McConnellsburg Historic District
The McConnellsburg Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
McConnellsburg, the county seat of Fulton County, is the largest town and one of only two boroughs in the county. It is situated in the eastern part of the county in a valley known as the Big Cove. McConnellsburg is the commercial, industrial and governmental center of Fulton County with most of the surrounding area occupied by farms, forest and small rural villages. McConnellsburg was laid out in a grid pattern with a central square typical of many Pennsylvania towns. This town has been made unique, however, by its development pattern with commercial activity concentrated one block south of the square along the Lincoln Highway, old U.S. Route 30, which follows the route of an early pack horse road and 19th century turnpike from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. The majority of the district consists of properties fronting on McConnellsburg's two main streets, Lincoln Way, running east-west and U.S. Route 522 running north-south. Buildings range in age from the third quarter of the 18th century to the 1940s and portray mostly vernacular representations of styles current over a nearly 200 year span. Lining Lincoln Way are two and three story buildings, most of log, stone or brick, blending commercial and residential uses. Former inns, taverns and hotels of the 19th century and automotive garages of the early 20th century reflect the town's role as an important stopping place on the turnpike. The center square is dominated by the temple form Greek Revival style courthouse, built in 1852, set in the middle of a quiet residential area characterized by late Victorian houses and Foursquares and Bungalows of the early 20th century. The character of the district remains intact with minimal disruption by intrusive construction. Historic integrity has been affected mostly by occasional removal or replacement of historic surface treatments rather than demolition of resources. Thirteen non-contributing elements of a total of 158 properties shows the intact quality of this district.
The McConnellsburg Historic District includes approximately three and a half blocks of Lincoln Way, from 215 Lincoln Way West east to Fifth Avenue, and Second Street from North Street south to the borough limits. Although the town square with the County Courthouse as its focal point was constructed at the intersection of Second and Market Streets, the main street developed a block to the south along Lincoln Way, an important route to the west in the 18th and 19th centuries. Thus the "center square" appears off center and was developed late in the history of the town. In typical Pennsylvania town fashion, buildings front along the edge of the sidewalks with little or no set backs except in later 19th century residential areas such as those found along West Market Street and South Second Streets.
Building stock in the district ranges in construction date from the third quarter of the 18th century to the mid 20th century, with 18th and 19th century residential and commercial buildings predominating. Log, stone, brick and frame buildings are present, with log, stone and brick construction representing the earlier (pre-1850) period of the town. Many of the log structures remain intact with their original or early sidings. Others are covered with more recent manufactured sidings. A few log buildings have had historic or non-historic sheathing removed to reveal the log structural members.
Early 20th century commercial and residential buildings were often constructed of rock-faced concrete block or cast stone, which was sometimes called "patent stone.'' At least two of these buildings were standing in 1910 and are shown on a Sanborn Insurance Map. Most buildings of this material date from the first quarter of the 20th century.
Several architectural styles are represented in the study area. In the 18th century, buildings were influenced by the Georgian style. Examples include the Fulton House, 112 Lincoln Way East, and the Daniel McConnell, Jr. or Stoner House, 108 Lincoln Way West. Both buildings date from the 1790s and have five bays with central entrances and massively framed openings topped with jack arches. The Fulton House is individually listed in the National Register.
A few buildings of brick construction represent the Federal (Neoclassical) style of the early 19th century. These include 205-207 Lincoln Way East and 111-113 Lincoln Way East. They are distinguished by broad elliptically arched fanlights and sidelights at the main entrance.
The next style represented, the Greek Revival of the 1840-60 period is most prevalent in the area around the Courthouse. Lincoln Way, known earlier as Water Street was nearly fully developed by that time. The Courthouse, built in 1852 is a Greek Revival style building and the former Washington Hotel diagonally opposite the Courthouse at 204 N. Second Street, also begun in 1852, was influenced by the Greek Revival style.
The Italianate style was a favorite for commercial buildings in the late 19th century and several examples remain intact along Lincoln Way. Perhaps the most original facade belongs to the building at 110 Lincoln Way West, the former Albert Stoner Store, built in 1893. The large three story frame building on the west side of South Second Street also shows Italianate influence. This building incorporates a small log vernacular building which dates from the late 18th or early 19th century and retains early or original siding.
The Second Empire style with its hallmark Mansard roof is represented on Lincoln Way West by two buildings in the 100 block. The Queen Anne style of the last decade of the 19th century influenced a few buildings with multiple projections and a variety of surface treatments. One of the best preserved of these is the dwelling at 331 North Second Street which retains original decorative wood shingles on its tower.
The most prominent architectural type from the early 20th century in McConnellsburg is the American Foursquare. These buildings, either commercial or residential may be of frame, brick or cast block ("patent stone") construction. Several of these are concentrated on the east side of South Second Street with others occurring in the outer portions of the district. Also representing the first half of the 20th century are a group of Colonial Revival style houses at South Second Street, south of Maple Street, and several Bungalows.
In addition to residential and commercial buildings, there are also significant commercial and industrial buildings of the early 20th century, several of which appear to have been automobile service garages. These garages are located along Lincoln Way, principally at the west end, and are typical of the 1920s and '30s with stepped parapet fronts and display windows with accompanying garage bays. A particularly intact example is the R. E. Fleming garage in the 200 block of Lincoln Way West. In the 18th and early 19th centuries McConnellsburg had three tanneries. One stone building, a small 18th century structure located at 308 Lincoln Way East was associated with a tannery at that location. The tannery was still operating in 1873, and in 1910 the Sanborn Insurance Map lists this building as a warehouse.
Other important elements in the district include outbuildings such as smoke houses, kitchens and stables located in back yards and along alleys. Several examples of old fencing are also present and portray the earlier appearance of McConnellsburg. Although these elements are collectively contributing to the overall appearance of the district, they are not included in the building inventory due to their small size. However, two barn/carriage house structures have been listed individually in the building inventory because of their large size and prominent location along the edge of streets. One is located in the first block of East Market Street and the other in the first block of North First Street.
Buildings are generally in good to excellent condition. Many remain remarkably intact. The character of some buildings has been altered by the application of manufactured sidings or the removal of original surface finishes. The district includes approximately 158 buildings. Of this total, 13 buildings are considered non-contributing. These non-contributing buildings, less than 10% of the total in the district are scattered throughout the district and consist of post-1950 infill. One site is included in the district, a small cemetery of the 19th century, associated with the Methodist-Episcopal Church. It is located on North Third Street.
Established in 1786 on a main route to the West from Philadelphia, McConnellsburg is significant for its role as an important stopping place on the Lincoln Highway. The history of the town, its development pattern and its architecture clearly show its linkage to travel and transportation. Construction in the town reflects this pattern and the impact of the highway on the development of McConnellsburg. Resources in the district include houses, commercial and industrial structures from the late 18th century through the 1940s. Of particular significance are the large number of travel-related structures, taverns, inns and automotive service garages representing three centuries. Since 1850, McConnellsburg has been the county seat of Fulton County, and therefore a governmental center. The Greek Revival temple form courthouse is perhaps the most prominent building in the district. With a population of 1106, McConnellsburg is the largest town in Fulton County, and one of only two boroughs. McConnellsburg has since the 1780s been the local trade center and since 1850 the seat of county government. It contains the most comprehensive collection of residential, commercial, and governmental architecture in Fulton County.
McConnellsburg is the county seat of Fulton County located in the south central part of the state. Previous to its establishment in 1850, Fulton County was part of Bedford County. When the new county was established, McConnellsburg, by then a well established town on the turnpike from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, was made the county seat.
The town is situated in a fertile valley, known as "the Big Cove" between the Tuscarora Mountain and numerous ridges to the west. The rich land made the Big Cove appealing to settlers from the mid 18th century although effective settlement did not occur until the last quarter of the 18th century. The lifeline for settlements developing in the Big Cove was the wagon road leading to Philadelphia. Over this road the settlers sent their products to sell, principally flour and grain, hides, cattle and hogs. In return they received luxury goods, and such supplies that could not be produced locally. In the late 18th century when settlements in the Big Cove were developing, Philadelphia was the largest city in America and was for a time, the second largest city in the British Empire. The importance of Philadelphia as a vortex to settlements extending for miles radiating around it cannot be overlooked. Therefore roads leading to Philadelphia took on greater significance. The Philadelphia Road that later became the Lincoln Highway or U.S. Route 30, was in the formative years of the Big Cove settlements one of the most traveled and most important roads in America. The road took on even greater significance after the American Revolution when the new government of the United States sought to encourage settlement in the western lands by adopting attractive land acquisition measures in 1785 and 1787 for the Northwest Territories. The National Pike (U.S. Route 40) was located south of the Lincoln Highway and although it became the first U.S. Highway, its construction did not begin until the early 19th century.
As early as 1765 Daniel McConnell operated a public inn along the packhorse road from Philadelphia. A small settlement grew around the inn, along a creek and the road. Eventually in 1786, McConnell laid out his town formally. His town plan included 50-foot wide streets and a perimeter around the town enclosing a common for grazing of animals. The town contained 196 lots of 220 by 50 feet, approximately 1/4 acre, a fairly standard lot size for 18th century towns in the region. For reasons unknown to historians, Daniel McConnell chose to make the packer's trail to Philadelphia a secondary street in his plan. In McConnell's plan, the town was a rectangle with a central square, typical of many 18th century Pennsylvania towns. The two main streets crossed at the square, Market Street and Second Street. Water Street, later Lincoln Way, was a block south of the square. Not too surprisingly, the town never developed according to McConnell's plan. Instead, the main course of development continued along the established road and this route continues as the main street today, with the "center" square set off to the side in what is now primarily a residential area.
This alignment of the main street was reinforced by the growth of the packers' road into a wagon road and its further improvement after 1817 as the Chambersburg-Bedford Turnpike. As McConnellsburg grew, its businesses and industries clearly reflected its association with the highway. In 1814, the town was incorporated into a borough. At that time it had 250 residents, "with nine stores, seven taverns, four blacksmith shops, two churches (Presbyterian and Lutheran), one school house and several shoemakers." Residents of McConnellsburg were subject to new tax assessments every three years. The assessments included a list of occupations, and a portion of the 1835 assessment is published in McConnellsburg, PA - Moments in History. Listed are occupations for 107 McConnellsburg residents. Forty-three percent or 46 occupations listed in 1835 were directly related to McConnellsburg's location along a major turnpike road. These 46 people who served the 19th century travel industry included nine blacksmiths, eight stage drivers, six wagon makers, six merchants, four wagoners, four tavern keepers, four saddlers, two inn keepers, two drovers and one wheelwright. Among other occupations, the most prominent was shoemaker of whom there were 16. There were also seven tailors, five labourers, five farmers, four carpenters, three cabinet makers, three tinners, and three hatters. Other less represented occupations include doctor, teacher, potter, silversmith, distiller, reverend and constable. This list illustrates McConnellsburg's importance to and reliance upon travel and travel-related services a characteristic which continued into the 20th century.
According to I. Daniel Rupp's History of Dauphin, Cumberland, Franklin, Bedford. Adams and Perry Counties, written in 1846, McConnellsburg "contains upwards of 100 dwellings, four churches, viz: a Presbyterian, German Reformed, Lutheran and Methodist; four taverns, six stores, two schools, two tanneries, two wagon makers shops, seven shoemakers, two weavers and four cabinet makers." The population in 1840 was 486 and in 1846, 575.
The preponderance of taverns, blacksmith shops, wagon makers and stores is related to the town's location on a heavily traveled road. The churches, first Presbyterian and Lutheran, later joined by the German Reformed and Methodist attest to the Scotch-Irish and German heritage of the settlers.
On April 19, 1850, Fulton County was created from the eastern part of Bedford County, and McConnellsburg became its county seat. As a result of the town's becoming a governmental center for the new county, the Greek Revival style Courthouse was built by 1852 for $5,695.00. An accompanying jail was also built. The same year, a new hotel, the Washington House, was established diagonally across the square from the Courthouse. All of these buildings, associated with the creation of the new county seat were situated on or near the square. Whether this was an attempt to pull development away from the Chambersburg-Bedford turnpike or, whether the prime lots along the pike had already been taken is not known from present information. Establishment of the county seat also led to the opening of newspaper and law offices.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, the town's main prosperity was related to the turnpike. In 1904, John Stoner, cabinet maker, wrote his recollections of growing up in McConnellsburg. He relates several stories of the 1830s about droves of cattle, horses, hogs and sheep passing through McConnellsburg along with freight wagons, stages and smaller conveyances. He says, "the drivers didn't like the railroads. The railroad broke up the stage and wagon lines. The hotel yards in the those days [1830s] would be full of wagons overnight. In those days, McConnellsburg was a lively little town; all kinds of business was good. The farmers had a sale for their hay, corn and oats. There was at that time hotels all along the pike from McConnellsburg to Pittsburgh. They are all gone."
By the mid 19th century, the privately run Philadelphia to Pittsburgh Turnpike began to decline. The local portion of this route was operated by the Chambersburg-Bedford Turnpike Company. Competition from railroads and canals that attracted long distance freight and passenger traffic reduced revenue for most private turnpikes, including the one that passed through McConnellsburg. As income from tolls dropped, the condition of the road deteriorated resulting in numerous complaints. The development of the automobile in the early 20th century hastened the demise of private turnpike companies, because of the need for smooth, well-maintained roads, and the nuisance of frequent stops at toll gates.
In 1911, the Sproul Act was passed in Pennsylvania which allowed the development of a state highway system, with roads being maintained at state expense. Through the Sproul Act, the Franklin and Fulton County portions of the turnpike were condemned and made part of the new state highway system. The old turnpike became a state route and was named the Lincoln Highway. The old stage stops, inns and toll houses were replaced by automobile service and gas stations, motels and restaurants. In McConnellsburg this process is evident in the several 1920s era automobile service garages and housing construction from the post-1910 period. The consolidation of the old turnpike into one of the first state-maintained highways promoted business and tourist traffic through McConnellsburg, increasing the town's prosperity in the first half of the 20th century.
Another prominent industry in town was tanning. Three tanneries operated during much of the late 18th and early 19th centuries in McConnellsburg. Two of them were located along the north side of Lincoln Way East between Second and Sixth Streets along the run that passes through town.
McConnellsburg's historic district contains the most comprehensive collection of residential, commercial and governmental buildings in Fulton County. In fact, it is the only commercial and governmental center in the county, and the only town of any size. The district represents the most "urban" collection in the county, where all other communities are small rural villages or crossroad's hamlets. Therefore McConnellsburg stands alone among Fulton County's towns. Its association with the prominent highway has given its architectural expression an air of sophistication that belies the borough's small size relative to other nearby county seats (i.e. Chambersburg and Bedford in Pennsylvania and Hagerstown and Cumberland in Maryland). Noteworthy are particularly fine examples of Georgian and Federal style buildings of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and highly embellished Italianate storefronts of the late 19th century. In general, the district maintains a high level of integrity with few non-contributing elements. While there has been some unsympathetic alteration to some buildings, the overall integrity of the district remains intact.
Although a few buildings remain from McConnellsburg's initial settlement period during the third quarter of the 18th century, the general character of the town reflects the period from approximately 1790 to 1940 when the town was a prosperous center in the agriculturally productive Big Cove and a stopping place on the great road from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. The highway and the agricultural community around McConnellsburg supported one another in a symbiotic relationship. Drovers and wagoners relied on local farm produce to feed their teams and the animals they were herding. The farmers depended on the highway to provide access to eastern markets for livestock and grains. This situation caused the town to flourish in the 19th century.
At least three buildings once used as inns or hotels remain today. The oldest is the Fulton House dating from 1793. Individually listed in the National Register, it is a stone structure influenced by the Georgian style. It also represents the importance of hostelries to the highway and development of the town. The Fulton House has hosted such visitors as presidents John Quincy Adams, Zachary Taylor, William Henry Harrison and James Buchanan. It represents the bustle of drovers, teamsters, stages and independent travelers passing through the town, day and night.
The former Washington Hotel opposite the Courthouse was built the same year as the Courthouse, 1852. It reflects the town's role as a governmental center which caused this hotel to be built a block away from the highway and close to the Courthouse.
Another former hotel the three story City Hotel (1893) although greatly altered represents the significance of the highway in the late 19th century.
The Courthouse itself provides a dual focus for the significance of the town. A stately brick temple-form Greek Revival building built in 1852 it represents the town's movement into the role of governmental center.
Residential architecture ranges from vernacular buildings of log, stone or brick construction which portray regional developments and interpretations of current styles. Other buildings exhibit more sophisticated representations of their styles. Among the more noteworthy houses is the brick McConnell house (1790), at 108 Lincoln Way West, said to be the oldest brick house in Fulton County.
The tanning industry which seems to have been prominent in the town is now represented only by a small stone building at 308 Lincoln Way East which was once part of a tannery complex. There is certainly archeological potential at the three tannery sites, two of which were located north of Lincoln Way East in the 300 and 400 blocks. Both were operating in the late 19th century.
In the late 19th century a number of stores were built or commercial storefronts were inserted into older buildings. These represent the growth of commercial development in the later 19th century and the introduction of commercial fronts for buildings that distinguished them from neighboring residential buildings.
By the early 20th century the town had settled into quiet prosperity. A number of newer buildings were constructed of concrete block or brick from about 1910 to 1940 including a few automobile garages and repair shops. These are located at 208 Lincoln Way West, 106 Lincoln Way West, 112 South Second Street, and in the first block of North First Street. Development spread west on Market Street and north and south on Second Street where Foursquare, Bungalow and Colonial Revival houses abound.
Thus McConnellsburg's present appearance reflects many facets of its past as a stopping place on a major 18th and 19th century highway, as a county seat and as an example of the evolution of architecture in Fulton County.
Fulton County Historical Society. McConnellsburg, PA - Moments in History, 1786-1986. McConnellsburg, PA: Fulton County Historical Society, Inc., 1986.
Rupp, I. Daniel. History and Topography of Dauphin, Cumberland, Franklin, Bedford, Adams and Perry Counties. Lancaster, PA: Gilbert Hills, 1846.
† Reed, Paula S., PhD., McConnellsburg Historic District, nomination document, 1992, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.