Wellsboro Historic District
The Wellsboro Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. 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 Wellsboro Historic District is a 360-acre mixed-use commercial/residential/institutional historic district located in the Borough of Wellsboro, the county seat of Tioga County, Pennsylvania which lies along the northern tier of the Commonwealth near the New York State border. The historic properties in the district are built of wood, brick, and stone, and date from 1835 to the early 1950s. Included in the district are commercial properties in the downtown, a diversity of residences and churches both in the downtown and in the residential neighborhoods, two historic cemeteries, and the "Green," substantial public park in the center of town opposite the Tioga County Court House. Architectural styles appearing in the district include the Greek, Gothic and Romanesque Revivals, Italianate, Stick, Eastlake, Queen Anne, Colonial and Neo-Classical Revivals, Bungalow, American Foursquare, Art Deco, and Moderne. The district encompasses approximately ten percent of the community's land area and contains 648 unlisted resources, of which 641 are buildings, four are objects, and three (the Wellsboro Cemetery, the Green, and the Roman Catholic Cemetery) are sites. Three properties within the district were previously listed in the National Register: the Robinson House at 120 Main Street (NR 8/3/77) is now the headquarters of the local historical society, the Jesse Robinson House at 141 Main Street (NR 2/21/91) is presently a residence and professional office, and the National Guard Armory at 2 Central Avenue (NR 5/9/91) is used as county offices. These previously-listed resources add significantly to the overall historic character of the district; they appear on the district map and Resource Inventory but are not calculated in the resource count. The Wellsboro Historic District retains integrity and reflects much of the appearance which it exhibited at the end of the period of significance.
Five hundred thirty-five (83%) of the district's resources contribute to its character and one hundred thirteen (17%) are non-contributing features; non-contributing resources are those which date from outside the district's 1835-1953 period of significance and/or have been altered to the degree that they no longer substantially reflect their appearance throughout the period of significance. Non-contributing resources are scattered widely throughout the district and their presence does not detract materially from the district's ability to reflect its appearance during the period of significance.
The Wellsboro Historic District is arranged in a grid of streets, with three small waterways defining portions of the district's borders: Charleston Creek flows east-to-west from Charleston Street to Cone Street and north-to-south from Charleston Street to Queen Street; Morris Creek meanders north-to-south between Morris Lane and Central Avenue; Kelsey Creek is a tributary of Boyden Brook and intersects the western boundary of the district and after emerging from a culvert runs northward to Tioga Street. Several major roadways traverse the district. Main Street extends southwest to northeast, East Avenue (U. S. Route 6 known also as the Roosevelt Highway and later as the Grand Army of the Republic Highway) extends easterly from Main Street, Central Avenue (Pennsylvania Route 287) running northwest to southeast, and West Avenue (Pennsylvania Route 660) extends Main Street in a westerly direction to the west edge of the district.
The Wellsboro Historic District contains a variety of well-preserved examples of most of the architectural styles that were popular during the period of significance, as well as vernacular adaptations of many styles, and properties exhibiting no particular stylistic influence. The earliest building in the district is the Federal-style Tioga County Court House of 1835. This style was followed by the Greek, Gothic, and Romanesque Revivals, Queen Anne, Stick, Eastlake, and French Second Empire, Neo-Classical and Colonial Revivals, and Bungalow, American Foursquare, Art Deco, and Moderne.
Greek Revival style domestic design appears in the properties at 56 Central Avenue, 146 Main Street, and 46 Pearl Avenue. The Gothic Revival style is seen in 19 Bacon Street, 28-30 Central Avenue, 58 Central Avenue, and 10 Cone Street. Italianate design is seen in the homes at 43 Central Avenue, 15 Charleston Street, and 140 Main Street. The 1850 Italianate style residence at 140 Main Street is locally known as the "Lincoln Door House," since when Dr. and Mrs. J. H. Shearer purchased the house in 1858, the front door was given to Mrs. Shearer by Mary Todd Lincoln, a close friend of Mrs. Shearer from the time that they both lived in Springfield, Illinois. The door had come from an unidentified Springfield home.
Italian Villa style design includes the substantial homes at 10 West Avenue and 96 East Avenue; both properties are capped with belvederes characteristic of the style.
Styles from the late nineteenth century represented in the district include the French Second Empire style, which was employed for the home at 33 Pearl Street. Queen Anne style residences in the district include those at 13 and 23 Bacon Street, 19 Central Avenue, and 139 Main Street. Stick style homes are found at 24 Central Avenue and 142 Main Street.
Twentieth-century architectural styles in the Wellsboro Historic District include the Colonial Revival, seen at 143 and 144 Main Street, the Dutch Colonial Revival, evident in the homes at 14 Austin Street, 1 Cortland Street, 12 Walnut Street, and 44 West Avenue, and the Tudor Revival, which is reflected in the properties at 25 Bacon Street, 26 Central Avenue, and 46 Walnut Street. Bungalows and American Foursquares were built in areas of the district which developed between the World Wars. Bungalows include 7 and 28 Austin Street, and 86 East Avenue. American Foursquares appear at 10, 20, 21, 30, and 38 Austin Street, 9 Bacon Street, 4 and 5 Cortland Street 40, 76-1/2, 84, and 86 East Avenue.
Two houses in the district are identified as mail-order catalog homes sold by the Sears-Roebuck Company. These homes are at 53-1/2 Central Avenue and 80 East Avenue.
The Italianate style — and vernacular derivations thereof — applied to commercial design appears on both sides of Main Street between Waln Street and Central Avenue. Representative examples include 25, 33, 63, 65, 67, 68, 69, 74, 75-79, 78, 80, 81, 82, and 90 Main Street. The Art Deco style appears in the 1932 R. J. Dunham Building at 47-55 Main Street and in the 1924 Arcadia Theater at 50 Main Street and the Moderne style is represented by the 1939 Wellsboro Diner at 19 Main Street.
The architecture of the district reflects the level of maturity in Wellsboro at the turn of the twentieth century, by which time many of the resources in the district were in place. High-style houses were built for civic and industrial leaders, primarily along Main Street and West Avenue. Among these are the French Second Empire style home of Wellsboro philanthropist Leonard Harrison at 10 West Avenue and the previously-listed Robinson House at 120 Main Street. Less affluent families occupied more modest settings on the "back" streets.
The character of the district is that of a small, rural county seat with tree-lined streets intersected by open brooks and characterized by landscaped boulevards, spacious lawns in the residential areas, and buildings built to their respective lot lines in the business district.A feature which adds considerably to the visual character of the district is found along portions of both Main Street and Central Avenue, which have boulevards with trees, grass, and Wellsboro's signature gas street lights mounted on cast iron poles. In addition to front lawns, the residential areas of the district have side and rear yard setbacks which contain a variety of small-scale domestic dependencies including garages, smaller outbuildings, and sheds, etc., which are treated as uncounted resources.
The residential areas of the district contain a diversity of domestic design interspersed with secular and religious institutional buildings. Residential buildings are typically two to three stories in height, set on stone or brick foundations and built of wood or brick, with wood construction predominating. With the twentieth century came new residential building materials including poured concrete and concrete block, both of which were employed for some foundations. Domestic roof forms include gable, pyramidal, and hipped. Elaborate late nineteenth-century homes display multiple roof types, French Second Empire style Mansard roofs, and Dutch Colonial Revival gambrel roofs. Dormers penetrate many roofs. Most homes have asphalt shingle roofs; very few historic slate roofs remain. Residential fenestration is primarily flat-topped. Many homes retain historic corbeled or plain brick chimneys; in some cases, chimneys have been removed in the course of re-roofing or the replacement of older heating systems. Wellsboro's residential neighborhoods exhibit a wide variety of porches and verandas, ornamented with turned and sawn trim, delicate balustrades and decoration ranging from the modest to the elaborate.
At the southwest end of the central business district, opposite the Green is the 1835 Tioga County Court House. The largest secular institutional building in the district, it is of stone construction, Greek Revival in character, with a compatible 1974 addition. Adjacent to the Court House is the brick 1880 Italianate Jail & Sheriff's Residence, which has been converted for office use. The previously listed 1932 National Guard Armory (Thomas H. Atherton, architect) is at 2 Central Avenue.
Four historic churches are within the district, the earliest of which is the 1894 First Presbyterian Church. These buildings are of stone, wood, and brick construction, set on stone foundations, with gabled and hipped roofs. Fenestration on these buildings varies, and most incorporate religious art glass. The windows of the 1899 St. Paul's Episcopal Church are the work of the Tiffany Studios. Styles represented by religious buildings include the Greek, Gothic, Romanesque, and Colonial Revivals. The 1860 former Lutheran Church (now the school district office) is of Greek Revival design, the 1897 St. Paul's church is of Romanesque Revival style design, the 1870 St. Peter's Church (now the Knights of Columbus Hall), the 1894 Presbyterian Church, and the 1905 Methodist Church are of Gothic Revival style design. The 1950 Baptist Church represents Colonial Revival design.
The Wellsboro Depot is on Charleston Street along the district's northeast boundary. The depot is a stuccoed-brick Arts and Crafts style station and was built in 1914. The depot is in a working class neighborhood, and afforded railroad workers a short walk to work during the heyday of the railroad in the community.
The district contains three contributing sites, two of which are cemeteries. The Wellsboro Cemetery opened in 1856 at the northeastern terminus of the district and the Roman Catholic Cemetery dates from roughly the same period and is near the district's southwestern corner. The third site is the "Green," a square community park measuring approximately 240 feet on each side and located on a flat parcel in the heart of the community between Main, Central, Charles, and Pearl Streets. The "Green" is bisected by sidewalks and is dotted with mature trees. It contains a variety of contributing and non-contributing objects, the earliest of which is the soldiers and sailors memorial which was dedicated on November 18,1886 and honors Tioga County's Civil War veterans. Among the other objects on the Green are a statue of a sailor honoring veterans of all wars, a commemorative stone remembering long-time newspaper editor and publisher Edwin Van Valkenberg (1869-1932), bearing the inscription, "Edwin A. VanVakenburg 1869-1932, humanitarian, eminent in civic service, editor, publisher," and the 1886 John Magee statue which honors the founder of the locally-prominent Fall Brook Coal Company. The McGee monument bears the inscription, "the story of a useful and honored life may be told in these words: his energy and diligence compelled success, his ability and integrity won public confidence, his kindness and liberality drew to him the affectionate regard of rich and poor. Permitte divis caetera." In 1938, a cast bronze statue of children's literature characters Wynken, Blynken and Nod was erected in the center fountain and was dedicated to the memory of Elizabeth Bailey, the wife of community leader Fred Bailey.
Located at various points throughout the district are sixteen deck bridges and culverts which carry roadways across the streams which traverse the district. These structures lack any notable detailing and with respect to the resource count are treated as uncounted low-scale resources; incomplete public records suggest that eleven of these structures date from within the period of significance and five post-date the period of significance.
The overall appearance of the Wellsboro Historic District ranges from the dense construction of the central business district to the considerably less congested land use characteristics of the residential neighborhoods. Buildings in the downtown range from the single-story Moderne style 1939 Wellsboro Diner at 19 Main Street to the c. 1910 four-story Penn-Wells Hotel at 62 Main Street, which is the district's tallest building. The predominate building height in the downtown is two stories. Most buildings in the downtown rest on stone foundations and are of common bond brick construction, Italianate in character, with tall and narrow fenestration patterns and storefronts which vary from those reflecting early remodelings to those whose appearance was altered following the period of significance. 109 Main Street is finished in polychrome sandstone, the Wellsboro Diner at 19 Main Street has a stainless steel exterior, and the 1932 Art Deco style R. J. Dunham Department Store at 47-55 Main Street is of poured concrete. Fenestration in the commercial district is varied, including flat-topped, segmental-arched, and round-arched window forms. The roofs on most downtown buildings are flat or slope gently from front to rear. These roofs are not visible from the street; their coverings are likely of a welded metal, of a built-up composite finish, or rubber membrane, if they are of recent installation. Some chimneys have been retained in the downtown, although many have been removed in the course of early remodelings or retrofitting of heating systems. Parking lots occupy a small number of lots where buildings have been removed, most parking is on the street and along the rear of the downtown lots.
New construction is dispersed throughout the district and fails to reduce significantly the district's uncompromised integrity. The highest concentration of newer buildings is found in several clusters of buildings on East Avenue and Pearl Street. The Wellsboro Hospital and the Green Home (a nursing home) are the most notable of the new buildings in the district. Large as these buildings are, the otherwise strong concentrations of historic properties on virtually all of the district's streets more than makes up for the negative effect of these two non-contributing resources. Alterations to historic properties in the Wellsboro Historic District include window replacements, porch removal, and the cladding of wood buildings in non-historic siding. Many of the district's larger historic homes have been converted for multi-tenant occupancy. Within the downtown, storefronts reflect renovations more than the upper facades of the district's historic commercial architecture. Sensitive rehabilitation has occurred throughout the Wellsboro Historic District in both the residential and commercial areas.
The Wellsboro Historic District period of significance begins in 1835, the date of construction of the earliest extant building in the district (the Tioga County Court House) and extends to 1953, corresponding both to the National Register fifty-year guideline and also the date of the most recently completed of the district's historic buildings. The Wellsboro Historic District's significance for politics/government derives from the community's position as the county seat of Tioga County; the Tioga County Court House and the adjacent Jail/Sheriff's Residence are prominent features in the heart of the district and establish firmly the district's role in regional government. The district's significance in the area of commerce is established by Wellsboro's role as a regional commercial hub in this rural northern tier Pennsylvania county, a position that Wellsboro occupied throughout the district's period of significance. Military significance is established by the presence of the previously listed Wellsboro Armory built in 1932 at 2 Central Avenue. Architecturally, the district's significance derives from the presence in the district of locally and regionally significant examples of many of the styles of architecture popular throughout the nearly one hundred twenty-year period of significance. The district's significance is strengthened by examples of the work of regionally and nationally prominent practitioners, including Andrew Jackson Downing, to whom is attributed the Downingesque Gothic Revival style board-and-batten house at 58 Central Avenue.
Wellsboro was founded in 1806 by Philadelphian Benjamin Wistar Morris (1762-1825). Morris was twice married, first to Anna Ellis; local tradition maintains that the community was named in honor of his second wife, Burlington County, New Jersey native Mary Wells Morris (1764-1819). The original boundaries of the settlement were Queen, Walnut, King, and Water Streets and included a grid of streets arranged around a public common, known as the "Green." In addition to the common, lots were set aside for government (now occupied by the court house) and for a meeting house (now occupied by a commercial building at the southeast corner of Main Street and Central Avenue). The earliest growth of the community occurred around the Green. Growth was slow and by the 1820s, only about thirty families occupied the settlement. Wellsboro was incorporated as a Borough in 1830 and by the mid-1830s, fifty-nine families made their home in the new community. As the nineteenth century progressed, the community grew outward along East, West, and Central Avenues and Tioga Street.
Tioga County had been erected from Lycoming County and Wellsboro was named county seat. In 1835 the Federal style Tioga County Court House was erected of native sandstone on Main Street opposite the Green. During its early decades, Wellsboro lay in the densely-forested area which became known as north-central Pennsylvania's "northern tier" and which eventually became the center of much of Pennsylvania's lumbering industry. Small-scale, locally-based industries initially developed in the community, including a brewery, cigar factory, a carriage works, a meat processing plant, and mills; no vestiges of Wellsboro's earliest industrial heritage remains within the district.
Wellsboro's earliest period of growth, between the 1830s and the turn of the twentieth century, was at first of an agricultural character and was later associated with the lumber industry. As noted by historians Bruce Bomberger and William Sisson in Made In Pennsylvania,
"During the 1850s and 1860s Pennsylvania came to lead the nation in the production of sawed and planed lumber... By the mid-nineteenth century, market demand was exploding... sparked by the growth of the country, and then by the outbreak of the Civil War. The most influential development in the industry occurred when Major James H. Perkins arrived from Maine and organized local entrepreneurs to construct the Williamsport log boom. While other log booms were constructed, the mammoth one at Williamsport made that city the world's largest lumber entrepot."
Wellsboro, located about fifty miles northwest of Williamsport benefitted significantly from the flourishing of lumbering. Large-scale logging occurred along Marsh and Pine Creeks and Wellsboro's Leonard Harrison became one of the regional leaders in the industry. Two residences in the district (96 East Avenue and 10 West Avenue) are associated with Harrison.
The second half of the nineteenth century witnessed significant growth and development in Wellsboro. Commercial development in the downtown occurred in the wake of two major fires in the 1870s which destroyed much of the downtown. As rebuilding occurred, brick became the favored construction material and the extant character of the commercial portion of the historic district reflects this era of reconstruction. The community assumed a more settled character and social and religious institutions were established and thrived, in addition to serving as institutional anchors, the district's historic churches contribute significantly to the architectural character of the community.
During the last third of the nineteenth century significant strides were made in transportation in and around Wellsboro. In 1872 the Lawrenceville and Wellsboro Railroad laid the first line into the community, followed in 1881 by the Jersey Shore, Pine Creek, & Buffalo, whose line connected Wellsboro to Williamsport, concomitant with the flourishing of the great central Pennsylvania lumber boom. With transportation available, lumber harvesters and local businesses alike could ship their products out of Wellsboro for sale, and merchants in the downtown could receive goods far more easily from the eastern markets. By 1880, the community's population was 2,228 and by 1890, 2,961.
The extraction of coal played a major role in Wellsboro's commercial history between c. 1870 and the 1930s. However, it was the twentieth-century glass industry which flourished here from 1910 until the end of the period of significance and became the major economic stimulus in the community for generations. The Columbia Window Glass Works (outside the district) had been among the community's earlier industries, but its operation had ceased by the early years of the twentieth century. The Corning Glass Works, from Corning, New York, about fifty miles to the north, acquired the Columbia property in 1916 and began the manufacture of light bulbs. By the 1920s, the plant employed 650 workers and, using an acid bath process, began the innovative production of bulbs frosted from the inside. By the 1940s, the glass plant was manufacturing colored Christmas ornaments as well. Although the glass plant lay outside the district, the district was nonetheless home to many of its workers and managers and was a major economic and social force in the community. Both the character of the residential neighborhoods and the prosperity of the central business district benefitted significantly from the presence of the plant in Wellsboro. Twentieth-century development in Wellsboro was marked by continuing slow, but steady growth. The lumber industry waned, but the glass industry flourished and workers settled in the borough while others commuted from the outlying townships to work in town.
Located in the uplands of Pennsylvania's northern tier, Wellsboro has long been a tourist destination for those seeking outdoor recreation, and as the automobile grew in popularity in the first half of the twentieth century tourism became an economic force in the community. Outside the Borough is the Pine Creek Gorge, popularly known as the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. The canyon is a fifty-mile-long, one thousand-foot-deep area embraced by 300,000 acres of State-owned forest land. Forty-mile view sheds can be enjoyed from the pinnacles of the canyon, the presence of which has had a significant effect on the economy of downtown Wellsboro, owing to the influx of tourists who for generations have traveled to Wellsboro to tour the canyon. The most obvious tangible effect of the tourist economy in the district is the Penn-Wells Hotel, which was built in the early years of the twentieth century on Main Street following the 1906 destruction by fire of the nineteenth-century Coles House hotel. The largest building in the historic district and a significant anchor within the central business district, the Penn-Wells has been a favored lodging destination in the historic district since the time of its original construction.
At the close of the period of significance in the early 1950s, Wellsboro retained the character of a small town county seat. The economy of the community was somewhat diversified and while tourism contributed to the vitality of the community, Wellsboro still depended largely on the glass industry which had been such a force since World War I.
The district's significance is established by its architecture, which includes examples of many of the formal styles popular for domestic, commercial, and institutional design throughout the 1835- 1953 period of significance. The significance is strengthened by the district's association with architect William Halsey Wood, who designed the 1899 Wellsboro Episcopal Church; his commissions also included the Carnegie Library in the Pittsburgh suburb of Braddock. Another architect whose work has been identified within the district is Thomas H. Atherton, a Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania practitioner who, in addition to the Wellsboro Armory (1932) also designed the National Register listed armories in Berwick, Carlisle, Harrisburg, Kingston, East Stroudsburg Milton, and Mansfield.
The district's architecture includes commercial buildings as well as an array of public and private institutional buildings built in the downtown and a substantial residential neighborhood surrounding the downtown. Commercial architecture within the district includes nearly all of the contributing properties along both sides of Main Street including the properties at 19, 25, 33, 47-55, and 50 Main Street, the aforementioned Penn-Wells Hotel at 62 Main Street, 63, 65 ,67, 68, 69, 74, 75-79, 80, 81, 82, and 90 Main Street. These buildings reflect the Italianate style and vernacular variants thereof, as well as in the Art Deco and Moderne styles.
One building in the district is associated with military significance: the previously-listed Wellsboro Armory.
The religious growth of the district resulted in the construction of several substantial historic religious buildings, erected from the late nineteenth century until the end of the period of significance. These buildings mirror the religious heritage of the community and are themselves significant examples of particular styles of design. Among these are the First Baptist Church (after about 1912 known as the Church of Christ Independent now the Independent Bible Church) at 47 East Avenue which dates from 1905, the 1905 Methodist Episcopal Church at 38 Main Street, and the First Presbyterian Church of 1894 at 128 Main Street. All of these churches are executed in the Gothic Revival style. St. Paul's Episcopal Church (William Halsey Wood, architect) was built in 1899 on Pearl Street facing the Green, and is Romanesque Revival in style. The Romanesque Revival style is also seen in the imposing arcaded stone portal at the entry to the Wellsboro Cemetery.
Domestic design in the Wellsboro Historic District includes most of the styles popular during the period of significance.
The formally-derived architecture of the Wellsboro Historic District occurs concomitantly with the popularity of vernacular local building traditions executed by unidentified carpenters and builders. These buildings are of co-equal importance with the more elite-styled architecture which characterizes much of the district.
With reference to Criterion A, since its designation as county seat, Wellsboro has played a central role in the socio-political life of the county and governmental institutional architecture within the district includes examples from both the nineteenth and twentieth century. The presence of the Tioga County Court House and the adjacent combination Jail/ Sheriffs Residence provides tangible evidence of the patterns of governance in Tioga County. The court house at 116 Main Street dates from 1835 and was complemented c. 1880 by the Italianate style Sheriff's House and Jail erected immediately to the east at 114 Main Street. During the 1930s a Neo-Classical Revival style U. S. Post Office (converted for office use and in private-sector ownership) was built at 2 Waln Street.
Viewing the Wellsboro Historic District in the context of similar resources in the area, several observations can be made. Along this portion of the Pennsylvania northern tier, specifically along Route 6, are National Register historic districts in Coudersport (Potter County, to the west), Towanda (Bradford County, to the east), and Honesdale (Wayne County, further east). Each of these districts includes a historic commercial area which served a regional clientele during its historic period. Also, each is anchored by a court house, although Wellsboro's 1835 Federal-style court house is the oldest. The court house of Potter County is Greek Revival in style and dates from the early 1850s and Bradford County's court house at Towanda is a Renaissance Revival style building built in 1896.
Like the Wellsboro Historic District, the Coudersport and Towanda districts are of a mixed-use character, including commercial, residential, and industrial properties. The Honesdale district is a residential district, although a commercial district has been determined eligible for the National Register by the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office. Most of the districts were affected by nineteenth- and twentieth-century fires and all of the districts contain basically the same character of architecture, spanning the styles from Greek Revival to American Foursquare. Among these, however, the Wellsboro Historic District is unique for the existence of the Green at the heart of the district and for the boulevarded streets in the downtown, complete with gas street lights which date from within the period of significance.
Summarizing, the Wellsboro Historic District contains significant concentration of historic residential, commercial, and institutional architecture from throughout the 1835-1953 period of significance and meets National Register Criterion A for its association with the patterns of local government and politics (as the Tioga County seat), the military (for the presence of the National Guard Armory), and commerce (as a regional market center in a rural county). The district meets Criterion C for architecture since it retains a strong concentration of notable examples of many of the styles of design which were popular during its century-long period of significance.
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