Lemont Historic District
The Lemont Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
The village of Lemont is situated at the southwestern end of Nittany Mountain on a plunging synclinal ridge which terminates at Spring Creek. This marked change in relief amounts to more than a hundred feet difference in elevation from Spring Creek to the farthest extension of the village up the mountain. Spring Creek literally cuts the village in half and, in the past, it provided an impetus for early farmers to settle in this spot. From Spring Creek and its flood plain the land forms a meadow which gradually rises about twenty feet to the Nittany Valley floor.
The village of Lemont grew as a result of its situation at the junction of several early roads in Centre County. The location of these roads and the subsequent location of the village was the result of the obstacle imposed by Nittany Mountain.
Since this area was a crossroads the land was very accessible to settlers coming in search of good farmland. The fertile Nittany Valley with its source of running water was a main point for early settlement, with several farms established on and around the site of Lemont. In 1869 Moses Thompson purchased one of these farms. He laid out a street plan for a village in 1870, following the boundaries of the farm property. Later, commercial enterprises and residences were built at the crossroads and along Pike Street. With the advent of railroad transportation in 1885, growth continued eastward along the foothill of Nittany Mountain and farther north along Pike Street.
The Lemont National Register Historic District contains eighty-one principal structures, thirty-three outbuildings, and one barn. Of the eighty-one principal structures, twelve are intrusive to the character of the district. Of the twelve, one is a two-story church-related building and one is a two-story apartment building. The remainder are one-story, post 1950's residences.
The sense of time and place in Lemont is preserved by the profusion of vernacular Victorian structures. Built during the second half of the nineteenth century, many are characterized either by steeply-pitched cross gables facing the street surmounting three or five bays, or by a complex of roof lines. Gothic, Italianate, Queen Anne, and Neo-Colonial detailing can be seen in these structures. The predominant Victorian construction is complimented by the houses of Lemont's earlier period, which feature Georgian symmetry and simplicity of plan. From the early twentieth century are examples of the 1920's Eclectic Cube (Rikert, 1967), and the Bungalow.
The Lemont District is residential in character, with a few scattered community buildings. Along Pike Street are several active commercial establishments and the post office which cater mainly to the village residents. However, the Lemont House, specializing in interior decorating, and the Victorian Manor Restaurant, garner a larger clientele from the surrounding area.
Many of the structures were originally single family residences, and while many remain that way, especially off the main road, many of the houses along Pike Street have been converted into apartments.
The district retains its rural atmosphere with the inclusion of the Griffith Lytle farm, one of the original farms that occupied the land where the present village of Lemont now stands.
Fortunately, very few intrusions have interrupted the visual unity of this district, these being mostly modern one-story structures that are generally set back from the line of sight on the main roads. However, a housing development to the south threatens to expand into the older Lemont settlement, and to the north, new housing is spreading undeterred up Nittany Mountain. Because of the size of the lots in some of the Lemont District, there is a potential for the placement of more of these smaller one-story structures or mobile homes. The newly built apartment complex on Elmwood Street, near Spring Creek, is an example of how one intrusion can disturb the architectural integrity of an entire neighborhood.
Spacing in the district generally follows the original plan of the village (1870) by Moses and John I. Thompson. The lots are not of uniform size, although fifty by two hundred feet is a rough guideline. The roads, Spring Creek, Nittany Mountain, and the boundaries of the original tract all figure in the lot sizes. The houses along Pike Street are pressed against the rough sidewalks and have little or no front yards. The long narrow backyards are typical of the entire village and often a small barn-type building is placed near the end of the backyard. The railway has had little effect on the shape of the village except to change the direction of a section of Mary Street.
Situated at the base of a mountain, Lemont has a unique setting. The open space created by the lower meadow land along Spring Creek is in direct contrast to the wooded lower slope of the Nittany Mountain. The juxtaposition of these varying topographical features can be seen in the Lemont District. These natural aspects within the district, including several streets lined with tall old trees, help to define the transition between the village and its more recently developed surroundings.
The Lemont District is fortunate to have lost few of its original buildings through destruction or neglect. The physical condition of most of the buildings within the district ranges from good to excellent, with several examples of sensitive restoration. The John H. Hahn House and Store, the James I. Lytle House and the Grant Meyer House are fine examples of this sympathetic renewal. Other houses remain in good repair but have been covered with aluminum or asphalt siding, although they could conceivably be returned to their original condition. Railroad-related buildings such as the John I. Thompson, Jr., Railroad Siding, Coal Shed, and Grain Elevator, and the Railroad Station, have been neglected. The Railroad Station exists as one of the few remaining stations in the county and is greatly in need of attention.
The village of Lemont grew as a result of its position at the end of Nittany Mountain and its location at an important early crossroads, functioning for decades as a transport/commercial center. Rapid improvements in transportation placed commercial emphasis on other nearby areas such as State College, thereby contributing to Lemont's decline. This decline may, in some ways, be looked upon as a blessing in disguise. Rapid, unplanned commercial and residential development along Route 26, which bypasses Lemont, has resulted in a bleak architectural landscape. Although the district has so far been spared, modern development threatens it from every direction. The convenience of public and private transportation has brought the village within "ideal" commuting distance from State College and other commercial areas, and the growth which once contributed to the unique settlement pattern of Lemont in the past now threatens existence as a quiet rural community. The village character of Lemont is a fragile commodity that could be irrevocably spoiled by insensitive growth and alteration.
The Lemont National Register Historic District is significant as a picturesque commercial village of the late nineteenth century. Its settlement history can be attributed to its location at the end of Nittany Mountain and at the crossroads of four major roads of early Centre County. This mountain barrier divides the eastern portion of the county in half, and in the 1800's was a considerable obstacle to transportation. The location of Nittany Mountain determined the location of this major road network, and in turn, the location of these four roads determined the pattern of settlement which occurred at this busy transportation node. The development of the village was enhanced by the commercial opportunities afforded by the regular flow of traffic through the area. What had once been a lightly populated agricultural site grew to become a transportation-related, commercially-oriented village.
The district's pattern of settlement is vividly expressed in various forms of architecture which can be traced to three basic periods of time. The period previous to 1870 (before the village was formally laid out) consists of rural folk house types characteristic of rural Pennsylvania areas of this time. Vernacular interpretations of popular national styles can be seen in buildings built between 1870 and 1900. These building styles coincide with the commercial prosperity which Lemont enjoyed at this time and which was further enhanced by the passage of the railroad through the village in 1885.
The onset of the automotive age witnessed a functionalistic trend in architecture, as can be seen in the more cubical buildings built between 1900 and 1920. This period saw the peak of Lemont's importance as a transportation center.
After 1920, the district's importance declined due to various changes and improvements in transportation methods, as well as the rapid growth of the nearby community of State College.
The district is worthy of preservation as an excellent example of a late nineteenth century roadside village.
Lemont was laid out in 1870 by Moses Thompson, farmer, businessman, industrialist, and owner of Centre Furnace iron works. The land on which Lemont stands is part of a 1200 acre tract settled by David Whitehill in 1789. Whitehill's children inherited the property after his death, and it was later purchased by General James Irvin, partner of Moses Thompson at Centre Furnace. After passing through the ownership of the Irvin and Nancy Berry heirs (Nancy Berry was the daughter of General Irvin), it was purchased by Moses Thompson in 1869. He laid out a street plan one year later, and his son, John I. Thompson, Jr., named the village "Le Mont," in appreciation of its picturesque setting at the end of Nittany Mountain. ("Le Mont" is a French phrase meaning "The Mountain"). The area had previously been known by a variety of names including Elmwood, Edenville, Centreville, and most commonly, "End of the Mountain."
The site at The End of the Mountain had been lightly populated for at least eighty years before the village was formally laid out. Linking the farmlands of Penns and Nittany Valleys, it had an abundance of fertile loam soil and water from Spring Creek, which flowed down around the mountain. The location was considered a choice agricultural site and the Whitehill, Dale, Thompson, Schreck, Williams, Kimport, and Lytle families all operated large farms in this area prior to 1870.
The major crossroads at the End of the Mountain offered an attractive location to settle and do business. One of the first roads of the county ran from Bellefonte, south around the end of Nittany Mountain, through Oak Hall, and connected in Penns Valley with the main post road from Sunbury. This was a primary route connecting Centre County with the Susquehanna River Valley and points south. This road from Bellefonte branched off at the curve around the mountain (the road is still known as Branch Road) and connected with the town of Pine Grove Mills and points west. A road from Centre Furnace, approximately two miles west of the End of the Mountain area, connected with the Branch Road and the main road (now known as Pike Street), forming a crossroads. Flow of traffic to and from Dale's Mills, Oak Hall, and Centre Furnace, as well as general travel through the area to other points in the county, created a busy transportation node in this early road network.
No doubt Moses Thompson realized the potential of the area when he laid out his street plan in 1870. The roads provided accessibility, and in turn, this accessibility provided excellent opportunities for commerce. A general store, owned and run by J. H. Hahn, had been operating at the crossroads since the early 1850's, catering to travelers, haulers, and local farmers. A small hotel (the site of the present Art Alliance building) was also in operation, although it was later destroyed by fire and never rebuilt. Dr. Benjamin Berry, a well known Centre County physician, had lived and practiced medicine in his log house at the crossroads since the 1830's.
Convinced of the location's settlement possibilities, Moses Thompson immediately invested in its commercial potential. In 1868 he erected a sizable stone building and along with his son, John I., Jr., opened the private banking firm of Thompson and Company. In 1872 the firm took over the operation of Hahn's general store, as well as expanding its interests in other areas.
Lemont quickly achieved prosperity, as can be seen in the attractive architecture of the period, and in the new businesses that were established. John Miess and William Schreck both opened blacksmith shops, the Schreck operation lasting well into the 1900's. Dr. D. F. Taylor opened a drug store, and a jewelry store was founded by J. Q. A. Kennedy. Dr. Jared Y. Dale, a prominent physician who succeeded Dr. Berry after his death, erected a large house at the crossroads, and set up a farmstead at the north end of town. John I. Thompson, Jr., built a large and very beautiful house in the center of town near the Thompson and Company Bank. A post office was established in the home of J. C. Shuey, which also served as the toll house along the main road. Thompson provided essential religious and educational services by erecting a schoolhouse at the north end of town, and donated a lot to the Spring Creek Presbyterian congregation for the construction of a church. Today this church continues to house the Presbyterian congregation and remains largely unaltered.
The development of the railroad further enhanced Lemont's growth as a community. The Lewisburg, Centre, and Spruce Creek Railroad Company, incorporated in 1853, had been slowly expanding westward with plans to eventually connect with the Bald Eagle Valley Railroad Company line in Bellefonte, which ran to Tyrone. By 1877 track had been laid as far as Spring Mills, in eastern Centre County. In 1880 the corporate name was changed to the Lewisburg and Tyrone Railroad Company, with immediate plans to complete the line to Bellefonte. Sam Weaver, who later built a beautiful Gothic house near the railroad station, was instrumental in the completion of this important section of track.
The completion of the railroad further enhanced commercial activity in Lemont, much of it directly connected with transportation. Thompson and Company erected a large side for unloading farm machinery, as well as for loading grain, fruit, hay, and livestock brought in for shipment by local farmers. A coal yard was provided for the receiving and storing of coal shipments, as well as a grain elevator for seasonal grain storage. Lemont also served as the only railroad access point for people traveling to and from the nearby Pennsylvania State College, creating a sizable increase in passenger traffic.
Lemont's role as a transportation center thus established, its prominence lasted well into the 1920's. Elmer C. Ross, the village's latest speculator, took over many of the Thompson interests including the general store and the grain and coal business, and bought one of the finest Victorian houses in the area, built by James I. Lytle. Increasingly successful in his monument business, L. Frank Mayes purchased the Dr. Dale House in 1911, and later located the Memorial business next door in a building with appropriate Neo-classical features. The Schreck Blacksmith Shop continued successfully under the operation of succeeding generations of Schrecks, expanding with the advent of the automobile to include automobile maintenance and repair. With increasing emphasis on automobile travel, Robert Hoy built a sizable garage and auto repair business which proved so successful that it continued under the operation of Paul Houser, only recently closing in 1976.
The end of the 1920's saw the beginning of Lemont's decline as a transportation and commercial center. Rapid improvements in automobile travel and the increasing numbers of automobiles in use soon outmoded the main road through the village. It was finally rerouted at Centre Furnace in 1928, completely bypassing Lemont, and was later enlarged to become a four lane highway now known as the Benner Pike (Pa. Route 26). Although railroad service continued and was extended to State College, it gradually succumbed to the increasing popularity of highway travel.
Today Lemont's buildings and street plan remain as bonds to the transportation factors which influenced the development of the community and its early settlement history.
The architectural significance of Lemont lies in the representation of three periods of time, corresponding with the district's most active phases of growth. This significance is demonstrated in a few remaining examples of folk houses, and in the vernacular interpretations of popular national styles.
The first of these periods, prior to the formal laying out of the village in 1870, is represented by folk houses in the common I one-room-deep configuration. These are small, two story houses characterized by one-over-one or two-over-two floor plans, gabled roofs with ridges parallel to the street, and squarish windows. Often built with the plank method of construction until the advent of the more popular balloon frame method, these buildings were functional and simple in their over-all scheme, with little attention paid to stylistic detailing. Two examples are the J. C. Shuey House, which served as a toll house and as Lemont's first post office, and in the Mary Payne house, which was part of an early local pottery. Both exhibit the two story, three-bay I configuration with central entrances, square windows, and simple lintels. Although both have been altered, their basic integrity remains intact. The Nelson Williams House, built at a slightly later date, displays more elaboration including features such as slightly pointed lintels, longer window openings, and a transom light over its central entrance way. Its exterior remains intact and accurately reveals the form and character of the I house. These earliest folk houses reflect the original development of the area as a rural farming locale. The William Williams House, built in the 1840's, varies from the usual plan of houses of that time, and features a gable roof with ridge perpendicular rather than parallel to the street, a side hall configuration, and the indication of Gothic forms. Continuously owned by the Williams family since its erection, it originally housed the family of a successful farmer and landowner, which may account for its more stylish appearance.
The Dr. Benjamin Berry House, built circa 1835, is one of the earliest houses in the district and features a distinctive main portion built of log. Although frame additions, clapboard siding, and an elongated, bay window have slightly updated its character, it retains its prominence. Husband of Nancy Berry, the daughter of James Irvin who inherited much of the land where Lemont presently stands, Dr. Berry was a well known county physician. This house served as his home and office.
An example of early investment in the village's development, the Thompson and Company Bank Building was built by Moses Thompson and his son John I., Jr., in 1868. Having a two story rectangular floor plan with side hall entrance and gable roof, it features a delicate oculus window in its gable end, which counterbalances the building's imposing limestone solidity. This structure represents the Thompsons' belief in the area's potential for commercial development, and it was one of the first of many businesses to be established in the village. Soon after the construction of this early bank building, Moses Thompson laid out a street plan for the village in 1870.
The period 1870-1890 reveals a building tradition which reflects more of the contemporary national trends in architecture. Vernacular interpretations of the Gothic and Italianate styles, and one strong example of Neo-Colonial, can be seen in buildings of this era. The stylistic consciousness expressed was appropriate to a newly flourishing village as well as being consistent with the period. Improvements in transportation, farming, and tools, as well as better availability of goods and services, all contributed to a better standard of living and a desire to emulate cosmopolitan styles. Buildings of this period feature wall surfaces with elongated openings, scroll and other types of bracketing, sawn porch details, frequent use of transoms and sidelights on entrance ways, and in Gothic modes, the unmistakable cross gable with window. In addition, this period reveals the stylistic updating of several older houses.
The J. H. Hahn House and Store (originally 1850's) was enlarged and stylized in the 1870's after being taken over by the Thompson and Co. firm. This five bay, two story building features a cross gable with pointed window, scroll bracketing, tongue and groove siding, and a three bay porch with sawn details. It has functioned as a residence and store continuously since its erection, and has been carefully restored by its present owners.
The John I. Thompson, Jr., House was extensively renovated in the Neo-Colonial mode in the 1880's, reflecting Thompson's success as a businessman in the young village. A gambrel roof with three elaborate gabled dormers replaced the original gable roof. In addition, the house features stylish lintels, curious classical pediments, and round arch casement windows with tracery and voussoirs on the third, floor. These renovations have left the house a blend of authentic Georgian and Neo-Colonial.
Still another case of outstanding and successful adaptation exists in the Dr. J. Y. Dale House. A prominent Centre County physician who succeeded Dr. Berry in Lemont, he built his home in 1871. He later hired J. Robert Cole, a Bellefonte builder responsible for much of the eclectic architecture found in Centre County, to enlarge and stylize the house. The result of his work is an impressive two-and-a-half story wood structure in the Queen Anne and Eastlake modes, with a heavily massed roof, varieties of dormers, tall chimneys, bays, porches, and balconies. The house is refreshingly asymmetrical.
The James I. Lytle House is a purely Victorian structure and an excellent example of contemporary adaptive re-use. Built with intersecting gables, shed roof dormers, and scalloped shingles, it features a handsome double oak door with transom, wrap-around porch with carved posts and lacy brackets, and rectangular windows with upper halves set with framing bands of eighteen colored glass panes. Its present owners operate a restaurant on the first floor and reside on the second. They have taken extreme care to preserve and incorporate all of the house's original details into its present function.
Several non-residential buildings of the period contribute nicely to the architectural landscape of the 1870-1890 period. These include the Spring Creek Presbyterian Church with Gothic and Romanesque detailing, the former Lemont Methodist Church in the Carpenter Gothic style, and the complex of buildings which made up the loading platform, coal shed, and grain elevator next to the railroad. These latter buildings reflect the village's importance as a transportation junction during its most active phase of growth, and reveal the importance of the railway system to commerce in the late 19th century.
Structures built in the final significant period of development 1900-1920 contribute to the range of styles that create a distinctive village ambience. This period is closely related to the peak of transportation-related commerce being carried on in Lemont at this time. Transportation improvements in the form of the automobile brought forth drastic changes in mobility, with architectural styles undergoing significant modification as well. Building trends had adopted simplistic and functional expression, emphasizing maximum use of space and minimum use of stylistic detailing. This period reveals the construction of two story brick "cubes," squarish and heavily massed, with steep gable or gambrel roofs, prominent eave overhangs, and double-hung sash windows sometimes decorated with leaded glass. Although bulky and somewhat bland, these houses were solidly built, and those found within the district are in very good repair. In addition, these structures could be attractively adapted if the owner so desired. An excellent example of this stylistic adaptation is found in the David Houser House, which is coincidentally reminiscent of early Frank Lloyd Wright designs in its play of horizontal and vertical space. Richardsonian detailing can be seen in the solid brick arcade which runs along the north and west elevations of the structure.
The Robert Hoy Garage, until recently the "oldest continuously operated garage in the area," exemplifies the "cube" put to commercial use and features a prominent stepped gable and heavy lintels over its large plate glass windows and double doors. Its closing in 1976 symbolized, as the closing of the railroad had earlier, Lemont's termination as a transportation center.
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