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Kistler Borough

Kistler Boro municipal offices are located at 390 Cedar Street, Mount Union, PA 17066; phone: 814-542-8615.

Beginnings [1]

[Transcribed from HAER No. PA-5974 – Historic American Engineering Record, memory.loc.gov, accessed 12/2006]

Kistler was built by the Mount Union Refractories Company to house workers for its plant on the opposite side of the Juniata River in Huntingdon County. The company distinguished itself from others in the region by hiring nationally known town planner John Nolen and the New York architectural team of Mann and MacNeille to design Kistler as a model company town. Although the public buildings on the town green are gone, the town plan and most of the town's original clapboard and shingle-clad houses remain intact.

This refractories company went to unusual lengths to provide an uplifting environment for its workers. In 1916, four years after its plant opened, Mt. Union Refractories began construction of a company town. Instead of assigning the task to company carpenters and engineers or hiring a local contractor to build rows of utilitarian vernacular houses, the company commissioned John Nolen, a prominent landscape architect and planner, to design a model "industrial village." Mann and MacNeill, a New York architectural firm experienced in the field of industrial housing, provided the building designs. Company president Clinton V. Hackman "wanted to see his men live on as high a plane as their incomes would allow,"' and perhaps as ex-Harbison-Walker employees, he and R. P. M. Davis wanted their residential property to stand out as a distinctive cut above the ordinary company housing of their former employer and of their industry in general.

Their choice of planner assured them of receiving a design that was not only stylistically fashionable but also one that was accompanied by an intellectually rationalized social purpose. Nolen made a career of designing and writing about model towns. The town Hackman and Davis named Kistler was a minor assignment in a long list of commissions for municipalities, individuals, and institutions as well as companies. Nevertheless, Nolen included a chapter on Kistler in a collection of his essays. He described the triangular-shaped town site as bounded on one side by the Pennsylvania Railroad and separated from the "dirt, dust, and noise" of the works by the Juniata River on another. A brick farmhouse and barn already on the site were incorporated into the plan. The Pennsylvania bank barn was remodelled to serve as the community building on Kistler Green, a focal point of the asymmetrical plan.

Nolen's plan included four other public buildings spaced across the center of the village plan — two churches, a railroad station, and a store.' Only one of these was built, however, a combination store, school, and residence sited along the state road across Kistler Green from the community building. It was demolished in 1990. Like the barn with its cupola and Palladian windows, the store/school was given colonial-revival details, but even more than the barn/community building, it had the proportions and stylistic composition of a vernacular building.

  1. memory.loc.gov, Built in America, Town of Kistler, Mifflin County, PA, (HABS PA,44-KIST; HABS PA-5976; Historic American Buildings Survey)
  2. Photos, 1990, HABS, Jet Lowe, photographer
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