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Parkesburg Borough

Parkesburg Borough municipal offices are located at 329 W. First Avenue, Parkesburg PA 19365; phone: 610-857-2616.

Beginnings [1]

This town owes its existence to the old Columbia Railroad, for it was here that the State built her machine-shops when that work was constructed, and here the principal officers of the road were located. The site was probably selected because of its position midway on the line, and for twenty years it prospered as a centre of railroad industry and management. But when the State sold the Columbia Railroad, the Parkesburg shops were abandoned and remained idle, showing the marks of decay, until a recent period, when they were put in operation as a rolling-mill, and now fifty men are employed in them. There are a steam flour-mill and a carriage manufactory here, and some minor industries are carried on. The town contains a good hotel, a banking house, a public hall, an academy, and five churches. A stage line runs daily from this place to Oxford, distant fifteen miles. Population about 600.

Text, below, was adapted from National Register nomination documents for the Parkesburg School (1995) and the National Bank (1980). Of course, given the dates these documents were authored, some of the descriptions no longer pertain.

Parkesburg, located in western Chester County, is a small, industrial community that prospered during the nineteenth-century from the railroad and iron industries. The repair shops for the Columbia to Philadelphia railroad were built in Parkesburg in the 1830s and remained here until they were relocated west to Harrisburg in 1861. The Borough of Parkesburg was incorporated on March 1, 1872 and was named for the Parkes family, prominent residents of the area. The railroad still divides the community with a principal commercial core and residential areas to the south and residential and a secondary commercial area located on the side of a steep hill to its north. The Parkesburg School is located on the hill and is a prominent visual landmark in the borough.

National Bank

The Parkesburg National Bank was a product of extensive industrial growth and America's expansionism associated with the railroad (Columbia RR 1835, later PA RR) and the establishment of Horace Beale Sr.'s Iron Works in Parkesburg in 1872. The railroad established repair shops which were situated on the opposite side of the railroad adjacent to the Bank and were the result of legislative and political pressure by members of the Parke family. The Parke family was unhappy about the positioning of the rail line since it bisected their farm and as a compromise for damages the railroad agreed to place engine repair shops in Parkesburg. It was Park's vision to emulate the development of European industrial center and Parkesburg with its centralized position between Philadelphia and Harrisburg met this economic need.

The repair shops eventually were moved to Altoona and Horace Beale, Sr., used the old railroad shops for his Parkesburg Iron Company (PICO). The iron business prospered and the Beale family contributed to the borough employment and many innovative ventures by the early 1900's (namely a professional ball team and stadium, professional basketball team and basketball hall, horse racetrack, radio station and mobile unit, and an airport and hanger for pioneering pilots.) The Iron Works began to falter from archaic manufacturing methods and lack of capital within the company since it was tied up in Mr. Beale's son's aforementioned hobbies and interests. By 1926 the Iron Company was forced to close and eventually its main buildings were sold for scrap.

The bank was located in the heart of the commercial section of Parkesburg and was financed by two prominent residents, Parke and Smith, who foresaw the potential of the burgeoning "boom" town. Samuel Parke was President of the National bank and was Parkesburg's first Burgess (1872). Parke, described in his 1899 obituary as a "worthy representative of a worthy family, and long ranked with the representative citizens of this country," was a descendant of the distinguished Parke family who emigrated from Ireland in 1724 and settled in the Parkesburg area as prosperous farmers and merchants. Smith was a descendant of a frugal and equally productive Quaker family which had settled and farmed the western portion of what is now Parkesburg. (The Smith and Parke homesteads are still preserved at opposite ends of Main Street).

In its centralized venue the Bank was surrounded by the following commercial structures: a hotel (1850s), Owens Department Store (1857), and railroad warehouses and shops. Today its solitary setting is misleading except to the most observing as only subtle vestiges of many of these other structures remain. The Bank's store fronts facing Main Street housed a variety of businesses; a drug store; the "Bee Hive," a variety shop subsidiary of Owen's Department Store; a jewelry store; and the 3rd floor was headquarters for the "Red Man Indians" which became the Keystone Masonic Lodge in 1883.

By 1900, the population of the town had climbed to nearly 2,000 and the community was entering its "Golden Age" which was to last until the late 1920s. As the Bank prospered, an addition was placed on the east side of the original building directly beside the Hotel livery stables. However, in 1906 a trolley line was placed on the opposite side of the rail line and what is now the community's business district (the Main Street merchants felt the new trolley would frighten the horses as they drank from the fountain adjacent to the Bank). By 1924 the National Bank failed, businesses were relocating to the south side of the borough along the trolley line and eventually another bank was established there. The socio-economic impact of this on Main Street was gradual but ominous. The 30-40 shops and businesses present at the turn of the century diminished to 203 by the 1970s and many of the associated buildings were razed.

The Bank building has become a sole survivor of an opulent era of Parkesburg's "Main Street" and is the only example of elaborated detail making the edifice a study of "Victorianism." By virtue of its building site the Bank building can be seen aerially 100-200 yards by pedestrians as they approach it coming south down to Strasburg Avenue and its intersection with Main Street. In addition, the homes overlooking Main Street have an unusual vantage point when viewing the Bank from their verandas. Due to the proximity to the PRR Main Line, commuters can observe the building approximately 50 yards from the rail lines.

The effort for revitalizing Main Street and the Bank building was initiated by the Borough Planning Commission, whose work with the Chester County Planning Commission resulted in a comprehensive plan for Parkesburg which encouraged identification and preservation of the borough's historic resources. This interest in the community's heritage spurred citizens to form the Historic Parkesburg Restoration Enterprises, Inc., a non-profit organization to identify and inventory historic resources and initiate historic preservation activities in Parkesburg. This group has been working actively in the Main Street area and getting the Bank on the National Register was one of its early goals.

  1. Sipes, William B., The Pennsylvania Railroad: Its Origin, Construction, Condition, and Connections, The Passenger Department, Pennsylvania Railroad, 1875, Philadelphia.
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