist and associate judge are the best surviving Federal houses: they may have been built by Archibald McFadden.
Like other towns that developed in the 1830s and 1840s, Hollidaysburg was heavily influenced by the Greek Revival style; the district has 33 Greek Revival buildings. This influence was largely applied to surviving basic Federal sidehall and centerhall forms. The first Courthouse, the American House Hotel and the Exchange Bank building were all fine large-scale examples of the style; unfortunately, none of these buildings survive. The earliest extant specimens are Congressman Samuel Calvin's house at 421 Montgomery Street and the neighboring Dr. Joseph Landis house (built 1839) at 418 Montgomery Street. Both are Federal in form with broad friezes embellished with guttae, pilastered Greek Revival doorways with sidelight and transoms and stylized false pediment boards atop the attic dormers.
Only one early high style gable-end house (610 Mulberry) is extant, although several small law offices of the era represent simple examples of the form. Later Greek Revival houses have more emphatic Greek doorways and paneled lintels in the shape of severely flattened pediments. These particular buildings also display richly imaginative stylized pediments of corbeled brick in the gable ends. An example is banker William William's house at 424 Allegheny, built by David K. Ramey, whose brother Daniel K. Reamy (sometimes Ramey) was also a prolific local builder. A few of these buildings are house/store combinations that retain apparently original storefronts of the era. Modified Greek Revival gable end forms persisted in the post-Civil War period; both stylish and the most simple vernacular types are present and some vernacular types were built as late as the early 20th century.
There are a total of 15 Gothic Revival buildings in the district. Early Gothic Revival is notably absent; the Dr. Landis Office (418 Montgomery) is a charming cottage example and the simple but handsome African Methodist Episcopal Church (1885, 511 Front Street) also represents the style. Victorian polychrome Gothic is represented by the Courthouse #135, (1876, David Genall, architect; John Schreiner, builder), while the Blair County Jail at 422 Mulberry Street (1868, Edward Havelan, architect; Jonathan Rhule, builder) is a massive castellated Prison Gothic pile.
The 64 Italianate buildings represent the heart of the District's architectural significance. Builder Andrew Meyer's own cupola'd frame Italianate house at 522 Wayne is one fine example. Meyer was a native of Germany who apprenticed under David Ramey and later set up his own business after Ramey's retirement in 1865. He was involved in the construction of the first Courthouse as well as several churches and various houses. Highland Hall, Walnut and Penn, was originally the Hollidaysburg Female Seminary built in 1868-69. It was designed by Samuel Sloan, and Daniel Reamey was "Master Builder," overseeing the work of others, including Andrew Meyers. Highland Hall combines a massive Classical Revival pediment with Mansard roof and Italianate bracketing and quoins. Another local landmark in this popular mode is the Condron Opera House, 255 Allegheny, (c. 1870, James Condron builder), although its integrity has suffered some damage.
The District has only seven Second Empire houses but they are among the town's showplaces. The James Denniston house (411 Allegheny) from 1868 and the Watson/McLanahan house (c.1858, 703 Allegheny) represent the early style. Both are brick with fancy slatework and bracketed eaves. Two large houses at 514 and 518 Montgomery Street date from the 1870's and add ornate roof cresting and finials, along with more elaborate window and dormer treatment to the characteristics of the early examples. The U. S. Hotel (Juniata and Wayne) was built in 1886 and is a successor to an earlier hotel building that had stood opposite the Canal's packet boat landing since the 1830's.
The district is rich in late Victorian buildings of many varieties, from the mass of the courthouse to the most delicate Queen Anne. Many exhibit the freedom of form typical of their styles while others are centerhall houses with projecting bays as a concession to fashion. Generally the houses are middle class in scale; a few mansions are present. Some examples are wildly eclectic.
The Romanesque Revival is represented by two of the District's best buildings. The earlier is the 1869-70 Presbyterian Church (Walnut and Penn, David Gendall, architect, J. King McLanahan, Sr., building supervisor); its corbeled brick construction and fine stonework combine with an elevated site to dominate the upper town along with the neighboring Female Seminary. The Citizen's National Bank building (1902, architects M. Hawley McLanahan and William Prince) is a more whimsical design and is a most unique bank. Its compound arch is embellished with terra cotta panels depicting scenes from the town's history, while massive stone pillars have cushion capitals carved with the American Eagle. Multi-colored brickwork combines with unusual stone elements and ornate cast-iron panels to give this building impressive texture and mass despite its relatively small size.
Victorian houses of note are the Judge H. M. Baldridge House of 1863/1887 (620 Allegheny Street) and Judge Martin Bell House (1895, 424 Clark). The former is a Federal centerhall plan with a mixture of Italianate brackets and Greek Revival features like attic windows and heavily carved projecting lintels that are in the decorative style of Asher Benjamin. The lateness of the building makes the Greek Revival elements more remarkable. The Bell House represents a similar eclectic urge, yoking steep Gothic gables to a Mansard roof and icing with Classical Revival detailing.
There are 17 Queen Anne types in Hollidaysburg. Houses such as the John Rooney, 620 Walnut (1868, renovated 1896) and the St. Joseph's Friary (509 Walnut) began to fill in the eastern end of the town grid in the 1880-1900 period. The Rooney house uses elements of the shingle style to add texture and reaches forward to the Colonial Revival for its Palladian window; the St. Joseph's Friary is a larger more typical example with complex massing and a cornucopia of decorative devices.
The last period of district architecture represents the early years of this century, when older buildings were replaced by new and empty lots in older neighborhoods were filled. Styles include Colonial Revival, along with some Prairie/Craftsman influence and numerous Foursquare houses. Some 29 Colonial Revival houses are scattered among the more purely Victorian types; the G. W. Williams, Sr. House (916 Walnut, 1902) is an example. Another 20th Century residence of note is located at 716 Walnut Street and built in 1908. Using a symmetrical Colonial Revival layout as a base, this example adds Prairie style eaves and wall texture. An extensive porch/carport mixes Craftsman elements with some Tudor Revival details to produce a truly eclectic whole. Twentieth Century buildings such as the Neo-Classical Post Office (527 Allegheny, 1917) and the Neo Classical Hollidaysburg Trust Company Bank, 224 Allegheny (1924) along with scattered Four Square Vernacular houses and other residences complete the District's building stock.
Hollidaysburg's grid was originally oriented towards the bank of the Beaverdam Branch west of town. When the canal basin was built at a slight angle to the grid, a few oddly shaped blocks were formed as Blair and Juniata matched the canal front while Mulberry echoed the line of Allegheny Street. As the town moved east of Union Street, a solution was reached by tilting the streets of the old grid downward to match the canal. The Courthouse is located at the corner where Allegheny Street turns. The curve of the former Portage Railroad track reflected in modern Juniata Street is the only other irregularity in the town's layout.
The buildings of Hollidaysburg are overwhelmingly frame and brick. While a house or two and even the Female Seminary (whose stone was quarried on site) use the local limestone, its iron content makes it weather into a warm orange color that may have seemed inappropriate. Brickmakers were located in the town in its early years and brick was certainly a preferred material. Sandstone door sills and water tables were common from the late 1830's on and some houses exhibit a great deal of care in the stonework of their foundations. Generally, frame was a less desirable construction method until the Victorian period, when local carpenters and pre-fabricated detailing combined to make woodwork fashionable. Many elaborate porches and decorated eaves are still well preserved in Victorian neighborhoods along Allegheny/Walnut and on upper Montgomery. The brick downtown and the predominance of later brick veneer structures combine to make Hollidaysburg seem like a predominantly brick town.
The percentage of intrusions in the Hollidaysburg Historic District is only 6.3, and the integrity of the structures both residential and commercial is quite high. Unfortunately, the Diamond is the scene of a few intrusive 20th Century commercial buildings and some loss of integrity in historic structures. Many intrusions are Colonial Revival buildings and thus only marginally disturb the historic sense of their neighborhoods. Highway corridors such as Penn Street/State Route 36 and Blair Street/U.S. Route 22 have done the most damage to Hollidaysburg's building stock. An overpass for Route 36 cut out the center of the Juniata Street canal front. Blair Street has been thoroughly affected by Route 22; as a result, much of the street has been excluded from the district.
As a whole, Hollidaysburg retains a mood reminiscent of the later years of the 19th Century. While isolated blocks still convey association from the days of the Portage Railroad, much highway building has been done in the lower town. As in most canal towns, the Pennsylvania Canal exists more as a ghost and an influence than as a physical entity. The Allegheny Street commercial area is well preserved and includes a remarkable number of original storefronts. While some of the working class blocks display the scars of intrusive siding and window replacement, the unified scale and house orientation still carry associative weight. The fancier residential areas are remarkably well preserved and look very much as they did when their trees were saplings and automobiles were a dream.
The Hollidaysburg Historic District comprises the majority of Hollidaysburg proper that was developed before the end of the 19th Century. The building stock maintains a high degree of integrity, and the District as a whole represents a significant and distinguishable commercial and residential town of its era. Hollidaysburg evolved from a tavern stop along the Huntingdon, Cambria, Indiana Turnpike. Completion of the Main Line of the PA Canal in 1832 and the Allegheny Portage Railroad two years later set off a burst of development that lasted through the early 20th century.
Architecturally, the District contains a fine collection of pre-Civil War residential and commercial buildings and a broad range of Victorian houses, commercial buildings and government and religious structures. Many of these buildings reflect Hollidaysburg's political/governmental status; as county seat of Blair County, the town attracted a number of lawyers who became important jurists and political figures. Hollidaysburg's position as the transfer point between the Pennsylvania Canal and the Portage Railroad made it the gateway to the trans-Allegheny region and promoted industrial development in the town as well as making it a commercial center. Organized as a Borough in 1836, Hollidaysburg's district was most prominent in the period between 1830 and 1915.
In September 1756, troops under Col. John Armstrong staged a surprise raid on the Indian town of Kittanning, burning it and freeing a number of prisoners. Among the members of the pioneer army that followed the Frankstown trail were Adam and William Holliday, Scots-Irishmen of the Cumberland Valley. After campaigning under General Forbes in the capture of Fort Duquesne and serving at Fort Pitt under Henry Bouquet, Adam Holliday returned to the valley in 1774 and, with brother William as his neighbor, settled on the site of Hollidaysburg. Through Indian attacks and Revolution, and a struggle for the title of the land he lived on, Holliday persevered. In 1796, probably with surveyor Patrick Cassidy, Adam laid out a town and began selling lots.
By 1814, Hollidaysburg consisted of a few houses and a tavern, owned by John Holliday, Adam's son. The completion of the Huntingdon, Cambria, and Indiana Turnpike in 1818 brought a measure of prosperity; by 1830, there were some 70 inhabitants and the stage was set for Hollidaysburg's greatest period of growth. The Pennsylvania Canal was completed to the town in 1832, opening trade with Philadelphia and the east; two years later, the Allegheny Portage Railroad connected the town with Johnstown and western Pennsylvania and the boom was on.
As a whole, Hollidaysburg retains a mood reminiscent of the later years of the 19th Century. While isolated blocks still convey association from the days of the Portage Railroad, much highway building has been done in the lower town. As in most canal towns, the Pennsylvania Canal exists more as a ghost and an influence than as a physical entity. The Allegheny Street commercial area is well preserved and includes a remarkable number of original storefronts. While some of the working class blocks display the scars of intrusive siding and window replacement, the unified scale and house orientation still carry associative weight. The fancier residential areas are remarkable well preserved and look very much as they did when their trees were saplings and automobiles were a dream.
An engineering marvel, the Portage Railroad became a primary passenger route and helped to establish Hollidaysburg as a gateway to western Pennsylvania. Among those to benefit from the canal was Nicholas Hewit (501 Allegheny) who made a fortune as contractor for the canal between Huntingdon and Hollidaysburg.
In 1835, population was 1,068; by 1840, it had risen to 1,896. At mid-century, Hollidaysburg had some 3,000 inhabitants and over 140 buildings.
As the eastern terminus of the Portage Railroad, Hollidaysburg enjoyed a period of prime importance in the commercial life of the Commonwealth. In 1837, the town had 14 daily canal boat lines; traders and shippers of all types had warehouses near the Juniata Street basin. Hotels sprang up to accommodate the travelers and other commercial activities developed to serve the thriving town and its new residents.
Companies such as P. Leech and Co. and Bingham Brothers owned warehouses on the south side of Juniata Street where goods could be unloaded from canal boats and transferred to the Portage Railroad whose trains ran along Juniata. Smaller stores and warehouses clustered in the neighborhood below Blair Street. The passenger packets would discharge passengers at the foot of Montgomery or Wayne and they would climb the sometimes muddy hill to one of several hotels clustered above Mulberry Street, especially around the Diamond. One, the U.S. Hotel was on Juniata by the landing; it burned in 1865 but a Second Empire style successor building, 401 Juniata Street, is still in use. None of the early Uptown hotels has survived.
Accompanying the trade in goods was trade in money. The first bank was a branch of the Exchange Bank of Pittsburgh (opened in 1836, closed 1849); its successor was founded by Bell and McDowell and in 1863 became the First National Bank of Hollidaysburg, and subsequently Hollidaysburg Trust (224 Allegheny). Another early (1850) banking operation was managed by Richard R. Bryan, first as a branch of the Farmers Bank of Lancaster, then as Bryan Gleim and Co. This firm's successors failed in 1896.
The presence of the canal made Hollidaysburg a major trading post for the famous Juniata iron manufactured in the tiny charcoal furnaces that dotted the valley. The mid 1830's brought larger foundry operations.
In 1853, local iron ore was discovered to be ideal for the new coke-fired furnaces and plans were begun in 1855 by James Denniston (411 Allegheny) and others to build several such furnaces near the canal basin. By 1883 combined production of the furnaces was 450 tons of pig-iron per week. Other iron related facilities included a rolling mill, built and operated by B. M. Johnston and his partners in 1860, which manufactured bar iron and wire and nails, and the McLanahan and Kelly firm, which has survived to the present day. Most of the old industrial buildings succumbed to highway and railroad construction early in this century.
The building of canal boats had a shorter life as a local industry. Samuel Sharrer (215-17 Blair Street) is identified as an early boat builder; his works were next to the canal basin on the Gaysport side. John Dougherty, a forwarding agent for the Reliance shipping line, invented a new type of sectional boat that he patented in 1843 and manufactured in Hollidaysburg.
When Blair County was separated from Huntingdon and Bedford counties in June of 1846, as the largest of the new county's three boroughs and as its commercial center, Hollidaysburg was the logical choice to become the county seat. The county was named after John Blair and quarters for the government were rented. By 1847, the original Greek Revival Courthouse was completed. As the county grew during the mid-19th century plans were made to build a new courthouse; the impressive Gothic Revival structure at 419 Allegheny Street, was dedicated on July 2, 1877, designed by David S. Gendall and built by John Schreiner. The presence of the court attracted some remarkable lawyers, including three future U.S. Congressman and several men who became State Supreme Court and Superior Court Justices.
With the completion of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) Main Line in 1854, the town's days as a transportation hub were numbered. The railroad helped create a new transportation metropolis, Altoona, on farmland a few miles to the north. The Commonwealth sold the canal system to the PRR in June of 1857 and, within three months, the railroad had begun to dismantle the Portage Railroad. The coke fired iron furnaces were eventually superseded by centralized operations made possible by improved transportation. Thus, the era of Juniata iron ended. Hollidaysburg's prosperity was not over, but the town's importance was overshadowed by Altoona's. Population fell to 2,469 in 1860; by 1870 it had recovered to 2,952, and remained steady through 1900. Its remaining industries and the business of the courts would be Hollidaysburg's lifeblood for the rest of the 19th Century.
Not until the 20th century did transportation again become an important industry in Hollidaysburg. A large switching yard built by the PRR in 1903 brought the transportation industry back to the town; residents numbered 3,374 by 1910. When U.S. Route 22 was routed through the Borough, the town's access to the economic fringe benefits of truck and auto travel was insured for the foreseeable future.
The Hollidaysburg Historic District is architecturally significant both for the quality of its historic buildings and for their number. The streets of the town contain a capsule history of local building from the earliest Federal houses to the Colonial Revival of the early 20th century. The economic prominence of Altoona saved Hollidaysburg from many development pressures that might have stripped the town of its early buildings.
Despite some important losses, many buildings associated with the days of the Pennsylvania Canal have survived. Hollidaysburg probably retains more of these resources than other canal towns of comparable importance. While the Federal buildings of the early canal period are fairly simple types, the later Greek Revival houses include some unusual examples. While a town such as Huntingdon has lost most of its Greek Revival flavor, Hollidaysburg, like Muncy or Lewisburg, still contains many examples of the style that the canal carried into the hinterlands.
From local builders Archibald McFadden through David K. Ramey, the strongest early building tradition involved the brick house. While the McFadden examples are relatively modest, Ramey's best houses incorporate truly unusual corbeled decoration in frieze band and gable ends.
Another valuable aspect of Hollidaysburg's buildings is the presence of a large number of ante-bellum commercial buildings, some with original storefronts. Coupled with later stores that still retained residential scale, the business district is emphatically pre-Victorian in character.
The large architect-designed buildings like the Female Seminary, the Presbyterian Church and the Blair County Courthouse that date from the post war period are outstanding examples of their styles, but the Victorian residential areas rival them in significance. In this case it is a matter of sheer numbers and exceptional integrity, despite the fact that only a few of these houses stand out as significant buildings individually. The upper area of the old grid and the Walnut Street/Allegheny Street corridor contain whole blocks of fine residences that are still predominantly single family dwellings and are exceptionally well maintained. Allegheny Street in particular has an abundance of fine porch and eave detailing.
Although brick was still a common material, builders like Andrew Meyers added fine woodworking to the local building vernacular and frame construction became the equal of brick in the houses of the well-off. These houses are primarily middle-class in scale, smaller than contemporaries in larger towns such as Altoona and Williamsport, but the local builders attention to detail makes them attractive indeed.
Starting as a transportation center and then moving into industry and the business of the courts as society rapidly changed in the second half of the 19th Century, Hollidaysburg has been economically adaptable. Strong civic pride has also resulted in the survival of representative buildings from various eras of local building practice. The long-time commercial area on Allegheny Street is largely intact, offering an especially important overview of various modes of 19th Century commercial building and the several residential areas also retain much of their original nature.
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Clark, Charles B. Semi-centennial History of Blair County, Pennsylvania. (Altoona: Mirror Press, 1896).
Coffey, Harry. "Hollidaysburg, 1834-1850; A Memoir of the Canal Period." Past and present Blair County Historical Society Bulletin, Number 4, Fall 1961.
Davis, Tarring S. A History of Blair County, Pennsylvania. (Harrisburg: National Historical Association, 1931).
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