Shippensburg Historic District
The Shippensburg Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
Shippensburg is a small town in the rolling foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The Shippensburg Historic District is located in the central portion of the town and combines both residential and commercial usage. Laid out in a grid pattern, the town has a major thoroughfare, King Street, which runs northeast to southwest in line with the valleys. Along this road much of the town's commercial building is found. Earl Street, the other major street in Shippensburg, intersects King near the western end of the district. Secondary streets parallel the two primary thoroughfares and a railroad bisects the town. North of the district is Shippensburg University, to the west is relatively recent residential housing and to the south and east is farmland.
The eastern end of the Shippensburg Historic District is the oldest portion of Shippensburg and is characterized by mid-eighteenth century log and stone structures. The buildings in this portion of town are primarily two story, three bay structures with gable roofs. Vernacular Georgian architecture predominates, but some Federal features are also common. Among the more important structures in the east end is the "Widow Piper's Tavern," which is also known as the "Old Courthouse." One of the earliest buildings in Shippensburg, the tavern served as the Cumberland County Courthouse for a brief time. Near the western end of the proposed district at the intersection of King and Earl Streets, a second town commercial center developed. The structures at this second focal point resemble those at the eastern end of King Street. Aside from the buildings in the two commercial areas and along King Street, most town structures are residential.
Residential structures in Shippensburg span a wide range of architectural styles. The earliest buildings are mid-eighteenth century log and stone dwellings. Perhaps the best example from this early period is the Widow Piper's Tavern at the intersection of King and Queen Streets. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a number of vernacular Georgian style dwellings were built along both sides of King Street. The Rippey house and William Brookins house are two good examples of Georgian style architecture in Shippensburg. The Federal style which followed is seen in the Steward-Goodhart house at 110 East King. Most Federal style structures in Shippensburg are comparatively small, two story unadorned buildings.
Greek Revival and Italianate style architecture became popular in Shippensburg during the antebellum period. Some of the best Greek Revival structures are found along the first block of North Earl Street. These buildings feature accentuated architraval cornices and elegant doorways. The Italianate style replaced Greek Revival in the 1850's. The commercial structures along West King Street offer the best examples of the Italianate style in Shippensburg. Incorporating double bracketed cornices and either stilted or rectangular arches, the Italianate design was used on some mid-nineteenth century dwellings. One exception to the Greek Revival and Italianate styles is the Classical Revival style church building, originally the home of the Methodists, at East Orange.
The late nineteenth century brought a number of architectural styles to Shippensburg. The Queen Anne style was the most popular and vernacular examples can be found throughout the town along secondary streets. Perhaps the most outstanding Queen Anne structure is the H. R. Hawke mansion at the intersection of Penn and Orange Streets. Though not as popular Second Empire elements are also apparent along secondary streets. The best Second Empire building is at 33 North Penn Street. Eastlake elements, especially porches, are also common throughout the town. Other examples of late nineteenth century styling includes an Italianate building at 213 North Prince Street and a vernacular Chateauesque structure at 115-117 East King. Though there are few high style buildings in Shippensburg, the late 19th century exceptions are the Gothic Revival style Lutheran Church building at Penn and Orange and the Victorian Gothic Presbyterian Church building at the corner of King and Prince.
Shippensburg offers an interesting insight into the architectural development of a small town and important back country trade and transportation center. The town's expansion over two centuries was ordered and steady. Because Shippensburg was able to avoid many of the problems associated with modernization and industrialization, its growth remained constant through the early twentieth century. As a result, Shippensburg retains a wide range of architectural styles and types characteristic of small town development.
During the first half of the nineteenth century, Shippensburg's population steadily expanded. The new town center at King and Earl Streets underwent considerable commercial and residential growth. The most notable development was along North and South Earl, where structures were built to accommodate business from the Cumberland Valley Railroad. Commercial buildings of the period were often three and four story brick buildings, Italianate in style and characterized by large double bracketed cornices. Antebellum residential expansion was most evident along Penn Street and along a portion of East Orange, paralleling King Street. Residential structures in this area included vernacular examples of Greek Revival and later Gothic Revival styles. Perhaps the most important structure of the period was Shippensburg's original Methodist Church building. Built in 1825, the structure is Classical Revival and is the oldest extant church building in the town.
During the last half of the nineteenth century the steady and orderly town expansion continued, especially to the north of King Street. The only significant exception was Orange Street, which, by the late nineteenth century, was recognized as one of the borough's most desirable residential streets. Most of the new buildings were frame. The principal style was vernacular Queen Anne with street facing gable ends. These structures were often enhanced by Gothic gables and Eastlake porches. The commercial core of the town remained along King Street, around the two traditional business centers.
Much of the frame construction during the late nineteenth century is the legacy of John Hosfeld. Born in Shippensburg, Hosfeld was a builder, a real estate magnate, who probably had as great an effect on Shippensburg as had Edward Shippen. Hosfeld was able to attract new business and new labor. It was also during his years of prominence that some of the town's most outstanding structures, including a massive Eastlake duplex at the corner of South Prince and Orange Streets, were constructed. However, Hosfeld and other builders did not concentrate on high style architecture. Instead, their building incorporated the simpler qualities of the Queen Anne and Eastlake styles.
Shippensburg moved into the twentieth century with its two town centers and a wide range of architectural styles still intact. A number of factors helped to preserve the town's integrity. Because of the availability of land for expansion around the core of the town and because of the development of new highway and rail routes, Shippensburg was able to avoid some of the changes brought elsewhere by industrial growth. Although the town experienced some commercial development early in the century, including a large Classical Revival department store and a second Renaissance hotel, Shippensburg's commercial architecture remained much as it had been. Residential growth during the period was, as before, limited to a few streets and was compatible with earlier residential buildings.
As a result of the ordered growth which, by the twentieth century, came to characterize the town, Shippensburg today offers a good example of more than two centuries of architectural development. The town also provides an insight into local adaptations of formal architectural styles.