Union City Historic District
The Union City Borough Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. 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 Union City Historic District is an area of mixed buildings — commercial, industrial, and residential — primarily erected between 1865 and 1925. The district contains a wide sampling of late 19th century eclectic and early 20th century revival styles, in a variety of materials of which brick and frame are the most common. The district runs along the principal thoroughfare, Main Street, where the commercial buildings are clustered, and extends to the west to include a residential neighborhood of single family dwellings anchored by High Street, Third Avenue, and South Street. The over-all integrity of the residential portion of the district is good, while that of the commercial section has suffered to some extent through the loss of earlier 19th century buildings and their replacement by nondescript mid-twentieth century structures.
The Union City Historic District includes 128 buildings. Of these seventeen were erected between 1865 and 1879; fifty-eight between 1880 and 1892; forty-one between 1893 and 1925; and twelve since 1925.
The district is bounded on the east by Main Street. Commercial buildings on its east side tend to be concentrated north of the bridge which spans the south branch of French Creek. In the far northeast corner of the district are the office and plant of the Union City Chair Company. To the south of the bridge the east side of Main Street is a mixture of business blocks, institutional buildings such as city hall, former high school, public library, and Pentecostal church; as well as three residences. Commercial buildings on the west side of Main Street are found throughout its entire length. There are two open spaces — a landscaped area surrounding the public library and a municipal parking lot along the creek just south of the High Street bridge.
Of the 28 contributing commercial buildings, the majority are 2-3 stories in height, of brick construction, and feature the two-part commercial block configuration so common on small town main streets during the mid to late 19th century. The two-part commercial block was an outgrowth of the shop-house building of an earlier period, and displays a distinct division between the single-story lower zone which was used for public space, and the upper zone which was devoted to more private functions. Generally speaking the facades of the examples along Union City's Main Street are treated in a very simple manner. Little or no applied ornamentation is present. However there are instances such as the 1888 Hansen Building at 11 South Main, the 1890 Clement Lodge Building at 19 North Main, and the 1884 Borough Building at 13 South Main, where Victorian influences are present. The Hansen Building (now occupied by the Union City Historical Museum) has an elaborate wood cornice supported by large brackets; the Clement Lodge Building has an impressive corbelled brick cornice with the inscription "Clement;" and the third story of the Borough Building features a corbelled arcade of small rounded attic windows. A stone marque at the cornice reads "City Building 1884."
In other cases such as the 1889 I.O.O.F. building at 23 North Main with its scalloped cornice of stamped metal with parapet above, and the ca. 1880 building at 39 North Main with its dentiled cornice at the roof line, window eyebrows in decorative stone, and dentiled string course between the first and second story's Victorian influences are even more exotic.
There are two buildings associated with Union City's industrial history which border on the commercial area of the district. These are the offices and main plant of the Union City Chair Company at 18 Market Street. The 1907 office building's entryway is arched with a keystone. The deep-set frieze bears the inscription "The Union City Chair Co." The 1911 plant building which is also constructed of brick, has multiple bays on both front and side containing windows which are double-hung, six-over-six.
The single contributing structure in the historic district is the Main Street Bridge, constructed by the Groton Bridge Co. in 1896. It is of Pratt truss design, and has a span eighty feet long.
There are sixteen non-contributing commercial buildings. Most of these are on the west side of Main Street and have construction dates that fall outside the period of significance for the district. There is one major intrusion which is the fiberglass panel clad "1960" Pennbank building at 24-28 North Main.
The residential portion of the district which lies to the west of the creek has 68 contributing buildings. Sixty-three of these are 2-2 1/2 story frame buildings, the others of similar size are: two brick, one stucco, and two combined stone and frame.
Fifteen of the houses in the district exhibit mid-nineteenth century architectural influences, primarily Greek Revival and Italianate. The best examples of Greek Revival style are the house at 28 First Avenue, the ca. 1865 Shaffer House at 22 First Avenue, and the former Church Farm homestead at 20 West High Street. The use of Italianate design is evident in the house at 4 South Street, and the ca. 1875 William Boarts residence at 27-29 First Avenue.
The dominant styles in the district are those associated with the late Victorian and early 20th century periods. Among the more popular are Queen Anne which is exemplified in the house at 21 South Street with its standing metal seam roof, stylized shingles in the gable ends, decorative window surrounds, and varied clapboard siding. Another Queen Anne building but also exhibiting certain Stick Style elements in its gable ends is located at 20 South Street.
The Shingle Style Mulkie House, ca. 1905, stands at the corner of First Avenue and South Street. It features hipped dormers, and French style shingle roof. The porch columns and foundation are constructed of stone. Next door is a residence of the same age, with Tudor detailing and a hipped roof with dormers in the Tudor Revival style.
Among the numerous period houses in the district is the ca. 1910 Colonial Revival residence at 27 Third Avenue. It features a large front porch, elaborate pediment-shape dormers, prominent cornice with dentils and brackets, and pilasters supporting the front dormer.
The Westcott House at 27 West High Street, ca. 1900, is also of Colonial Revival design whose large two-story portico incorporates a pediment and entablature of elaborate decoration.
Built at the same time as the more imposing residences in the district are a number of smaller houses which can be classified as "bungalows." Examples of this type are the ca. 1902 Fuller House at 28 Second Avenue, and the ca. 1910 Stroth House at 41 West High Street.
The only institutional building is the brick Neo-Classical First Baptist Church erected in 1923. It has a colossal portico in the Ionic Order with a large parapet and unadorned roof line above.
The residential section of the district contains thirteen non-contributing buildings. Most of these do not qualify by virtue of substantial changes to their materials, primarily the application of aluminum and asphalt siding.
Overall, the non-contributing buildings do not detract greatly from the integrity of the area. They comprise less than one fifth of the total buildings and are widely dispersed. Most of them are well maintained or are in the process of repair [at the time of this writing]. In scale they fit in with the contributing building.
See also: Borough of Union City — Beginnings.
The Union City Historic District is significant in the areas of industry and architecture for its association with the wood products economy which has sustained the community since 1865. During the latter half of the nineteenth century Union City became a furniture manufacturing center of national reputation. During this century while furniture making still continues to be an important industry, this tradition is being carried on for the most part by new companies which are located outside the historic area of the town. The one exception is the Union City Chair Company which still continues to operate at its original 1882 site. However, further evidence of that earlier "Mill and Mansion age" is reflected in the many frame houses of the district, themselves products of a thriving local industry.
The Historic District is architecturally significant as a locally outstanding concentration of commercial and residential architecture. The commercial buildings in the historic district represent the evolution of commercial architecture in Union City from 1865 to 1925, especially since there are few commercial buildings found elsewhere in the municipality. The residential buildings in the historic district form the largest and most intact concentration of high style domestic architecture constructed during the later nineteenth to early twentieth centuries in Union City. Most other residential buildings erected between 1865 and 1925 in Union City were plain, vernacular buildings. A relatively small number of houses influenced by high styles were scattered among these vernacular residences. Thus there is no other large grouping of high style homes from this period in Union City. Also, those homes outside the historic district that show late nineteenth and early twentieth century high style influences generally have poorer integrity than those residences located inside the district.
Erie County Directory 1911, (Erie: Atkinson Erie Directory Co.), 566-585.
Atlas of Erie County, Pennsylvania (New York: Beers, Ellis & Soule, 1865), 8.
Gazetteer and Business Directory for Erie County, Pennsylvania for 1873-74, (Syracuse: Hamilton Child), 106-108, 219-229, 297-334.
New Historical Atlas of Erie County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Everts, Ensign & Everts, 1876), 114-115, 126.
John Miller, A Twentieth Century History of Erie County, Pennsylvania (Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Co., 1909), Vol. I, 531-540.
Nelson's Biographical Dictionary and Historical Reference Book of Erie County, Pennsylvania (Erie: S. B. Nelson, 1896, rpt. 1988), Vol. I, 355-358.
Union City. Map. Morrisville, Pa.: Fowler, James & Moyer, 1895. ||U. S. Bureau of the Census. Tenth Census of the United States. Washington, D.C., 1880.
U. S. Bureau of the Census. Census of Manufacturers, Products of Industry. Washington, D.C., 1870.
U. S. Bureau of the Census. Census of Manufacturers, Products of Industry. Washington, D.C., 1880.
Union City Borough. Minutes of Borough Council. June 30, July 5, September 1, 1892, February 28, 1896.
Union City Times, various issues, 1892-1897.