Titusville Historic District
The Titusville Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. The text, below, was adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The district contains examples of a variety of architectural styles including: Art Deco, Colonial Revival, Eclectic, Folk, Gothic Revival, Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Richardson Romanesque, Second Empire.
The Titusville Historic District is located in north-central Titusville and contains approximately 170 acres. The district is a compact representation of Titusville's built environment as it developed from the beginning of the oil industry through the turn of the century. Most architectural styles prevalent during the period of American growth are reflected in the district, both domestic architectural styles and commercial building trends. The historic district is primarily unaltered from its earlier appearance; remodeled buildings are minimal and intrusions are few. The 19th century flavor of the district is maintained in architectural landscape and streetscape features. The district contains 503 structures of which 472 are contributing and 31 are intrusive.
Developing originally as a lumber center during the first half of the 19th Century, Titusville, became a regional industrial and commercial center in Northeastern Pennsylvania during the last half of the same century as a result of the exploitation of oil and the subsequent oil boom. Capitalizing on its location as the closest community to the Drake well, Titusville grew in size and importance, and retained its regional commercial significance into the 20th century. The Titusville Historic District contains the core of the commercial, cultural and major residential structures most reflective of its mid 19th century and early 20th century significance with many noticeable architectural examples and adaptations of late Victorian period and early 20th century styles.
Titusville is most noted for its involvement in the great oil boom which began with the first successful pumping of oil by Col. Edwin L. Drake in August of 1859. However, the importance of the town predates Drake's discovery. The area now known as Titusville was settled by Europeans at the turn of the nineteenth century. In the year 1800, two former surveyors for the Hoeland Land Company, Jonathan Titus and Samuel Kerr purchased land and established residences. In 1809, Titus laid out lots on his land in anticipation of a community developing. Despite Titus' preparations, settlement was slow and the first lots were not sold until 1818. Though the presence of oil was known and used medicinally by the aboriginal inhabitants and travelers prior to the oil boom, the exploitation of the abundant natural resource, wood, was the economic basis for which the town was founded and first developed. Located on Oil Creek, a tributary of the Allegheny River, the settlement became a lumber center through the use of the waterways as transportation of the resource to market to the south, notably Pittsburgh. Sawmills and other lumber related industries were quickly developed to capitalize on this resource. Therefore, the first great development period in the community was lumber related. The lumber industry in the region did not end with the oil boom. The early oil boom years only served to increase the demand for wood used in the production of shipping barrels, the construction of derricks, workers home and other community buildings. Even at the turn of the 20th century there were three planning mills, a sash works, the Titusville Elastic Chair Company and the Titusville Table Works. Several of these pre-oil period structures still remain in Titusville, and are part of the historic district. Among them are the William Barnsdall House, at 402 N. Washington Street, the Henry C. Bloss House, 320 W. Oak Street and the Daniel Colestock House, 401 E. Walnut Street.
There is no doubt that the greatest growth period in the history of the town coincided with the oil boom in the 1860's. Seemingly overnight the community, incorporated in 1847, grew from a few hundred inhabitants to over 10,000 people and adopted city status in 1866. The great Pennsylvania Oil Boom was a classic example of the speculative get-rich-phenomenon earlier seen in the California Gold Rush of 1849.
Fortunes were made in weeks and lost in equally short periods of time. With the influx of thousands of people into the region, the already existing services and resources were over taxed. Contemporary accounts record whole sections of town being constructed in weeks and the sounds of hammering and building continuing throughout the night. The already established communities of Oil City (formerly Cornplanter) and Titusville became regional centers of industry, commerce and economy. Titusville the closest existing town to Drake's Well, received the greatest number of new residents to the area. It was estimated that during 1865 over 500 new buildings were constructed in Titusville alone. With this demand every type of support and service system grew hotels, grocers, hardware, ironworkers, lumber mills, chemical companies.
By the end of the decade, 1869, Titusville emerged as the commercial and financial capitol of the oil region.
This great industrial activity supported the development of railroad and road connections. These transportation systems also contributed to the perpetuance [sic] of Titusville role as the regional commercial center.
The size and appearance of Titusville radically changed during the mid to late 1900's. The majority of the quickly erected structures were rough, with little attention given to style or permanence. However, the optimism of the establishment of Titusville as a continuing regional center motivated the construction of substantial commercial, cultural and residential structures many of which are fine architectural examples of the late 19th century. Some of these outstanding structures include: the Jacob A Cadwallader House (c. 1861), 609 N. Perry Street, an excellent example if a Victorian Gothic style residence, the Anderson/Emerson Mansion (c.1865); 413 N. Washington Street; the Walter B. Roberts (c.1880) House, 322 N. Washington Street; the St. James Memorial Episcopa1 Church (c. 1863); the Chose & Stewart Commercial Block (c. 1870) and the Nelson Kingsland House (c. 1862).
With the collapse of the speculative oil boom in 1866, Titusville as other oil towns, felt the pinch of hard times. Unlike many other oil towns, Titusville survived because of the immense mercantile trade it had developed within the region. When the new oil field in Pleasantville boomed the 1870's, Titusville again saw a spurt of growth in construction and economy. By the late summer of 1870 over 300 new dwellings were constructed in the city.
The gradual spread of oil exploration and development beyond the Titusville area in the last quarter of the 19th century and the accompanying decline in oil production in the Titusville area brought a steady decline to the industry throughout the region. This decline did radically effect the economy of the whole region. Titusville continued it's importance as a commercial center and the operation of the non-oil related industries. This commercial significance can be seen in the number of commercial structures added during the 20th century. Some of the more notable include: the Kerochan & Company Buildings, (c. 1900), 117 W. Central Avenue, the Cohn & Greenleaf Building (c. 1900), 109-111 W. Central Avenue, the Kerochan and Company Building (c. 1900), 128 Diamond Street, and the art deco style Penn Movie Theater (c. 1939) at 117-119 W. Spring Street.