DuBois Historic District
The DuBois Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. 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 DuBois Historic District is found in the commercial heart of the City of DuBois, the largest municipality in Clearfield County, in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains in north-central Pennsylvania. The area consists of approximately nine acres located along East and West Long Avenues and North and South Brady Streets in the heart of the City. A total of fifty-nine buildings are found within the district; of these, fifty-five (93%) contribute to the character of the district and the remaining four (7%) are non-contributing to the district's character. Contributing buildings are those which were constructed during the period of significance of the district (1888-1947) and which retain integrity of materials, feeling, association, workmanship, setting, location, and design. Non-contributing buildings are those which were built outside the period of significance of the district and/or which have undergone such severe alterations as to render them incapable of conveying the qualities of integrity mentioned above. The district contains one previously-listed resource, the Commercial Hotel, located at the corner of Long Avenue and Brady Street; it is not included in the district's resource count. The vast majority of the buildings in the district (fifty-four or 91%) are commercial. Non-commercial buildings include two churches and two residences. Most buildings are of brick (some with sandstone facades), two and three stories in height, with roofs that are flat or slope gently from front to rear. The two churches in the district have art glass windows, as do several of the commercial buildings. Art glass in the commercial buildings is confined to ornamental transoms of stained glass and/or prism glass. Other architectural ornamentation includes metal, stone, and wood cornices and window heads. The majority of the buildings in the district are in good condition; some are in an excellent state of repair and only a small number are in poor condition. Many of the buildings were erected shortly after an 1888 fire which obliterated all of the previous building stock in the downtown. The haste to rebuild resulted in a relatively short building period, which, in turn, resulted in a strong reflection of late nineteenth and early twentieth century architecture throughout the district. The district possesses a relatively high degree of integrity, and as noted above, only a small percentage of non-contributing resources are found within the boundaries.
The DuBois Historic District consists of the traditional historic central business district of the community. Long Avenue and Brady Street run roughly perpendicular to each other and their intersection was the historic "center" of the downtown. Moving away from the intersection, the district extends about one block south on South Brady Street, two blocks north on North Brady Street, one-half block east along the south side of East Long Avenue, and two and one-half blocks west on the north side of West Long Avenue. At the north edge of the district Park Avenue crosses North Brady Street, and near the western boundary, North Jared Street intersects with West Long Avenue. Scribner Avenue intersects North Brady Street one-half block south of the northern edge of the district. West Fir Alley forms part of the district's northern boundary and East and West Spruce Alleys form portions of the southern boundary of the district, while Rose Street and Conwell Alley form portions of the eastern boundary. Brady Street varies in width between sixty and sixty-five feet, while Long Avenue varies between fifty-seven and sixty-five feet. The alleys are sixteen feet in width. The topography of the district is essentially flat; moving west of Brady Street, West Long Avenue rises slightly and drops off as it nears the western edge of the district.
The DuBois Historic District consists primarily of commercial buildings of masonry construction. The majority of the buildings in the district are of Italianate-derived design, with minor representations of the Queen Anne, Neo-Classical Revival, Colonial Revival, Gothic Revival, and Tudor Revival styles, along with vernacular adaptations of most of the styles. The Italianate commercial style within the district is characterized by buildings with tall, narrow fenestration and cornices of corbeled brick or pressed metal. Representative examples of the Italianate style include the ca. 1890 Loeb-Holland Building (5-7 West Long Avenue), the ca. 1897 Hatten & Munch Building (11-17 West Long Avenue and the ca. 1890 Moore & Schwern Building (25-29 West Long Avenue). Queen Anne-style design, with an irregularity of plan and varied wall surface treatments, is seen in the ca, 1892 Sidney Fuller House at 116 West Long Avenue, built of brick and stone with a hexagonal corner tower, and in the 1889 Vosburg-Hay Building at the corner of Long Avenue and Brady Street, with an ornamental brick finish, a 2-story corner oriel window, and "Queen Anne" windows (with multi-light upper sash). The Neo-Classical Revival style is represented in the DuBois Historic District in the 1900 McEwen Block at 101-109 North Brady Street and in the 1920s facade of the Hibner-Hoover Hardware Building at 19-23 North Brady Street. Neo-Classical Revival-style buildings exhibit a symmetry and formality of design not seen in the district's Italianate-style buildings, as well as the employment of classically-derived motifs including pilasters and capitals based generally upon Greek antecedents. Gothic Revival-style architecture includes the 1889 Methodist Episcopal Church at 100 West Long Avenue, with lancet-arched fenestration and square corner tower. The 1891 First Baptist Church at 26 East Long Avenue is of an eclectic design, incorporating lancet-arched fenestration of the Gothic Revival style with a Queen Anne-style round tower on the left front corner and a Romanesque Revival-derived square tower on the right. Individual examples of other styles include the Colonial Revival-style Webster Building at 18-20 East Long Avenue, with a facade of ashlar sandstone and a two-story oriel ornamented with garland-and-swag motifs of pressed metal. One cast iron facade is found in the district, on the c. 1895 Shaw Building, 5-7 North Brady Street) and the district's single example of the Tudor Revival style, with its characteristic stucco and half-timbered exterior finish, is architects Howard and Hatcher's 1923 DuBois Public Library at 8 East Long Avenue.
Alterations to the buildings within the district have been confined generally to the storefront areas, including the removal of historic shopfronts and their replacement with contemporary fronts constructed of often-incompatible materials. Some buildings have been altered with the application of synthetic siding. As in nearly any downtown area, demolition has occurred within the district. Some clearance activity followed fires and other demolition was the result both of disinvestment and of the perceived need for surface parking. Sensitive rehabilitation projects have occurred within the downtown area, due largely to the efforts of the City's Main Street Project in the late 1980s. Among these are several facade rehabilitations and the ambitious renovation of the Buffalo, Rochester, and Pittsburgh Passenger Station (located just outside the district on West Long Avenue) for use as professional offices. At the time of writing, one developer is undertaking the sensitive rehabilitation for four buildings on North Brady Street. Viewed as an entity, the building stock within the DuBois Historic District retains the character, feeling, workmanship, siting, and materials required for National Register designation.
The district is significant for its association with the commercial life of this important Clearfield County community. DuBois' commercial heritage was dependent first upon lumbering and later upon railroading and coal extraction, all of which were reflected in downtown mercantile activity following the fire of 1888. The district reflects many of the architectural styles popular during the 1888-1947 period of significance. In addition to their importance as representations of specific styles, a number of the buildings in the district have been documented to be the work of prominent local builders such as Bert C. Skinner and Aaron Nelson Work, architect/master builders such as Amos Orner and George V. Cyphert, and locally- and regionally-important architect Russell G. Howard.
Settlement within the DuBois area began about 1812, when pioneer George Shaffer (1757-1817) and his family came into the wilderness that was to become DuBois. Development was very slow over the next generation. In 1855 George Shaffer's son, Fred, deeded the southern portion of the original Shaffer tract to lumberman John DuBois, of Williamsport; DuBois acquired the northern Shaffer tract in 1884. John DuBois (1809-1886) was descended from Huguenot emigrants who arrived in America in the 1660s. Born in Tioga County, New York, DuBois began his long association with lumbering as a teenager, rafting on the north branch of the Susquehanna River. He became associated with the Pennsylvania lumber industry in Lycoming County and laid out a town, Duboistown, near Williamsport, where he operated a lumber mill until about 1870.
John DuBois visited Clearfield County in the 1840s and acquired some 35,000 acres in the Brady/Sandy Township area that was to become DuBois. After a successful lumbering career in Lycoming County, he disposed of his mills there and returned to Clearfield County in 1870.
John DuBois immediately became a leader in the rural settlement with logging his most important early endeavor. In 1871 he established the "Little Mill" on Sandy Lick Creek north of present-day downtown DuBois, followed by a larger mill in 1873 and the Hemlock Mill in 1884. DuBois' lumber yard averaged 20 million board feet of finished product annually and for a time was the largest sawmill in Pennsylvania. DuBois himself drove the early local economy, even operating a company store which traded in "DuBois scrip," issued in denominations of five cents through $5.00. The general wilderness character of the settlement notwithstanding, a post office was established here in 1874. The settlement was known initially as Rumbarger, but the railroad stop was called DuBois and in 1876 the name of the post office was changed to match both that of the railroad station and of the community's leading citizen.
While living in DuBoistown, Lycoming County, John DuBois had established the DuBois Iron Works; he moved the operation to the "new" DuBois in 1875. Wasting little of the raw material which he harvested from the forests of the region, DuBois also founded a box factory and planing mill between 1879 and 1881. To market the hemlock bark left over from his lumbering operation, along with E. D. and A. R. VanTassel, DuBois established the DuBois-VanTassel Tannery in 1884. The tannery employed more than 500 and produced 1,400 sides of leather per day. A bachelor, John DuBois died in 1886, and left his estate to his nephew, John E. DuBois (1861-1934), under whose leadership the area grew to added prominence over the next half-century. The Borough of DuBois was incorporated in 1881 and became a third-class city in 1915.
The population trends of DuBois reflect the industrial expansion of the community. In 1872 there were but three families in the area. The non-incorporated settlement had a population of 1,307 in the late 1870s and had more than doubled to 2,718 by the time of the 1880 census. The town's greatest single period of growth occurred in the 1880s, with the population growing to 6,149 by 1890. The establishment of the Buffalo, Rochester, and Pittsburgh locomotive shops here in the late 1890s provided an additional impetus to growth, and the census of 1900 recorded a population of 9,375. By 1910, 12,623 lived in DuBois; in 1920 the population peaked at 13,681 and dropped to 11,595 in 1930.
The 1870s and 1880s character of the downtown area of the new community reflected the industry which had spawned it: all but four buildings were built of wood. On July 18, 1888, a fire broke out which destroyed 166 individual buildings, eradicating the entire central business district. The next five years were referred to as the "Great Rebuilding," as the downtown — and the older sections of the community — began to take on much of the form retained at the present. Following the fire, an ordinance was passed prohibiting construction in wood within the central business district, which accounts for the all-masonry, incombustible character of the district. The forty years after the fire saw a "new" downtown arise from the ashes, reflecting most of the architectural styles in vogue during those years. Substantial brick and stone buildings were constructed, including single-storefront buildings as well as much larger buildings containing several retail spaces on the ground floor. Patterns of development reflected in the historic district include general mercantile activity as well as finance (the district was the long-time home to the community's three banking institutions). The Methodist Episcopal and the First Baptist Churches reflect further development in DuBois; other historic churches are located outside the downtown in residential neighborhoods. The 1890s witnessed major industrial growth in DuBois, activity which directly affected the fortunes of the downtown. New industries included lumber-related endeavors such as the production of millwork and paper products, as well as non-lumber-related businesses including the manufacture of tools, concrete and bricks, glass, pottery, coal extraction, railroading, and the 1896 establishment of the DuBois Brewing Company.
Lumber and related work remained the mainstay of the community through the 1890s. In 1901 the last cutting of virgin timber occurred in the DuBois environs when the timbering operations of John DuBois cleared the pristine stands of white pine at Green Glen (now the Treasure Lake resort begun by John E. DuBois Jr. just north of town). The DuBois lumber mills closed in 1902, but not before they had cut an estimated 918,817,000 board feet of timber in twenty-eight years of production.
The greatest supply of timber is only as marketable as it is transportable, and since a navigable waterway was not present in DuBois, land transport was needed. Writing in an 1887 county history, P. S. Weber suggested that "it is useless to contradict the statement that railroads are civilizers, for the start of this busy place dates its rise from the location and opening of the Low Grade road." The Low Grade Division of the Allegheny Valley Railroad was opened into Clearfield County in the 1870s, passing through DuBois and guaranteeing the lumber industry a year-round route to the eastern and western markets. The Low Grade, which eventually became part of the Pennsylvania, connected DuBois with Tyler, Clearfield County in the east and with the Jefferson County community of Brookville and the Clarion County settlement of Redbank (and the Pennsylvania line) to the west and southwest. While the Low Grade was a critical ingredient in the industrial mix of nineteenth-century DuBois, no industrial endeavor, save lumber, played as important a role in the nineteenth-century fortunes of the town as did the Buffalo, Rochester, and Pittsburgh Railroad. The B R & P came to DuBois in 1883 primarily as a coal road, entering Clearfield county from the northwest and running southeast into Jefferson County and Punxsutawney. In 1896 four businessmen, M. I. McCreight, D. E. Hibner, D. L. Corbett, and M. D. Wayman, traveled to Rochester to meet with the president of the B R & P in hopes of luring the railroad shops to DuBois. The following year the B R & P locomotive and car shops were built here, due to the efforts of the four business leaders, assisted by the local subscription of $15,000 and the availability of suitable land.
Coal was discovered in the DuBois region as early as the 1870s. However, the great coal boom did not start until the 1890s, years which corresponded directly to the rebuilding of downtown DuBois after the fire of 1888. Coal became the industrial raison d'etre of the community and remained so for more than two generations. The earliest large coal operator was the mining company of Bell, Lewis, & Yates, organized in 1876 and eventually absorbed by the Rochester & Pittsburgh Coal & Iron Company. About 1890 the Berwind-White Coal Company acquired 2,000 acres of coal lands south and east of DuBois and operated Shaft No. 1. In 1900 the Buffalo & Susquehanna Coal Company purchased Berwind-White. The Buffalo and Susquehanna Coal Company was operated by F. H. and C. H. Goodyear, who had previously been involved with lumbering along Pennsylvania's northern tier and, in the words of banker-historian M. I. McCreight, "had gained great wealth from stripping Potter County of its vast stands of pine and hemlock." With their acquisition of Berwind-White, the Goodyears became major participants in the great frenzy of DuBois-area coal exploitation, which occurred between 1890 and World War I. Between 1907 and 1910, Shaft No. 2 was sunk near Highland Street, the Cascade Shaft and Coke Ovens were opened at nearby Sykesville, the Onondaga operation began at Big Run, and the Helvetia mine opened south of town. McCreight also noted that "DuBois was no longer a lumber town; it was a mining town and its fortune was henceforth largely dependent upon the Buffalo and Susquehanna coal operations and on the B R & P's repair shops, iron furnace, and locomotive shops for its payrolls."
Writing in 1911, historian Roland Swoope noted that the opening of coal exploration in the DuBois environs "...furnished a large amount of business to the town and more than made up for the loss of business caused by the closing of the DuBois sawmills on account of the exhaustion of the lumber supplies."
Raymond and Marion Murphy, in Pennsylvania: A Regional Geography, identified five urban centers in the region that they characterize as the "Allegheny Coal Mining Region." They cite DuBois as the leader in the region, and also describe the community as a "railroad center.'' DuBois is followed by Clearfield, Indiana, Nanty Glo, and Windber. The Murphys note that "every one of the five largest urban centers and most smaller towns are trading centers for the coal mining country, agricultural trade in most cases playing a secondary role."
The DuBois Historic District was clearly the trading center and the reflection of the fortunes of this important north-central Pennsylvania community, whose prosperity is evident throughout the district in the substantial buildings erected in the downtown over a period of about forty years. The buildings built by the city's entrepreneurs served both the managers and the workers involved with DuBois' position as an important center for lumbering, railroading, and coal development. These buildings housed retail shops, banks, and offices catering to the industry and business that grew in DuBois during the last decade of the nineteenth and the first three decades of the twentieth century. The Commercial Hotel, a National Register-listed resource, is not included in the resource count for the district, but it nonetheless is significant both for commerce and for architecture and serves as an important physical anchor at the primary intersection of the district.
The DuBois Historic District is significant as a cohesive collection of historic commercial buildings representative of most of the popular styles during the period of significance of the district, beginning with the 1888 fire and ending in 1947. The majority of the buildings in the district were built between 1890 and 1910. Architectural styles found within the district include Italianate, Queen Anne, Neo-Classical Revival, Colonial Revival, and Tudor Revival. Specific examples of these styles within the district are discussed in the physical description of the district, above.
In addition to the district's position as the important local reflection of specific architectural styles, the work of locally- and regionally-significant builders and architects is seen in the district. Included among these are master builders Aaron Nelson Work and Bert C. Skinner, architects/builders Amos D. Orner and George V. Cyphert, and architect Russell G. Howard.
Amos D. Orner was born in Cherry Tree, Pennsylvania in 1851 and came to DuBois in 1882, just as the small lumbering settlement was undergoing its first burst of growth. He established himself as a contractor and was responsible for a number of major buildings and private residences in DuBois. Among his commissions are the Fourth Ward School, the National Hotel, the Hotel Wayne, and the Express Buildings, all of which have been demolished. Within the historic district, Orner built the 1889 First Methodist Episcopal Church, 100 West Long Avenue) and the 1903 Union Bank & Trust Building (14-20 West Long Avenue). With Aaron Work, Orner was responsible for the 1900 D. L. Corbett Building (26-30 North Brady Street).
Aaron Nelson Work was born in 1867 and came to DuBois in 1894, as the city was rebuilding after the 1888 fire. His local work includes the Hotel DuBois and the Central YMCA (both destroyed), the Commercial Hotel (within the district but individually listed in the National Register), and the D. L. Corbett Building (26-30 North Brady Street), which he built in conjunction with A. D. Orner, above.
George V. Cyphert was a prolific and highly respected practitioner in DuBois for about twenty years. A Clarion County, Pennsylvania native, he was born in 1847 and moved to Brookville, Jefferson County, in 1871. Like Aaron Work, he moved to DuBois immediately after the fire. An 1898 biographical history of Clearfield County noted that "many evidences of his artistic taste and his rare ability in workmanship are to be found among the handsome residences and churches that have sprung up since the great fire of 1888." Buildings identified with Cyphert's work in the historic district include the Vosburg-Hay Building (4-10 West Long Avenue/1 North Brady Street) — the first building to rise from ashes of the fire — the ca. 1890 Cannon-Gintner/DuBois National Bank Building (1-3 West Long Avenue/8-10 South Brady Street), and the 1891 Baptist Church (26 East Long Avenue).
Bert C. Skinner was a major figure in the building trades in the DuBois area for well over a half-century, constructing numerous buildings in DuBois, in other parts of Clearfield County, and in Jefferson and Clarion Counties to the west. Born in Smicksburg, Indiana County, Pennsylvania, in 1873, his first contracting job was to build the foundations for the Medix Run mill northeast of DuBois. He, too, came to DuBois in 1888 after the fire, and remained here for the rest of his life. He was a sole practitioner until the late 1920s, after which time, his son, Kenneth, joined him, and together they conducted business as Bert C. Skinner and Son. His work is represented in the district in the 1926-27 Leonardson Building (100 North Brady Street), designed by DuBois architect Russell G. Howard.
Russell G. Howard (1889-1943) was born in Philadelphia and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Upon graduation, he received the Stephenson Award, which allowed him a year's study of architecture in Europe. He came to DuBois and entered practice with his college roommate, John Harrington, conducting business as Harrington and Howard. Following Harrington's untimely death at thirty-one from influenza in 1918, Howard practiced into the 1920s with Emmett Hatcher (as Howard and Hatcher). At the outbreak of World War II, Russell Howard became associated with the Rambusch Company, well-known New York City interior designers who also designed camouflage systems for airports. Howard died unexpectedly while in New York in 1943 at the age of fifty-four.
During his somewhat abbreviated career, Russell Howard became one of the leading architects in this section of Pennsylvania, designing schools, hospital facilities, commercial and institutional buildings, banks, roadside architecture, and private residences. His DuBois commissions included both the DuBois and the Maple Avenue Hospitals (610 South Main Street and 633 Maple Avenue, respectively), the J. Rissell Osborne House at 32 West Scribner Avenue, DuBois City Hall, the Elks Theater and Club House (the latter two of which are no longer extant), and the interior of the Deposit National Bank at Long and Brady. Across the region, he designed the 1917 YMCA, the 1929 Sandt Service Station, and the 1938 Municipal Building in Brookville, the High School, the Col. Kerr House, and Leonardson's Store in Clearfield, Farmers Bank Building in Indiana, the Webber Memorial School in Punxsutawney, and the Miles Bradford Building in Bradford. Beyond Pennsylvania, he designed the College Gymnasium for Bethany College in West Virginia and a West Virginia building referred to in his obituary as the "Swiss Chalet of the Melville Davisson Post." Within the DuBois Historic District, he designed the 1926-27 Leonardson Building at 100 North Brady Street and the 1920s facade of the Hibner-Hoover Building at 19-23 North Brady Street.
In the region, the DuBois Historic District is typical of most downtown areas in that it consists of a district arranged in a grid pattern of streets and alleys, with buildings built flush with one another with little or no front line setback. On the other hand, DuBois' downtown commercial development is chronologically different from the downtown development of nearby Jefferson County communities such as Brookville or Punxsutawney (about twenty miles distant to the west and south, respectively). The historic commercial architecture of Brookville and Punxsutawney rose over a period of about sixty years. The vast majority of the buildings within the DuBois Historic District were built in a frenzy of activity in the first decade after the 1888 fire. The architecture found in Brookville's downtown spans much of the nineteenth century, including 1840s Greek Revival-style buildings beside Victorian Italianate-style buildings from the 1870s and '80s; Brookville's major fires occurred in the 1870s, and the rebuilding featured a building stock entirely different from that in downtown DuBois. Much of Punxsutawney's downtown commercial architecture dates from the early years of the twentieth century, when the coal boom provided a significant boost to the local economy. With respect to preservation, the Brookville Historic District has become a widely-recognized model for commercial revitalization within the preservation context; such is not the case for Punxsutawney or DuBois. DuBois' downtown has suffered from disinvestment over the past twenty years, due primarily to the 1970s construction of a covered shopping mall less than one mile away. However, with the present activity of developers in DuBois, this historic district appears to have opportunities for preservation successes. Like Brookville and Punxsutawney, downtown DuBois has noncontributing buildings within its confines; DuBois' non-contributing buildings include a new mid-rise apartment building, a single-story cement block office building, and the insensitive remodeling of an historic bank. Brookville's major noncontributing buildings are a 1970s bank and a 1960s service station. Punxsutawney has within its downtown a variety of incompatible buildings, including a 1994 fast-food restaurant at the major intersection in the downtown, a contemporary three-story bank building, and a municipal office building/fire station built in the community's historic downtown park. In terms of integrity, the DuBois Historic District is similar to Punxsutawney in the scale and degree of the intrusions and insensitive alterations found within, but exhibits a reduced degree of architectural integrity when compared with Brookville's downtown and historic district. Thus, the DuBois Historic District compares favorably with downtown Punxsutawney but is eclipsed by the Brookville Historic District. These facts notwithstanding, as noted above, the DuBois district as a locally-significant resource retains the overall qualities of character, workmanship, feeling, siting, and materials required for National Register listing.
Builders of DuBois (DuBois, Pennsylvania: Gray Publishing Company, 1934).
Commemorative Biographical Record of Central Pennsylvania 2 vols. (Chicago: J. H. Beers, 1898)
DuBois Courier Industrial Edition (November, 1900).
DuBois Daily Express, DuBois Courier, and DuBois Courier-Express, 1888-present [collection of DuBois Public Library]
DuBois, Pennsylvania and Surroundings (F. H. Steger, 1896)
Gray, Jason S. The Best of Recollections: Historical and Personal Recollections of Life in the DuBois Area (DuBois: DuBois Area Historical Society, 1991).
History of Clearfield County, Pennsylvania (Syracuse, New York: D. Mason & Co., 1887).
Kline, Benjamin F. G., Jr. Dinkies, Dams, and Sawdust: The Logging Railroads of West Central Pennsylvania (Author, 1975).
McCreight, Major I. Memory Sketches of DuBois, Pennsylvania, 1874-1938 (DuBois: Gray Printing Company, 1938).
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Ninetieth Anniversary of the Great DuBois Fire (DuBois: DuBois Volunteer Fire Department, 1978).
Parker, ________ and ________ Shawkey A Duplex Directory of DuBois and Falls Creek 1900 (Warren, Pennsylvania: n. p., 1900)
Pentz, William C. The City of DuBois (DuBois: Gray Publishing Company, 1932).
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Swoope, Roland, D., Jr. Twentieth-Century History of Clearfield County (Chicago: Richmond-Arnold Publishing Company, 1911).