Stoystown Historic District
The Stoystown Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
Stoystown is an example of a small settlement that flourished along the Lincoln Highway during its golden age (1913-1940). Lincoln Highway was the first transcontinental automobile route linking the east and west coasts of the United States. It represents a moment in transportation history at the dawn of the automobile age and is a culmination of the desire to link the east and west coasts of the United States. It is also a precursor to the interstate highway system. Rather than carving out a new route, Lincoln Highway linked together existing highways following ancestral transportation routes. Stoystown Historic District is significant ... as a historic road town, built along the Lincoln Highway and the earlier Pennsylvania Road (1818) following the approximate route of Forbes Trail (1758). Stoystown Historic District is also significant for commerce, as a rural center of commerce serving the needs of surrounding farms and mills. ... Stoystown Historic District features well preserved examples of vernacular and formal architectural styles dating from the early nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. The period of significance begins ca. 1820, estimated date of the oldest contributing resources, and ends in 1946 ... Stoystown historic district contains buildings, two sites and one object possessing integrity and conveying their historic roles as significant commercial, transportation-related and architectural resources.
Tax assessment records for Somerset County in 1840 reveal Stoystown's reliance on transportation-related businesses, as the following statistics demonstrate. Typical for a small village, were the following occupation: painter, chair-maker, joiner, shoemaker, tailor, timer, hatter, physician and teacher. However, there were also three coach-makers, an equal number of saddlers and five smiths. In the same year, no fewer than eight stage-drivers made their home in Stoystown. Perhaps the most lucrative occupation was innkeeper, profiting from traffic generated by the road. According to 1840 tax assessment records, three out of Stoystown's five wealthiest individuals were innkeepers.
Religion occupied an important role in the lives of residents from the earliest years of the settlement. Union Cemetery was founded in 1796 and before long a log church was built at the site. Lutherans were the first congregation recorded in Stoystown, organizing in 1806. A Union Church, serving the needs of both the Lutheran and German Reformed congregations, replaced the log church at the cemetery in 1810. That building was tom down in 1841. Several congregations erected new houses of worship later in the century.
By 1876, the Somerset County Atlas depicts Stoystown as a linear village stretching for six blocks along Main Street (then the Pennsylvania Road) flanked on the north and south by two-block long streets (today East-West Forbes Street and East-West Penn Street). Scattered among the dwellings were sixteen commercial establishments, mostly housed in small shops, including four blacksmith and carriage shops, one tin and one cabinet shop, two hotels, one store, three churches and a Normal School.
After 1881, the Somerset and Johnstown Railroad was built one mile east of Stoystown, with a stop in neighboring Kantner. Jitney service to and from the Kantner Station was provided for Stoystown's businesses and hotels for many years, first by horse and buggy and later motorized conveyance. Tax assessment records reveal that, despite lacking direct rail service, Stoystown's number of dwellings continued to rise (57 in 1880, up to 65 in 1889) while businesses fell off only marginally, numbering 28 in 1885 and 21 in 1889.
A reflection of Stoystown's continued vitality in the later half of the nineteenth century was the construction of several new houses of worship. German Reformed believers built a church on West Main Street by at least 1870 (not extant). The current Grace Lutheran Church, at 207 East Main Street, was erected in 1888. Their parsonage, today the privately owned home at 320 West Main Street, was put in the same year. The present United Church of Christ was constructed in 1897, at 206 East Main Street. Another nineteenth century congregation, no longer active in Stoystown, was Methodist- Episcopal.
Rural folk from surrounding rural areas, along with village residents, were attracted to Stoystown's social clubs, recreation, education, and political institutions. Historic buildings constructed for those activities are concentrated on South Somerset Street. Stoystown Lodge No. 372 I.O.O.F., organized in 1849, used the ca. 1900 hall located at 203 South Somerset Street until around 1970. The Junior Order of Mechanics was also housed there. Stoystown's ca. 1929 public school, at 220 South Somerset Street, operated until 1947. The front flat roof section of the building was constructed initially; the hip roof rear addition with rooftop ventilators and housing the gymnasium, was added on later. Behind the public school, the Stoystown-Quemahoning Recreation Park (ca. 1930) was built by the Works Progress Administration. Located at the far southeast corner of the village, at 245 Somerset Street is the ca. 1900 "Election House," a small one-story wood frame building identified as a former polling place by older residents.
Stoystown's resurgence as a road town in the 1920s, with the designation of the Lincoln Highway, in part resulted from the Good Roads Movement that brought pressure on government to improve the nation's roads. Beginning in the 1890s with support from bicycle enthusiasts, proponents of rural free delivery, and businesses, efforts were launched to improve the nation's road system. After decades of incremental progress, a privately funded initiative was launched in 1913 proposing a continuous automobile route linking the east and west coasts. Named the Lincoln Highway, the route followed ancestral routes including the old turnpike through Stoystown.
In 1927 the Lincoln Highway was designated Route 30 by the federal government and, the following year, the Stoystown bypass was built -a new highway alignment that placed the route outside (south) of the borough line. Ironically, this action physically preserved the Lincoln Highway character of Main Street. Main Street still rambles through Stoystown, following the terrain the way all roads once did. The physical context of the historic turnpike/Lincoln Highway road is enhanced by Stoystown's many historic buildings that flanking the road, dating from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries.
Historic Significance: Transportation
The site for Stoystown was clearly chosen because of its location on an important overland route and secondarily as a center to serve settlers in the surrounding rural area. Stoystown's history and surviving physical resources are explained more by its role as a road town than any other theme. First, the linear layout of its street grid was built along the spine of the road. Second, oral history, written accounts (histories, postcards) and physical evidence (buildings) relate a number of transportation-related stories. Examples include postcards of auto travelers poised in front of hotels and auto shops. The 1923 "Directory of Citizens of Stoystown and Vicinity," describes "tourists passing by the hundreds in summer (on the Lincoln Highway). ..many stopping at restaurants and boarding houses (and) stores of every kind.. ." A partial list of surviving buildings with transportation lineage includes: homes once occupied by turnpike investors, carriage makers and merchants, former hotels that served tourists in both the horse drawn and auto ages; homes that formerly housed restaurants, at least one former rooming house from the Lincoln Highway era, and a commercial building that had a general store that sold automobile-related products.
Stoystown's oldest buildings line Main Street, the route of the Lincoln Highway and its ancestral routes, demonstrating that this major east-west transportation route has influenced Stoystown's growth patterns since it's founding. Indeed, five of Stoystown's six confirmed log houses (since sheathed over) and the two oldest brick dwellings are all located on Main Street, between North Walnut and Somerset Streets. One of the two oldest brick buildings was constructed at the pivotal corner of East Main and North Walnut Streets -where the turnpike and later Lincoln Highway turned abruptly north, to exit Stoystown in the direction of neighboring Kantner. This ca. 1830 brick building is located at 319 East Main Street. George Graham, a stockholder in the Stoystown and Greensburg Turnpike Company, briefly owned the building. Other owners (between 1830 and 1850) include John Garman, Stoystown's first wagon maker, and Benjamin Bowman (1871-1884), another wagon and carriage maker. The same building housed a tavern in 1858. Stoystown's second cab 1830 brick dwelling, located at 125 East Main Street, also has ties to the transportation theme. It too was once owned by John Graham, who may have operated an inn here in the 1830s. A later owner, Samuel Kimmel (1849-1857), was a stockholder in the Somerset and Conemaugh Turnpike Company. A well preserved commercial building that housed one of Stoystown's several carriage shops (identified on Beers' 1876 Atlas of Somerset County) is not far off Main Street -on the rear alley of 137 East Main Street, at the corner of North Church Avenue and East Forbes Road.
Both of Stoystown's largest turnpike-era hotel buildings, that served east-west overland traffic, survive today on Main Street. They span both the earlier turnpike and later Lincoln Highway eras and are still providing housing and commercial services. The ca. 1830 Custer House, 112-116 Main Street, corner with Somerset Street, much revered by residents because of its age, is touted as Somerset County's oldest surviving hotel building. Although the original name of this hostelry is not known, namesake Samuel Custer was the owner between 1870 and 1897. During the Lincoln Highway period, according to local residents, the ca. 1830 Custer House was operated as the Colonial Inn. The most famous Stoystown hotel, at 121 West Main Street, is the Hite House (National Register listed, 1998) built by John H. Hite in 1853. The Hite House was a popular subject for post cards during the Lincoln Highway era, depicting automobile outings. The hotel sign proclaimed it "Auto Headquarters."
A number of buildings located on Main Street, formerly restaurants, groceries, gas stations, hotels and rooming houses, have lineage dating from the Lincoln Highway and its precursors. Stoystown residents identify 101 East Main Street, today A.J.'s Coffee Shop (at the four corners), as the former General Forbes Inn -likely during the Lincoln Highway years. Photographs dating ca. 1920 depict the New Graham Restaurant operating from the present-day Deaner Funeral home, at 133 East Main Street. A photograph from the same period shows a "Rooms for Rent" sign hanging from the Belinda Ferner Hite House located at 201 West Main Street. H.J. Specht and Son (today Blanset Hardware), 101 West Main Street, opened in 1914 as a general store and photographic evidence shows advertising directed at motorists on the Lincoln Highway. Another Lincoln Highway resource stands in front of the Dr. Shober House, 220 East Main Street. Dating from 1928, it is one of the few surviving concrete Lincoln Highway roadside markers with a bronze plaque bearing the likeness of Abraham Lincoln.
Stoystown Historic District's transportation resources can be compared with three other road towns (the first two with historic districts), all located on the former east-west turnpike/Lincoln Highway route. Bedford Borough, 24 miles east of Stoystown, was settled 30 years earlier (1750) than Stoystown. It became the Bedford County seat in 1791 and grew rapidly. In contrast Stoystown, in neighboring Somerset County, developed as a road town and a minor rural center after 1778. Stoystown was a smaller commercial center for travelers on the cross-state Pennsylvania Road (later Lincoln Highway) and residents of the surrounding agricultural area. Two other road towns on U.S. Route 30, similar in size to Stoystown, are Schellsburg (15 miles east) and Jennerstown (seven miles west). Both flourished during the Lincoln Highway era and originally developed along the same ancestral routes as Stoystown. Both Schellsburg and Jennerstown lack Stoystown's concentration of large nineteenth century commercial buildings at a single crossroad. Neither of the towns was bypassed, as Stoystown was. Instead, today's U.S. Route 30 runs straight through both Schellsburg and Jennerstown. As a result, the road was widened to meet modern road standards, thereby reducing the setbacks of historic buildings in both towns. In contrast, Stoystown's 1927 bypass, had the effect of preserving the town's meandering Main Street character, resembling a "country road" and retaining the ambiance of the Lincoln Highway as it once existed in Stoystown.
Stoystown has been a significant commercial center for residents of the village and surrounding rural north-central Somerset County since it's founding. The village's principal intersection, at Main Street and Somerset Street, was an important destination for farmers, millers and other residents of north central Somerset County. South Somerset Street led to the county seat at Somerset, 10 miles to the south. North Somerset Street became Plank Road, leading to Johnstown located 20 miles north. This crossroad became the favored location for Stoystown's larger commercial buildings, most dating from the second half of the nineteenth century.
Occupying the west corner is the ca. 1880 Jonathan Griffin Building. With two large storefronts, it was purchased by J.C. Specht in 1912 who operated a general store at the location. There was also a grocery store located there until at least the 1970s. A rear brick addition, built by Specht to house the meat department, dates from ca. 1920. The Specht family also owned the ca. 1920 H. J. Specht Hardware (today Blanset Hardware), 101 West Main Street (north corner). Catering to the greater Stoystown area, Specht sold Hercules Powder Co. explosives for local coal mines, hardware and farm supplies. Occupying the south corner at 100 West Main Street is the 1922 Laurel Bank building. Construction of a "big town bank" signified Stoystown's growing prosperity and its importance as a financial center for residents and businesses in north- central Somerset County. Stoystown's other larger commercial buildings were also built close to the main intersection.
Stoystown Historic District has well preserved vernacular and formal architectural styles representing the early-nineteenth to early-twentieth centuries. Most are vernacular forms, while one-quarter of the buildings exhibit architectural styles including (in order of frequency) the following: Four Square, Queen Anne, Bungalow, Prairie, Federal, Italianate, Victorian Gothic, Colonial Revival, Classical Revival, Dutch Colonial Revival and International styles. Beginning with the oldest style represented, from the early settlement period, are two Federal style buildings. The ca. 1830 brick dwelling at 319 East Main Street occupies the corner of Main and North Walnut Streets. This two-story house is five by two bays with inside end chimneys and a recessed center entry incorporating decorative carved and sawn woodwork. The Federal style two-story brick dwelling at 125 East Main Street has three by two bay fenestration with one inside end chimney.
A number of Stoystown's architecturally significant buildings date from the mid to late- nineteenth century. The Custer House (ca. 1830/70), a six bay heavy timber frame building, was given lavish Italianate/Queen Anne style facade alterations in the late nineteenth century. Added were segmental window arches, decorative window surrounds, paired eaves brackets and a wide paneled frieze board. Another prominent Italianate design building is the ca. 1880 Jonathan Griffin building. One of Stoystown's larger commercial buildings, it has large storefront windows with prism glass, decorative window lintels and a hip roof. Most of the historic district's Queen Anne style buildings are residential. Several high style examples are located on the periphery of the district. Near the end of West Main Street, at #410, is the 1878 Calvin Fulton Farmstead. It is Stoystown's premier example of the Queen Anne style, with a crossgable bargeboard, round arched windows arranged in pairs and a porch with turned posts and balusters. The property includes an ensemble of well preserved outbuildings, all displaying decorative window trim: a summer kitchen, barn, shed, and two outhouses. The barn includes both sunburst and sawtooth ornamentation. The 1908 Frank J. Fulton House at 424 West Main Street, a late example of the Queen Anne style, features steep crossgables, fishscale gable ends and a Colonial Revival style porch supported by Doric order columns. The first owner of 424 West Main Street, Frank J. Fulton, was a well known mason who constructed foundations and stone walls for many properties still standing today in the town. Another notable Queen Anne building is a ca. 1870 former carriage shop, on the rear alley behind 137 East Main Street -a two-story wood frame building retaining highly decorative sawn wood details and sliding barn doors.
Early twentieth century architectural styles are the most numerous in Stoystown's Historic District. Builders constructed in a number of styles including: eight Four Square, three Bungalow, three Prairie, and one each of Colonial Revival, Classical Revival, Dutch Colonial Revival and International styles. A representative Four Square style dwelling is the George Engle House (ca. 1928), 221 Meadow Street. There are three over one vertical muntin sash, a dormer facing the street, and wood shingle sheathing. The property's ca. 1920 garage is one bay wide with a front gable roof and clapboard siding. The most distinctive example of this style in the district is the J.W. Trostle House (ca. 1910), 500 West Main Street. Featured are a wraparound porch and walls constructed with stone-faced concrete blocks and molded brick-size blocks with rope designs. The well preserved ca. 1920 asymmetrical Bungalow at 320 West Perm Avenue has a recessed front porch, overhanging bay with corner posts and a bay window. Located at the beginning of the entrance drive is a well preserved wood frame horse barn.
The (1910) Dr. Custer House is a Prairie style dwelling located at the intersection of north Walnut Avenue and East Main Street. Distinctive features include: overhanging eaves, bay windows topped with ornamental porch railings, wide low-profile dormers, and a sun porch. The following buildings are the only example of their architectural style in the district. The ca. 1945 Richard Stetler House (411 East Main Street) is a brick Colonial Revival style dwelling with a side gable roof and attached garage. Laurel Bank (1922), 100 East Main Street, is a two story brick Classical Revival style building with dentils, pilasters, columns and leaded windows.
The ca. 1900 Dutch Colonial style dwelling at 216 East Main Street, with a side facing gambrel roof, was brick encased at a later date by owner H.J. Specht. A noteworthy resource (although listed as non-contributing, because of the 1946 cut-off date for this MPDF nomination) is the ca. 1950 Dr. Minick House, 408 East Main Street. It is built with International style features including horizontal massing, long banks of windows and thinly cut stone facing under a flat roof.
Stoystown's architectural resources compare favorably with several nearby communities along the Lincoln Highway. Stoystown's oldest architecture begins with a few early nineteenth century Federal style homes, log houses and other vernacular forms. Bedford's Historic District, located in a larger community, has an older and broader selection of high-style architecture. Bedford features a number of Colonial Revival, Federal, Georgian and Greek Revival style examples from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Bedford's architectural richness and variety extends through the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with many fine examples of Italianate, Second Empire, Beaux Arts, Art Deco and Bungalow styles. As expected of a small rural town, Stoystown's architecture is predominantly vernacular as is Schellsburg's Historic District. Significantly, one-third of Stoystown's buildings exhibit architectural styles including (in order of frequency): Four Square, Queen Anne, Bungalow, Prairie, Federal and Italianate, Victorian Gothic, Colonial Revival, Classical Revival, Dutch Colonial Revival and International styles. This gives Stoystown a stronger component of early twentieth century architectural styles, whereas Schellsburg's principal architectural strength is its early nineteenth century brick buildings. Jennerstown lacks Stoystown's range of architectural styles and its multi-story nineteenth century commercial buildings. Although Jennerstown counts more businesses than Stoystown, mostly are housed in non- contributing one to one and one-half story vernacular buildings, dating from three time periods: ca. 1920s, the post-world War II era and ca. 1970-1990.
Stoystown continues to display the ambiance of a road-town that prospered in several waves from the early nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries. Transportation- related businesses, serving the traveling public, formed the largest single industry in the village for a century. The former Lincoln Highway route (following the footprint of the earlier turnpike) through Stoystown, on East-West Main and North Walnut Streets, retains its integrity. It is a narrow curvilinear road, following a gently undulating path through the village. Closely flanking the road are the majority of Stoystown's homes and businesses, and one surviving Lincoln Highway marker. The well preserved buildings are links with the histories of the Pennsylvania Road and the Lincoln Highway. Several buildings figure prominently in Stoystown's oral heritage, recited by the town's older generation. The best known landmarks are the former Custer House, Hite House, the former (brick) turnpike inn at the corner of East Main and North Walnut Streets and Deaner Funeral Home -formerly a restaurant and possibly a hotel. The Lincoln Highway stimulated investment activity and community boosterism, resulting in: the construction of the village's first free-standing bank building, the brick- facing of several prominent buildings, the moving of two large buildings (the Hite House and a church) back from the busy highway, and the erection of a half-dozen new homes on the periphery of the village. The vast majority of buildings in the historic district retain their original massing, scale, materials, and setbacks. Non-contributing buildings, few and scattered, are not a threat to the integrity of this road town's historic district.
† Daily, Jonathan E., Stoystown Historic District, 1999, nomination document, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.