Dawson Historic District
The Dawson 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 Dawson Historic District, in Fayette County, Pennsylvania stands on a narrow flood plain of the Youghiogheny River five miles west of Connellsville. The boundaries of the district are: Howell Street, Middle Alley, the Youghiogheny River, River Road, Spring, and Locust Alleys. Within these boundaries are 120 buildings including 97 residences, 6 commercial/office buildings, and 17 miscellaneous buildings The buildings in the district date from the bituminous era of the late nineteenth century through the twentieth century including numerous frame versions of Queen Anne, Classical Revival, and Bungalow styles, as well as a large number of simple vernacular working class houses. Most of the outbuildings present in the district are small and are not included in the resource count, except for four large carriage houses counted under miscellaneous buildings Also present in the district is the Phillip G. Cochran United Methodist Church built in 1927 which was individually listed on the National Register in June of 1984. Twelve of the 120 buildings in the district are non-contributing. Despite minor physical changes to the buildings, the district retains an intact stock of buildings reflecting the lives and social patterns of the people residing in the town during Pennsylvania's bituminous coal and coke boom.
The Dawson Historic District is concentrated around the two primary streets of the borough. Main and Railroad, which meet at a "T" intersection next to a small square. Railroad Street, which parallels the river and the B & O Railroad tracks, is the wider of the two streets. Until the 1960s, Railroad Street between Main and Cochran Streets constituted the primary commercial area of Dawson which extended outward along Main Street to the north and Railroad Street to the west. The residential streets of the district flank the commercial core and include Griscom, Galley, Laughlin, and Strickler Streets to the west of Main Street, and Cochran Street to the east. Houses are also located on Howell, Railroad, and the northern portion of Main Street. High style houses on the town's largest lots are located near the Cochran United Methodist Church. Smaller, more densely-spaced houses and lots exist toward the edges of the district with a dense concentration of houses on southern Griscom and Galley Streets, as well as Laughlin and Strickler Streets.
The oldest house erected in the district predates the establishment of Dawson Borough in 1872. The circa 1820 one-story Cochran House at 101 Griscom Street is believed to be of log construction. This house has seen considerable change with numerous additions and new cladding materials making it non-contributing. Following the purportedly log Cochran house was a series of houses built at the beginning of the bituminous era. One house was built by Sam Cochran and located at 214 Main Street. This circa 1870s house is a simple two story frame dwelling with four window openings across the facade. At 110 Railroad Street is a 2 1/2 story circa 1870s five-bay Greek Revival brick house with a wraparound porch, Italianate-influenced brackets at the eaves, and elaborate window hoods. The house has not had any major alterations to its form. The Dawson Baptist Church at 208 Galley Street, a circa 1870s simple wood frame building with new exterior cladding, was also built at this time.
The 1880s saw the construction of a number of both residential and commercial buildings, examples of which can be found throughout the district. At 203 Railroad Street is a two story frame building with a flat roof and carved brackets at the eaves. A simple 2 1/2 story vernacular frame building with intact storefront windows and a sloping flat roof stands at 200 Railroad Street. A two story frame building with a gable roof and two storefronts with separate entrances is located at 112 Railroad Street. It was used as a store/meat market. These buildings all have asbestos and asphalt siding applied to the exteriors. At 201 Howell Street is a two story frame building formerly used as a store which subsequently has been converted to apartments. It has a hipped roof and intact two-over-two double hung windows. At 100 Railroad Street is a two story frame row building with a flat roof, intact one-over-one double hung sash windows and is clad in asphalt shingles.
A number of larger more stylistically sophisticated houses were built as coal and coke wealth increased in the town, including the W. H. Cochran House at number 206 Railroad Street and the Snyder House at number 307 Railroad Street. Both of these houses were built in the 1880s. The W. H. Cochran house is a 2 1/2 story five-bay frame Queen Anne style dwelling with a large wraparound porch, two-over-two double hung sash windows, shutters, and small fishscale shingles. Some of the exterior cladding has been replaced; but, much of the house is intact. The Snyder house is a 1 1/2 story frame Queen Anne dwelling with a hipped roof, tower, gable ends with fishscale shingles, and spindle work. It is covered with clapboards and wood shingles and has a wraparound porch. The house has only had minor alterations. The Rist House at number 201 Griscom Street is a 2 1/2 story circa 1880s five bay frame dwelling with Italianate brackets, hipped roof, and door with leaded glass sidelights and transom. Many of the original exterior cladding materials have been replaced. At 202 Howell Street is the Methodist Church's caretaker's house. It is a circa 1880s two story, frame, five bay dwelling with original clapboards and window trim.
The 1890s were characterized by the erection of some of the most distinctive buildings still standing in Dawson. The 1897 Queen Anne style brick bank building at 200-206 Main Street, defined by a turret with a conical roof, is the most prominent of the commercial/office buildings in the district. This building originally housed the First National Bank and several offices for coal and coke companies on the first floor and offices and residences on the upper floors. It is a 2 1/2 story building with a rusticated stone foundation, stone sills, painted brick walls, a steeply pitched faux mansard roof of slate and several dormers with arched windows At the southwest corner of the building is the former entrance to the bank which is emphasized by a turret at the second and third floors of the building and topped with a conical roof. The building has had minimal alterations.
At 112 Laughlin Street, is the former opera house which is now used as a Masonic Hall. The circa 1890 2 1/2 story frame building has had numerous exterior changes, including changes to the windows and new aluminum siding on the exterior. It retains an elaborate painted canvas ceiling inside. Along the B & O tracks at 102 Railroad Street is the former B & O Station for Dawson. This circa 1890s small, flat roofed, utilitarian frame building has intact six-over-six double hung sash windows, original wood freight doors, original board and batten siding and has seen little change. Next to the First National Bank Building at 208 Main Street is a circa 1890s 2 1/2 story frame stable/warehouse with a standing seam metal roof and cupola. It has intact clapboard siding, original two-over-two double hung sash windows, and some original doors.
The most elaborate house in Dawson was built by Cochrans. The James Cochran House at 201 Main Street, across the street from the First National Bank, is a 2 1/2 story, irregularly-shaped, high style Queen Anne style frame dwelling. It has a hipped roof of slate, brick-corbeled chimneys, several turrets with conical roofs, wood shingles both square and shaped, clapboard siding, and a wraparound porch with columns. The facade of the James Cochran House has a second story recessed porch. The house retains nearly all its original features.
Another large, less elaborate house across town is located at 108 Strickler Street. This circa 1890 large frame Queen Anne style house with wraparound porch and original wood siding has a contributing frame carriage house to the rear. Another of the contributing carriage houses in the district is located behind the simple Queen Anne house at 112 Laughlin Street. It dates to the 1890s.
Late nineteenth century vernacular buildings characterize a large portion of the district. These contributing residential buildings are concentrated on Galley, Laughlin, Strickler, and Cochran Streets with some houses on portions of Main and Griscom Streets. They are simpler frame versions of late nineteenth and early twentieth century styles. The houses are typically two stories, three to five windows wide, each with a front porch. Many of the houses have intact details such as two-over-two windows, clapboard siding, and simple chamfered porch posts. Some of the houses, especially along Galley, Laughlin, and Strickler Streets, appear to be company-built houses, each with four window openings, gable roof, full length front porch with chamfered porch posts and two-over-two windows. Some of the houses are duplexes. They contributing to the district both with their uniform set-backs from the street and repeated house forms.
Despite the beginning of a decline in the coal and coke industry buildings continued to be constructed in Dawson during the early twentieth century. At 202 Griscom Street is the former parsonage to the United Methodist Church. This is the only brick house in the district. It is a 2 1/2 story circa 1904 three-bay Classical Revival style dwelling. It has a hipped roof, pedimented dormers, and one large central dormer with a broken pediment and scrolls. The house was moved to this site in the 1920s to make room for the present United Methodist Church. Other than being moved, the house has had few alterations. To the rear of the property is a contributing brick carriage house. Another house from this period is a Cochran-owned house at 110 Griscom Street. This 2 1/2 story circa 1910 frame Colonial Revival style house with gambrel roof has a gable end Palladian window. While the form and windows are intact, the exterior cladding has been replaced. The current Methodist Church parsonage is located at 205 Griscom Street. This circa 1920 2 1/2 story eclectic craftsman style dwelling has a first floor clad in brick veneer. Behind the house is a similarly styled 11/2 story contributing carriage house. Both of these buildings retain their original materials and detailing.
Commercial buildings were also erected in Dawson between the 1920s and the 1940s including an intact 1920s concrete block two story brick market at 413 Railroad Street, and the unaltered circa 1940s Art Moderne style brick clad gas station/garage at 213 Main Street. At 100 Laughlin Street is Calhoun's Garage an intact circa 1940s concrete block garage.
Only twelve of the 120 buildings in the district are non-contributing since they were either built outside of the period of significance or have altered materials and/or openings to the degree that they no longer reflect the period of significance. Presence of these scattered non-contributing buildings in the district is minimal since the buildings are of a similar scale to the surrounding buildings These buildings include the circa 1968 Post Office at 101 Railroad Street, the concrete block building at 202 Railroad Street, and three houses: 209 Main Street, 216 Main Street, and 101 Griscom Street. Two non-contributing trailers are located at 211 Main Street and 219 Laughlin Street. At 211 Galley Street is the non-contributing fire hall, and the Bell Telephone Building stands at 108 Laughlin Street. A non-contributing garage stands at 114 Laughlin Street. Two concrete block buildings are located at 507 River Road.
To a large degree, Dawson's architectural fabric and small town character has remained intact since its rise to prominence during the bituminous area. Subsequent years have seen few new buildings constructed, however some of the original commercial buildings, especially along the southeastern side of Railroad Street, were torn down in the 1960s. Despite this loss, the district still presents a cohesive statement of bituminous era, Dawson's period of greatest prosperity.
The Dawson Historic District is significant for industry under criterion "A" of the National Register in the area of Industry as Dawson played an important role as a residential community for management, workers, and the prominent Cochran family during the bituminous era. Hickman Run, just east of Dawson, was the site of some of the first beehive coke ovens in western Pennsylvania. In addition Dawson served as a commercial and transportation center for the surrounding coal and coke region. Dawson is also significant for Architecture under criterion "C" of the National Register as an example of a vital Youghiogheny River community whose variety of architecture, constructed between 1870 and 1947, corresponds to its associated coal and coke driven prosperity. Despite economic hardships of recent decades which caused other similar towns to lose significant historic fabric, a large number of buildings survive from Dawson's period of historical significance, the bituminous coal and coke era.
See also: Dawson's Development.
Dawson is similar to larger Fayette County coal centers such as Connellsville and Uniontown, with a combination of higher style, vernacular, and commercial architecture. In these towns central development and planning did not exist to the degree it did in company-owned patch towns. Connellsville and Uniontown developed as a result of their locations near transportation and railroad lines, and in the case of Connellsville, proximity to the Youghiogheny River. Patches were typically in isolated areas built adjacent to the coke works they served. Patch towns close to Dawson such as Star Junction in Perry Township, Fayette County were geographically divided by distinct areas of larger vernacular houses for the owners and managers with separate vernacular duplexes for the workers. Commercial buildings, other than the company-owned store, did not exist in patches. Patches often were erected quickly with little thought of their long-term durability. They were built to meet the demands of a growing workforce employed by the coal and coke industry. In contrast to this, Dawson not only offered a place to live, but also included commercial buildings in a vital business district. Dawson emerged as a compact town where coal and coke operators built a variety of large houses adjacent to the equally diverse houses of their working class employees with little distinction in hierarchy, as was typical in coal patch towns. For a town of its small size, Dawson's uniqueness is still reflected in high style houses, commercial buildings, and vernacular working class houses. Similar to the larger towns of Fayette County, Dawson was built along the Youghiogheny River close to the railroad and was noted for its steam-powered sawmill, building of flat boats, manufacturing of firebrick and iron casings prior to the rise of a single dominant industry focused on the extraction of coal and coke.
The earliest known house in the district is located at 101 Griscom Street. Following this, growth began in earnest in circa 1870 with buildings such as the Greek Revival Wurtz House with Italianate details at 110 Railroad Street. This house was subsequently followed by various groups of houses, the bank building, and the James Cochran House both on Main Street. More vernacular worker houses were also built in the 1880s and 1890s along Galley, Laughlin, Strickler, and Cochran Streets. It was also during this time that many large-scale management-owned houses of the Cochrans and others were built in addition to the 1897 Cochran Bank Building.
In 1900, as a testament to the wealth amassed by one of the prominent Dawson families combined with continued hope in the coal and coke industry and the town of Dawson, Sarah Cochran financed the construction of a more substantial brick Methodist Church building on the site of the original Methodist Church on Griscom Street. In 1904, a lot adjoining the church was purchased for construction of a brick parsonage. As a result of coal and coke prosperity in the early twentieth century, the membership of the church grew to roughly 400, and Sarah Cochran, influenced by a recent European tour, erected a third, larger Gothic style building in the place of the second reflect the stability of the family's fortune and its benevolence to the community The architect for the church was Thomas Pringle. Building the new church required more land and moving the brick parsonage across Griscom Street to the corner of Griscom and Railroad Street, the site of the then recently razed Newmyer mansion. The demise of the Newmyer mansion was not related to relocation of the parsonage. Another frame house was also moved from the Corner of Griscom and Howell Streets to a lot at the northeast corner of the church property on Howell Street. This house was subsequently used to house the church caretaker. Once the property was cleared in 1923, construction started on the auditorium portion building, followed by a Sunday School, and finally the sanctuary, which was complete in 1927. In later years the Moore House next to the church on Griscom Street was given to the church for use as a parsonage while the other parsonage was sold.
Few substantial buildings other than a gas station, a store and some other small garages were built in Dawson between the decline of the coal and coke industry and the late 1940s. The lack of major industry and money resulted in a largely unaltered building stock. The significant surviving architecture of Dawson is a direct product of the town's association with the bituminous coal and coke industry.
Colbert, William. Dawson resident and local historian. Interview, June 1995.
Ellis, Franklin, History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania. 2 Volumes. Philadelphia: L. H. Everts Company, 1882; reprint edition, Evansville, Indiana: Unigraphic Inc, 1977.
Fowler, T. M. Bird's Eye View of Dawson, Pennsylvania, 1902. Morrisville, PA: T. M. Fowler, 1902.
History of Dawson United Methodist Church, 1985.
Mong, Albert V., Jr. Dawson Borough History. Dawson Anniversaries Corporation: Dawson Bicentennial Committee, 1976.
Heald, Sarah, editor. Fayette County, Pennsylvania: An Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service. 1990.
Sanborn Map Company. Dawson, Pennsylvania. New York: Sanborn Map Company, 1897, 1900, 1910, and 1930.
Smith, Helene and George Swetnam. A Guidebook to Historic Western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991.
Souvenir Book, 1872-1972. Centennial Anniversary, Borough of Dawson. Dawson Anniversaries Corporation, 1972.
Wiley, Samuel T. Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Chicago: John M. Gresham and Company, 1889.