Muncy Historic District
The Muncy Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. 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 Borough of Muncy's Historic District encompasses an irregular area of 151.9 acres, which is indicative of the historical, social, economic, and architectural heritage of the community. Buildings, whose architecture and construction dates reflect three major and distinct eras of prosperity in the Borough's history, are represented within this irregular but comprehensive district.
There are 434 buildings within the Borough of Muncy's Historic District. The vast majority of these structures contribute heavily to one of the three aforementioned general eras of architecture. There are 36 major and minor intrusions within the Historic District. It should be noted that with few exceptions, these intrusions detract from the continuity of the Historic District in an extremely limited visual capacity. Most audacious of these intrusions resides at the northern extremity of the District (Southeast corner of North Main Street and Mechanic Street), in the form of a recently constructed Majik Market. Intensifying this visual interruption is the adjacent Muncy Borough Fire Hall, whose one and one-half story aluminum shell construction (1973) is thoroughly incompatible with the remaining architecture on North Main Street, traditionally the oldest section of the community.
A group of buildings classified as intrusions exist in the proximity of the intersection of E. Water St. and Washington Street. Four major intrusions consisting of two automobile service stations (R&T), one automobile dealership, and a former A&P food store, now locally operated, occupy this area and constitute a visual impass to the eastern approach of the district. However, the nature of these structures, ie. their textures and signage provide less of a visual handicap than the previously mentioned concentration. The remaining intrusions take the form of random in-fill buildings such as the U.S. Post Office on South Main Street, the automobile dealership at South Main Street and New Street whose signage constitutes its major visual intrusion, and an occasional bungalow or ranch style structure, a number of which are evident on the east side of South Washington Street.
The Borough of Muncy has always possessed the well-deserved reputation of a picturesque community. As the first area settled in Lycoming County, the Muncy Valley has long been referred to as that county's "Golden Triangle," reflecting its geographic shape and fertile soil. Muncy Borough anchors the southeastern corner of this predominately agricultural area, with its tree-lined streets and well proportioned layout. Two basic facts contribute to this very real appearance; the intersection of the first two roads licensed in the Lycoming County (Water Street and Main Street) providing an early and well-planned community development; and the adoption of the standard municipal grid system for the layout of the community (1797), insuring a symmetrical appearance with few lots straying from the appointed 50' by 180' dimensions of that pattern.
Muncy's Historic District contains a wide assortment of industrial, public, religious, and private residential architecture. The predominate category of these is private residential. The unquestionable dominance of this form of structure can be seen clearly in the Central Business District, where a unique infiltration and compatible overlapping of private residence and commercial structures occurs. In addition, throughout the large residential areas of the District, a significant number of fine churches exist. This is particularly true in the area of South Main Street and Church Alley where key anchor structures of Muncy's Historic District such as St. Andrew Lutheran Church, St. James Episcopal Church, and the Muncy Presbyterian Church are located.
Generally speaking, there were three different eras of building in Muncy's history. These are represented today by the same number of visually discernible architectural groups, following equally identifiable geographic outlines. Each of these loosely drawn eras of construction are paralleled by periods of economic prosperity and social stability.
The initial building in Muncy took place along the major north-south thoroughfare in Lycoming County, or what is today North and South Main Streets. Representative of this era (1790-1830) are the early log homes, William McCarty Residence, and the Walton-Weaver Residence; the numerous three or more bay, frame buildings possessing Federal and Georgian style overtones such as the Gray-Bodine Residence, the Boal-Griggs Building, and the Edwards-Rickholt Residence; and a group of early Greek Revival style buildings such as the Clapp-Muncy Historical Society Building, the Bieber-Ritter Residence, and the three contiguous Jacob E. Cooke-Row Houses.
Indicative of the second major era of construction within the Borough (1840-1875) are structures displaying various styles of architecture that are located further from the center, or originally settled portions of the community. Characteristic styles of this period include lingering forms of Greek Revival architecture such as the Green-Akers Residence, and the Robert Robb Residence, both on East Water Street, and the Sammuel E. Sprout Residence on North Main Street. Toward the middle of this era, Victorian-Eclectic style buildings such as the Clapp-Smith Building, the Rankin-Brindle Building, the Lloyd Building, and the Root-Clapp Residence began to appear, all of which are on South Main Street; and in the final stages of this building period a domination of Italianate style structures took place, many fine examples of which exist in the forms of the Presbyterian Manse on South Washington Street, the Lycoming County Mutual Fire Insurance Company Building, and the Margaret Montgomery House, the latter two being on South Main Street. A curious pattern of major additions to some of the larger commercial buildings in the District took place at this time (1850-1858). The construction of third floors and rear sections to the Fahnestock-Petrikin Building and the Muncy Valley House are testimony to this trend.
Following a short lull (approximately twelve years) in construction in Muncy, caused by an economic stagnation paralleling a major social restratification, the third and last general era of building as defined in the Historic District. The architecture of this era is predominantly Queen Anne style and other eclectic styles generally characteristic of this time period (1885-1905). The D. O. Snyder Building, the Sprout-Soars Residence, and the Alexander B. Worthington Residence located on West Penn Street are prime examples of Queen Anne style structures from this period. In addition, a number of commercial buildings from this era, such as the Smith Building on South Main Street, signalled the first major in-fill construction in the oldest part of the community. Fortunately, most of this type or method of construction was indicative of the end of this building era.
It should be noted that the construction of religious buildings, ie. churches, manses, rectories, and parish houses paralleled to a large degree, the previously mentioned general eras of building represented by Muncy's Historic District. The abnormal number of exceptional architecturally designed churches and their supporting buildings such as the Muncy Presbyterian Church, the Methodist-Episcopal Church, St. James Episcopal Church (only major Gothic Revival style building in District), and the unique eclectic styled Muncy Baptist Church contribute heavily to their respective eras of building and thus to the Borough's cultural history. In summary, categorically the architecture evident in Muncy's Historic District includes:
Many Eclectic style buildings representing a hybrid of architectural styles exist in Muncy. Basically this is due to later additions to a structure or a change in style during construction. In making up the majority of the buildings in Muncy's Historic District, the hybrid style's contribution is significant. Undoubtedly the most important aspect of the hybrid appearance is that it provides the Borough of Muncy with an accurate chart with which its cultural history can be visually traced.
Muncy's residents have always been justly proud of the rich heritage of their community. From its humble beginnings as a cross roads in the southeastern corner of Lycoming County (Formerly Northumberland County), Muncy quickly established itself as the dominant center of trade and commerce during the first half of the 19th century along the upper reaches of the Susquehanna River's West Branch. Its proximity to the major bend of the West Branch Susquehanna River Valley determined Muncy's position as a natural destination and supply stop for any further westward settlement in Lycoming County. Consequently, as time progressed, trade and general commerce became the dominant way of life in Muncy.
Directly from these initial commercial ventures evolved the so-called "Merchants Era," or the "Merchant Princess" in the history of the community. Roughly from the years 1830-1875, Muncy was captivated by a group of successful merchants of all types and trades. Thriving on the cheap transportation of the Canal, and later the Railroad, the strong trade and commerce of the community created an era of well being and prosperity for a wide spectrum of its residents. As a direct result of this affluence, Muncy became recognized during this era, a heyday, for its cultural and educational facilities, and its pervading air of intellectualism. It had become the social and economic center in Lycoming County.
This, however, changed radically with the ascendancy of Muncy's close neighbor, Williamsport, to its pinnacle of fame during the later half of the 19th century. Slow at first, the decline of Muncy as a center of trade became rapid during the beginning of the 20th century. An inevitable switch caused in part by the Civil War from an economic base founded in individually run businesses, to one founded in industrialism and its mass employment, changed the economic and social complexion of the community. Muncy became a "working town" or a "factory town," rather than a town governed by individually run businesses. Over the course of a few years the various cultural and educational establishments, and the general air of intellectualism that prevailed a half century before, slowly faded.
However, monuments attesting to Muncy's former "Golden Era" remain today in the near perfect preservation of the varied forms of architecture present in Muncy Historic District. These structures illustrate the complex developments of the community like a visual map.
The predominance of Muncy as the trading center for the West Branch River Valley (Susquehanna) had its roots in its initial settlement. Located at the southeastern corner of Lycoming County, Muncy lie astride the first two roads designated as such by the County. The community quickly became a suitable location for stopping by all traffic headed west and north from Sunbury, the frontier capital of Pennsylvania in the later 18th and early 19th centuries. Evidence of this can be seen in the number of Tavern-Hotel businesses that were in business in the first quarter of the 19th century in Muncy. (Bell-Burrows-Wallis Building, Jacob Rooker House, Walton-Weaver Building, and the Union Hotel Building).
Established trade and commerce began to emerge as the dominant form of economic activity with the arrival of the West Branch of the Pennsylvania Canal in 1834. Providing cheap bulk transportation, the Canal had a startling affect on the way of life in Muncy. Individualized businesses centered around the dry goods trade and the essential services began to prevail over the Hotel-Tavern, or travel oriented economy. A private spur branch of the Canal was constructed in 1848 by a group of Muncy's prominent merchants to bring their goods closer to the places of business.
By 1850 the rise of the merchants as a class in Muncy became a movement of major social significance. A tight band of merchants provided the community with an economy based on the single commercial enterprise, ie., the back room cigar factory or broom shop. In 1851 Muncy recorded more employers than employees in the community. Shortly, such prosperity became visualized in the manifestation of a housing boom, as wealth became equated to large ostentatious private residences of the successful merchants.
The architectural heyday of Muncy reached its apex of refinement during the Merchants Era, or roughly the quarter century, 1850-1875. The era of prosperity afforded by the successes of the commercial economy of this time period was closely paralleled by an acute social and intellectual awareness that contributed, measurably to the fine structures built during this quarter century. Beginning with the massive Federal style residences, the Clapp-Wood-Jackson Residence, Risk-Eaker House, and the Noble-Wilt Residence, which were constructed with money founded in the private businesses of the successful merchants whose names they bear, the building boom gained its full stride with the construction of commercial structures such as the Clapp-Smith Building, and the Noble-Frey's Hardware Building. Although these buildings are representative of the final stages of the Federal style of architecture in the evolution of Muncy's built environment, they are indicative of the beginning of the merchant financed housing boom.
Signaling the heaviest expenditures of merchant fueled buildings, both private and commercial, and the advent of a new and perhaps grander style of architecture, was the construction of the Bowman-Sprout House. An Italianate style structure (first in Muncy) possessing such fine details as cut Venetian glass sidelights and the first indoor plumbing in the community, it is not without significance that the structure was built for Joshua Bowman, the wealthiest of Muncy's merchants in the 19th century. With the event of the Bowman-Sprout House's construction, a final wave of Italianate and other Victorian style buildings of a commercial and private nature began to unfold in Muncy. The Lycoming County Mutual Fire Insurance Company Building, Margaret Montgomery House, First National Bank of Muncy-Citizen's National Bank - Commonwealth Bank and Trust Company Building, P. H. Trumbower Foundry, and the Rankin-Brindle Building are fine examples of the last phases of the architectural boom fueled by the merchant money of Muncy.
Directly associated with the enhancement of Muncy's built environment by the successful merchants of the community was the ascendancy of a number of educational facilities in the Borough. The Muncy Female Seminary was the first of such institutions to be founded (1847). Noted for its fine education of young ladies for the profession of teaching, the Muncy Female Seminary contributed to the general intellectualism prevailing in the Borough during this quarter century (1850-1875). The seminary's demise in 1882 paralleled the decline of the Borough itself as the economic and social picture of the community changed. Dominated for so long by the wealthy merchant class, Muncy began to feel the post Civil War trend of Industrialism, changing the economy and the people.
The post Civil War era in Muncy witnessed a gradual decline in the dominance of its highly visible merchant class, and of its prosperity in general. This decline took place because of a shift from an economy based on individuals to one dominated by industrialism, and in part, by the rise of Muncy's neighbor Williamsport, to its height of fame as the lumber capital of the world during the last quarter of the 19th century.
Creation of an industrial based economy in Muncy lead to a complete social restratification, and an eventual down turn in the degree of prosperity that had been experienced in the previous half century. A more even distribution of wealth began to make itself evident in a last gasp of building consisting of the proliferation of simple Victorian Eclectic style structures dominating the edges of Muncy's Historic District. Prime examples of this simple Victorian Eclectic style housing are seen in the Sprout-Frantz Residence and the Slopwell-Burns House.
Emerging from the new industrial economy were a new class of prominent industrialists. As the venerable merchants declined for reasons already stated, a group of industrialists began to dominate the economic and social scene of the community. Some of Muncy's most significant Victorian (Queen Anne style) architecture can be attributed to this wealth. Structures such as the Sprout-Soars Residence, the Rogers-Plfeegor Residence, the Sprout-Baker Residence and the Alexander B. Worthington Residence were all constructed by people directly related to Muncy's new found economic system. Sammuel Rogers started and brought to national prominence the Muncy Woolen Blanket (Muncy Woolen Mills) and Lewis B. Sprout, founder of Sprout Waldron Inc., which is even today an ongoing concern, were both responsible for the majority of the finer Queen Anne style buildings found in the community. Other locally and nationally significant industries began to establish themselves in Muncy, thus securing the community's future heritage.
Muncy's rich and varied past is very much in evidence today, embodied by the historically and architecturally significant structures which constitute the Borough's built environment. Due in part to the economic stagnation of the later 19th and early 20th centuries, and also the fact that the community built out to its geographical limits at an early age, the vast majority of the architecture in the Muncy Historic District is original (less than 10% intrusions in the Historic District). This is a fact that, along with the community's rich heritage, the residents of Muncy are fully aware, and realize the need for further more active preservation.
† Ritchey, Tom, Muncy Historic Survey Project, Muncy Historic District, nomination document, 1979, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.