Coalport Historic District
The Coalport Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. 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 Coalport Historic District is a predominantly commercial area containing architecturally simple store fronts, more elaborate residences, a bank, and public church buildings. Coalport, located in southern Clearfield County, sits in a valley of the Appalachian Mountains along the Clearfield Creek. The Coalport Historic District is made up of 53 resources dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, 41 of which are classified as contributing, and 12 of which are classified as noncontributing. All of the buildings, with the exception of three, are located along Main Street. The district is oriented in a north-south direction with the northern end of the district consisting primarily of commercial buildings while the southern end is residential. Building styles represented in the district include: Colonial Revival, Queen Anne, Italianate, Gothic Revival, Second Empire and Romanesque. However, many of the district's buildings lack obvious stylistic influence. The district, as a whole, retains integrity as a mostly vernacular commercial district. Setbacks, scale, original stylistic influences, and the historic association are all clearly evident.
Because Coalport was not owned by a coal company, businesses and residences were not uniformly planned therefore providing architectural diversity within the district. The buildings of the district are laid out in a grid pattern at an angle to Clearfield Creek. The district contains a mixture of residential and commercial buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Just over one-half of the buildings were constructed between 1860 and 1890; about 15 percent between 1891 and 1920; and over 30 percent between 1921 and 1946. Of the contributing buildings, 22 are residences and 22 are commercial. The remaining buildings house health care offices and a church. Predominant building materials are wood and brick. The district is small in scale with both residences and commercial buildings generally two stories in height. Only two buildings are of modern (ca. 1970 and ca. 1980) construction.
Entering the district from the north, commercial buildings and residences are generally found flush to the sidewalk while residences in the southern end are found to be set back from the street. Here, vegetation and semi-spacious front lawns are found before they diminish and give way to the commercial buildings of the district.
The 1902 Romanesque Revival style United Methodist Church (contributing) provides an anchor at the northern end of the district. The brick building has virtually no changes in original appearance and features stained glass windows with stone arches and a bell tower.
L.C. Hegarty & Son Used Cars (1941, contributing) is located at Mill St. and Main St. The business is housed in a building that was built from the dismantled Lloyd Mansion in Altoona, PA. It features Italianate hooded window details of carved stone in segmental arches. The building's pediment and eave overhangs have been covered with vinyl siding. Doors have been reduced in size, fiberglass brick embellishments have been added around the doors.
Scott Hardware (1880) is indicative of the noncontributing commercial buildings of the district. A brick front and overhang has been added to the first story. No doubt the building had bracketed cornices at the second story which were removed. Window placement has also been altered.
Bell's Drug Store (contributing) has been a drug store since it was built in 1884. The first story retains its original storefront windows and bulkheads. Simple wooden decorative brackets remain at the first story level. The second story has been resurfaced with insulbrick. The entablature over the windows are original though some windows have been reduced in size.
The 1920 Coalport 5 & 10 (contributing) remains a central shopping institution in the district. Of wood construction, the building retains its original wood brackets and store windows. Striped awnings located on the front of the building replicate originals used during the period of significance.
The building located adjacent to the Coalport 5 & 10 (contributing) was once an opera house. It now houses a furniture and produce business. Original wood brackets remain on the first story store front.
The 1922 First National Bank (contributing) is the second bank built in Coalport. Though now under the name of U.S. Bank, the one story building reflects both Neoclassical and Art Deco styles and features a stone entablature with the original financial institution's name. Windows and the main entrance have been modified and a handicapped access ramp has been installed.
The district includes one property, the 1920 Dixie Theater (noncontributing), which has retained its original facade though the building behind it has fallen in. The loss of the Dixie Theater does not seem to compromise the overall integrity of the district. This is due to the fact that the district is principally composed of late nineteenth century buildings with scattered infill of buildings dating from the early twentieth century. More engaging within the district are the architectural styles of the late nineteenth century than the simple style of the Dixie. Therefore, though it may be seen as a loss to the community, it does not interrupt the continuity of the district.
The Central Hotel (contributing), located at the corner of Main and Pine Streets, was built in 1890 and is of the Second Empire style. Windows on the first story have been modified and insulbrick and aluminum siding have been added. Second story windows and third story dormers are original and help to retain the integrity of the style.
Hugh McNulty Hardware (contributing), built in 1875, is one of Coalport's finest examples of a commercial building in the Italianate style. The two-story brick building has maintained its original storefront appearance with original bulkheads, doors, bracketed cornices, and original signage placement. First-story store front windows are original while the second-story windows have been modified, but this is the only major change.
The 1875 V. Stevens Furniture Store (contributing) is a three-story wood building in the Italianate style. A bay window has been installed at the front of the building along with new doors and a wrap around porch. The second and third-story facade has been covered in insulbrick but windows with simple entablatures are original. "V. Stevens Furniture" remains visible at the original bracketed cornice.
The district's resources are in fair condition. Most are in need of paint and it is hard to find a building front that has not been altered with vinyl or aluminum siding.
Many of the wood decorative brackets found on gables and store fronts have been retained though many more have been lost. Generally, the first story has been altered with the addition of vinyl or aluminum siding, change in placement and type of windows.
The Coalport Historic District's noncontributing buildings make up approximately 25% of its resources. Buildings that were constructed after the period of significance are considered noncontributing. However, buildings constructed during the period of significance that have undergone extensive alterations have been classified as noncontributing as well. For example, buildings with major changes to facade and window and door configurations are classified as noncontributing. One third of the noncontributing resources are residential. Two of the residences were built after the period of significance while the other three have excessive alterations. All of the noncontributing commercial resources were built within the period of significance. Most commonly, these resources have been altered with aluminum or vinyl siding, replacing wood siding and architectural details. Synthetic siding has also altered window placement and window frames. Although one-fourth of the resources are noncontributing, the district retains integrity to reflect its period of significance and importance as a small business district in the southern Clearfield County coal region.
The diversity of Coalport's commercial buildings reflects the period of significance with their simple store fronts and architectural details typical of the styles represented. As evidenced through today's continued use of these establishments, one is able to comprehend a bustling small town commercial center. Constituting half of the district's resources, Coalport's residential buildings are found dispersed among the commercial buildings of the district. These homes are similar in scale and style to the commercial buildings and add to the cohesiveness of the neighborhood. The contributing churches help tie the locale together both architecturally and socially. Besides providing worship services, these local congregations sponsored picnics, bazaars, and other activities that contributed to the social atmosphere of the downtown. Clearfield Creek, just beyond the district's western boundary, adds to the district's rural character. This waterway played a minor role in the early transportation of goods and also provided a place for leisure activities such as swimming and fishing. Of the twelve noncontributing resources, three are residences and seven are businesses that existed during the period of significance. The remaining two resources were built after this period.
The Coalport Historic District is significant in the areas of commerce and architecture. The district is focused on a small business area on Main Street representative of the type of districts that were once found in the towns of similar size in the southern Clearfield and northern Cambria County area. The historic architectural styles found in this district are representative of the styles in the period of significance, (1869 -1946). As the name implies, Coalport owes its very existence to Pennsylvania's mining and industrial past. In 1877 James Haines began to lay out and sell lots for a new town. Through the next sixty-nine years Coalport had its high and low periods of economic stability as did most southwestern Pennsylvania towns. Coalport became the main commercial center for the population of southern Clearfield and northeastern Cambria counties when its first stores were built in the early 1870's. The first built resource is a former farmhouse constructed in 1869. The year 1946 saw the town's most important source of income, coal mining, reach its zenith. Few new buildings were constructed thereafter.
People were attracted to the area by the prospect of making a living in farming, lumbering and coal mining. Around 1810 pioneer settlers began primitive mining of bituminous coal in the southern Clearfield County area about one and one-half miles from the mouth of Witmer Run in the area that later became Coalport. This coal was used for heating, cooking and also by blacksmiths. Primitive mining of coal took place in early "country banks" which were small family owned mines with a workforce of one to five men. The extraction of coal was accomplished by use of the pick and shovel (hand loading), black powder for blasting and loosening the coal, and mule or horse drawn cars. This activity began here much earlier than other local coal fields which had their beginnings in the mid to late nineteenth century. The harvesting of virgin timber was also initiated at this time. Although the lumbering industry lasted several decades, it was coal mining that sustained the population and led to the settling of towns.
Coalport differs from the majority of southwestern Pennsylvania coal towns in the manner it was developed, actually not developed by early coal mining concerns. This small village was never a coal patch community or coal company town as were Colver and Marstellar in adjoining Cambria County. Nor were the railroad lines through town captive lines owned by individual coal companies. One coal baron did not dominate the early settlement, nor was the village named in honor of a single benefactor. When shopping for anything from miner's supplies to fresh meats and watermelons, local miners were not forced to buy from the company store and could patronize local store owners if they wanted.
Coalport provides an excellent example of turn-of-the-century vernacular boomtown architecture in this area of the state. Many original wooden buildings are extant in spite of several early fires. In similar coal towns such Barnesboro and Spangler in nearby Cambria County, the original business districts were destroyed by conflagrations in 1907 and 1908. These second generation downtowns now consist of all brick structures.
In comparison to nearby Glen Hope and Irvona, Coalport has a defined and continuous main street business district which cannot be found in these two towns. In the remaining small towns in the area such as Westover and Janesville the "downtown" businesses were few in number and separated from each other. Some of Coalport's buildings such as Bell's Drug Store and McNulty's Hardware, (still operated by the fourth generation of the same family), the First National Bank, and the 5 & 10 Store are all well preserved and reflect a strong continuity of use. The local economy has also affected the fate of many buildings by, due to lack of funds, and sometimes lack of interest, causing them to remain empty and virtually unchanged since the period of significance.
After 1946 and World War II, business activity in town began to slow down. The number of trains coming into town was drastically reduced with the increased use of the automobile and mounting truck traffic taking over the freight hauling business. The closing of a major employer, the Sunshine Coal Tipple located one block from Main Street, in 1970 caused the borough's slow decline to intensify. Today there are sixteen businesses remaining on the main thoroughfare of town. Thirteen of these are within the historic district. The district well reflects the commercial and architectural significance of the industrial era, 1869-1946.
Aldrich, Lewis Cass, History of Clearfield County, PA, R.Mason & Co. Syracuse, N.Y. 1887.
Caldwell, J. A., Illustrated Historical Combination Atlas of Clearfield County. Pennsylvania, 1878. Caldwell Publishing, Condit, Ohio.
Clearfield Progress (Clearfield, Pennsylvania) Weekly Feature - "A View From" - August 3, 1989 Page 6.
Interview With Tom Lesher, April 21, 1997.
Laing, Jack, Coalport, Pennsylvania - A Centennial History of Our Town 1883 - 1983 Parts 1 & 2. Vision Press, Main Street, Coalport, Pennsylvania 1983.
Walls, Thomas Lincoln, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania Past and Present. Published by the Author, 1923.
Sanborn Insurance Map of Coalport, PA., Sanborn Perris Map Co., New York, N.Y. 1901-1910-1927.