Emlenton Historic District
The Emlenton Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. 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 Emlenton Historic District is a mixed-use district of approximately 180 acres, located on the north side of the Allegheny River within the Borough of Emlenton in Venango County, in northwestern Pennsylvania. The district consists of a residential and commercial area near the river, a larger residential neighborhood north of the downtown, and an industrial sector at the west end of the district. In addition to the commercial, residential, and industrial resources within the district, several historic churches, and other institutional buildings are scattered throughout the area. Predominant architectural styles include Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Gothic, Neo-Classical, Tudor, and Colonial Revival, Craftsman, and Bungalow. The earliest architecture is generally closest to the river and as the town grew northward up the hillside, later architecture becomes more evident. The Emlenton Historic District contains a total of 375 resources built between the first third of the nineteenth century and the 1980s, including 317 buildings, 57 structures and one object. All but one of the structures are oil-related and are found within the confines of the Quaker State Oil Refining Company complex, which lies at the western end of the district. Of the total number of resources within the district 335 (89%) are contributing to the character of the district and 40 (11%) are non-contributing. Contributing resources are those dating from the period of significance of the district, which retain a high integrity of design, feeling, workmanship, materials, and setting, and which have not been altered to the degree that they no longer convey a sense of history within the context of the district. Non-contributing resources are those which were built outside the period of significance of the district and/or have been altered so extensively that they no longer convey a sense of history within the context of the district. The district possesses an overall high degree of integrity. The period of significance of the district begins in 1837, corresponding to the construction of the Valley House Hotel and ends in 1945, corresponding with the end of the "Production Phase" of the historic petroleum industry in western Pennsylvania, as described in the Multiple Property Documentation Form, "Resources of the Oil Industry in Western Pennsylvania, 1859-1945." The closing date also corresponds with the approximate date of construction of the latest of the historic buildings within the district.
The Emlenton Historic District is arranged primarily in a grid pattern of streets and alleys. Moving away from the Allegheny River, the principal streets are River Avenue (originally Allegheny Street and later Water Street), Main, Myrtle, and Hill Streets, and Highland Avenue, followed by Chestnut, College, Center, Pearl, Garden, and Walnut Streets. Strawberry Alley runs between River Avenue and Main Street and Oak Alley runs between portions of Hill and Chestnut Streets. Running perpendicular to the above streets and alleys are First through Ninth Streets. Kerr Avenue runs diagonally from the southeast to the northwest from Myrtle Street to the northwest edge of the district. Spring Alley parallels Kerr Avenue between Kerr and College Street. An abandoned railroad right-of-way runs between River and Main Streets, above Strawberry Alley.
The topography of the Emlenton Historic District rises gently from the banks of the river until Hill Street, where the slope of the hill steepens considerably until Pearl Street, where the land is comparatively flat. The northernmost extreme of the district, along Walnut Street, lies approximately three hundred feet above the river.
The cultural landscape of the Emlenton Historic District includes dense development patterns within the small downtown area and medium density development within the residential neighborhoods. Resources in the vicinity of Pearl and Garden Streets, near the northern edge of the district, are more widely dispersed and include several undeveloped tracts. Within the business district, buildings are typically constructed flush with one another, with no front-lot setback. The streetscape of the central business district is generally devoid of vegetation. Within the residential area along the east end of Main Street, many early homes are built flush with the sidewalk; the residential neighborhoods which developed away from the downtown in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century feature front, side, and rear yards with mature shade trees.
The architecture of the Emlenton Historic District includes building styles representative of most of the modes of design popular during the period of significance, as well as a sampling of vernacular architecture from the period. Residential architecture of much of the mid- and late-nineteenth century is executed in styles such as Greek Revival styles, as well as Bungalows.
Residential architecture within the district is comprised primarily of single-family homes, some of which have been converted for multi-tenant use. Most homes are wood frame, executed in a relatively modest scale, 2 to 2 1/2 stories in height; a few French Second Empire-style residences are three stories in height. Tudor Revival-style residences of the second quarter of the twentieth century are 1 1/2 and 2 stories and are of brick construction with some half-timbered exterior finish. Foundation material includes fieldstone, ashlar stone, and brick, as well as later innovations such as concrete block (rusticated and rock-faced), glazed tile block, and poured concrete. The vast majority of roofs are gabled and hipped, clad in slate or composition shingles; French Second Empire-style homes are distinguished by the Mansard roofs characteristic of the style. Most buildings have original chimneys, although there are instances where roof repairs have resulted in the chimneys being removed or shortened. Many residences in the district retain original front porches; some porches have original trim and others feature early replacement trim. A small number have had detailing removed.
Greek Revival-style residential design reflects the architecture of the earliest years of Emlenton's evolution. Homes executed in this style are built exclusively of wood frame construction, capped with gable roofs, and are either gable-end or lateral-side oriented to the street. Distinctive features include trabeated entryways with transom sash and sidelights, gable ends with partial returns of the cornice, and vernacular interpretations of classical detail such as the triglyph-trimmed entry of the ca. 1860 Harry Crawford birthplace at 620 Main Street. The lateral-side oriented homes are generally of five bays, while gable-end oriented homes generally have the entry offset on the right or the left of a three-bay facade. Major examples of this style within the district include: H. J. Crawford birthplace, mentioned above, with a centered entrance and modest frontispiece entrance with pilasters and a cornice trimmed with triglyphs; 20 Main Street, (ca. 1850), sited on a hill overlooking the river and including a centered entrance with transom and sidelights and a two-story gallery also centered on the facade; 11 River Avenue (ca. 1850), a wood frame house of five bays with a centered entryway with sidelights and pilasters; and the Jeremiah Heasley House (214 River Avenue, ca. 1884), also wood frame with a five-bay facade, centered entrance, and transom and sidelights.
In Emlenton, the Greek Revival style was succeeded by the Gothic Revival style, characterized locally by a verticality of form, wood frame construction, and the use of bargeboard- or pendant-trimmed eaves. Five homes represent this style. The house at 302 Main Street (ca. 1863) is built of wood frame with a three-bay facade, an Eastlake porch, exterior operable shutters, and a gable roof broken by offset gablets trimmed in bargeboard. At 712 Hill Street is a 2-story home (ca. 1880), with bargeboard and brackets under the eaves. The home at 711 Ken Avenue (ca. 1870) is a 1 1/2-story wood frame cottage with rusticated quoins and a steeply-pitched intersecting gable roof with pendants in the pediments of the gables. A 2-story wood frame residence is located at 614 Kerr Avenue (ca. 1870) and features a gable roof, a centered gable on the facade trimmed with sawn bargeboard, and a porch with chamfered posts and sawn ornament. The fifth example of the Gothic Revival style is found at 412 Eighth Street, and is a deteriorated ca. 1870 wood frame residence set well back from the street, with wall dormers and matching window heads trimmed with bargeboard.
In the third quarter of the nineteenth century, Italianate-style residences were built within the district, characterized by tall, narrow fenestration and bracketed cornices. Notable examples of this style include: oilman T. B. Gregory's home (202 Main Street), a wood frame house of 2 1/2 stories sited on a prominent corner, with a bracketed cornice and window heads of incised wood; and 518 College Street (ca. 1870), a three-bay home with a centered double entry door with transom, French windows on the first floor, and a wood porch with chamfered posts, sawn bracketry, and an upper balustrade.
French Second Empire-style homes within the Emlenton Historic District are Italianate in proportion and are universally capped with the distinctive Mansard roof which defines the style. This relatively opulent style was not common within the district, since the style was popular before the heyday of oil in Emlenton. The French Second Empire style is represented in Emlenton by the G. W. Crawford House at 304 Hill Street (ca. 1870), a three-story wood frame home with a spacious vista over the river, dominated by a Mansard roof with segmental-arched dormers, a 1-story bay window, and a veranda with paired columns and turned balustrade.
The flamboyance of the Queen Anne style is not widely seen in the district, but is nonetheless present, and is typified by homes of irregular plan, a variety of exterior wall finishes, and a tower or turret at one of the corners. Principal examples of this style are the ca. 1890 H. J. Crawford House at 619 Hill Street, built of wood frame with an octagonal tower offset on the facade, as well as the C. E. Crawford House at 306 Hill street (ca. 1890) with an octagonal tower and a bay window with an octagonal roof. The Jeremiah Heasley House of ca. 1884 at 214 River Road is a vernacular Greek Revival-style five-bay house with a Queen Anne-style tower added on the rear.
The Stick style, so named because of the use of exterior wood trim suggesting units of interior structural framing, is seen in one property, the ca. 1890 H. B. Mitchell House at 612 Hill Street. Built of wood frame, the Mitchell House is L-shaped in plan, and has a porch trimmed with a Japanesque balustrade as well as gable ends and gable dormers with rectilinear Stick Style trimboards.
Homes of the more academic styles built during the twentieth century are executed in the following styles: Colonial Revival, Neo-Classical Revival, Dutch Colonial Revival, Bungalow, and Tudor Revival. Colonial- and Tudor Revival-style homes are typified by the designs of regionally-prominent architect W. Holmes Crosby. Some residences are vernacular in character but display academic detailing such as porches, entryways, etc.
Colonial- and Neo-Classical Revival-style homes in Emlenton include the Crosby-designed house at 705 Chestnut Street, a ca. 1930 Colonial Revival-style brick residence with a gable roof and an offset gable on the facade, casement windows, and a frontispiece entrance with a swan's neck broken pediment. At 404 Highland Avenue is a 3-story ca. 1910 Colonial Revival-style wood frame home with a truncated hipped roof and hipped dormers and a wood porch supported by Tuscan columns and trimmed with a square balustrade. The brick residence at 604 Garden Street (ca. 1928) represents the work of architect W. Holmes Crosby; sited on a spacious corner lot, it features a steeply-pitched lateral gable roof and projecting gable on the facade, and is roofed with decorative slate; the main entry is shielded by a 1-story semi-circular Tuscan portico and fenestration features original steel-frame casement windows. Representative examples of the Neo-Classical Revival style include a ca. 1905 wood frame residence at 208 Main Street, with a 3-bay facade and a centered entryway featuring transom and sidelights, set off by attenuated pilasters, and the Dr. Kuhn house, also of ca. 1905 (314 Main Street), 2 1/2 stories in height with a symmetrical facade, a broad veranda with Tuscan columns, and a hipped roof with a centered dormer. The Gossor-Ken House at 414 Hill Street (1897) is a 1 1/2-story L-shaped brick residence with shingled pediments and a veranda trimmed with Corinthian columns and an ornate balustrade and further distinguished by art glass windows.
The Dutch Colonial Revival style is defined by the gambrel roof, the distinctive double-pitched roof popularized by the early settlers of New York. Dutch Colonial Revival-style homes within the Emlenton Historic District are generally modest in scale, gable-end and lateral-end oriented, and always gambrel-roofed. Representative examples of the style include: 622 Pearl Street, a ca. 1930 brick home with a lateral end-oriented gambrel roof and large shed dormer on the facade and a sunroom on the side; and 611 Hill Street a ca. 1920 Sears-Roebuck mail-order house with a three-bay facade and a large shed dormer.
Several Bungalows are found within the district. These modest twentieth-century residences are 1 1/2 stories in height, with gable roofs which extend over a recessed porch on the facade and are often capped with dormers to increase the floor area of an otherwise small second story. Representative Bungalows in the district include: 214 Myrtle Avenue ca. 1920), a wood frame house with a gabled dormer and recessed front porch; 811 Hill Street (ca.1920), designed similarly to 214 Myrtle Street but integrating a porch of brick and wood as well as ten-light transoms on the facade; and 618 Center Street (ca. 1920), of wood frame with a jerkinhead gable roof and hipped dormer and including a recessed porch supported by simple columns and trimmed with a decorative shingled balustrade.
Scattered throughout the historic district are modest vernacular homes of the working class families of the community. In most neighborhoods in the district, working class residents lived side-by-side with community leaders and industrialists. "Irishtown," the workers' neighborhood between Kerr Avenue and the Quaker State Refinery, contains a cohesive collection of vernacular-style residences of wood frame construction with little or no notable architectural embellishment but significant nonetheless due to their association with the workers in the community.
Mercantile buildings within the central business district are typically of brick, set upon foundations of coursed nibble or ashlar stone. Most are two stories in height and typically have storefronts on the first story and residential or office space above. The majority of the upper-story floor space is unoccupied at the time of writing. Roof profiles are typically flat or nearly so, sloping gently from front to rear. Some original chimneys remain, while others have been removed in the course of roof repairs. Commercial uses vary widely, including traditional retail uses such as a pharmacy, an auto parts dealer, and a restaurant. Commercial buildings within the district are generally Italianate-derived, with storefronts on the first story, tall, narrow windows above, and cornices of wood or metal. Representative examples include: 502 Main Street, the district's finest historic commercial building, with an essentially intact 1870s exterior including a cast iron storefront; Fleming Criswell's 1912 Furniture Store/Undertaking Parlor at 610 Main Street, with an original storefront, a second-floor balcony, and a metal cornice; 702-704 and 708 Main Street (ca. 1880), both of wood frame construction with a generally intact exterior; the Valley House Hotel at 618 River Avenue (1837), which has been considerably altered but is nonetheless representative of the very earliest days of Emlenton's commercial life, and the Krear Building at 613 Main Street (ca. 1900) a 2- and 3-story brick building with an intact storefront and metal cornices. The largest commercial building in the downtown is the Farmers National Bank Building of 1904, a 3-story Neo-Classical Revival brick bank building which dominates the block in which it stands. Roadside architecture is represented by the Criswell-Bishop Building (715 Main Street), built of structural tile ca. 1920 by F. B. Criswell, the town's first Buick dealer. The building also served as a temporary school during the 1928 construction of the Crawford Memorial School.
Several examples of historic institutional architecture are found in the Emlenton Historic District, including five churches, two schools, and one government building. The churches are modest in scale, generally one story in height; two are masonry and three are wood frame. Four continue in use as churches and one has been renovated for residential use. The earliest extant church is the 1869 St. John's Reformed Church (402 Main Street); erected as an unusual joint venture between the local Reformed and Lutheran congregations, St. John's is a Gothic Revival-style brick building with a gable roof and gable-end orientation to the street with a wood tower centered on the facade. Also executed in brick in the Gothic Revival style, the 1874 Emlenton Presbyterian Church (508 Main Street) has a tower centered on its gable-end-oriented facade and features a roof of polychrome imbricated slate. Midway up the hill, with a commanding view of the downtown and the river, the 1886 St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church stands at 512 Kerr Street. St. John's is also Gothic Revival in style and is built of wood frame clad in shiplap siding, and includes a three-stage tower with cresting and ornamental wood trim including bargeboard in the eaves. The 1873 Methodist Episcopal Church (314 Hill Street) is a Romanesque Revival-style wood frame church with an offset crenellated square tower and bracketed eaves; it has been converted for residential use. St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church, at the corner of Chestnut and Ninth Streets, is a 1-story wood frame church which was erected in 1870 and was remodeled to its present appearance in 1930. Vaguely Colonial Revival-style in form, St. Michael's features an exterior finish of stained shingles, a 1-story Corinthian portico on the facade, and a 3-stage tower with a domical cupola.
Two historic school buildings are in the district. The smaller of these, a modest former one-room school at 407 Hill Street (ca. 1850), was converted for residential use, likely in the 1870s when the Central School was built; it gives the appearance of a cottage, gable-roofed with a gable-end orientation to the street and a delicate Eastlake-style porch with turned posts. The 1928 Elizabeth Crawford Memorial School (605 Hill Street) was the former high school; constructed of brick and highly ornamented with terra cotta trim, it was designed by Oil City architect W. Holmes Crosby and was built with funds provided by oilman H. J. Crawford. Crawford also financed the construction of the Emlenton Borough Building (413 Hill Street), designed similarly to the Crawford Memorial School and built at the same time, and also designed by architect Crosby.
Historic industrial architecture is found within the district as well. The 1874 Emlenton Mill (201 Main Street) is a five-story wood frame building with an exterior of shiplap siding, erected by Cochran and Bennett and later operated by the Emlenton Milling Company. It has been sensitively re-used as an antique mall. The 1874 Emlenton Water Company building (101 Eighth Street) is an industrial vernacular-style brick building containing the community's water treatment and pumping plant. The Roschy Carriage Works (rear, 213 Main Street) is a 2-story vernacular wood frame building in a serious state of deterioration but nonetheless significant to the nineteenth-century industrial heritage of the district. The Quaker State Refinery dates from as early as the 1890s and completely dominates the westernmost reaches of the Emlenton Historic District. Located on a narrow, raised floodplain along the Allegheny River north and west of the commercial area of the district, the refinery is a sprawling ca. 26-acre evolutionary industrial facility whose appearance is one of historic and continued use. The complex contains refinery buildings, piping and machinery, large storage tanks, and associated industrial vernacular buildings. Among the resources within the refinery are four large brick and metal-sided buildings of one, two, and three stories with a variety of additions. Approximately seventeen large metal above-ground storage tanks and approximately forty-three smaller tanks dot the landscape, surrounded by earthen containment berms. The appearance of the Refinery is changing constantly, particularly with the removal of many of the above-ground steel storage tanks no longer needed for the refinery's present use as a wax plant. A variety of other cultural landscape features, such as small sheds, platforms, and refining equipment is scattered throughout the complex; these are not separately counted in the Resource Inventory. A rail siding once ran through the plant, along with four main loading stations for transferring products to tank cars; the siding has been removed but some of the loading docks remain. A system of large and small pipes connect the various facilities. The evolution, age, and uses of most of the refinery components are not clear, since Sanborn Insurance Maps were no longer being prepared during the era that the present-day refinery complex assumed its existing form and function. As noted above, the refinery complex remains in use as a wax processing plant.
One object, a World War I military commemorative monument, is located on Kerr Avenue at the intersection of Hill Street directly opposite the Crawford Memorial School. The monument consists of an assembly of two grindstones and one piece of cut sandstone, set upon an octagonal concrete base. The object is further articulated by a plaque bearing the inscription, "Placed by the Fort Venango Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, Emlenton, Pennsylvania, 1927." The plaque bears the names of 147 area veterans of the First World War, with stars marking the names of those killed during the conflict. Erected in 1927, the monument is of importance not only as a military commemorative object, but also as a montage of individual objects from the area's history. The two grindstones came from a ca. 1850 mill built by Andrew Spanoble on Mill Creek about 6 miles from Emlenton; eventually purchased by Louis Giering, the mill was later known as Giering's Mill. It was demolished in 1907. The cut sandstone block was part of the foundation of the 1870s Emlenton School, razed at the time of construction of the Crawford Memorial School.
A total of 57 contributing structures are found within the Emlenton Historic District. The contributing structures are all within the confines of the Quaker State Oil Refining Company complex and include a variety of above-ground steel storage oil tanks, a bulk fuel loading rack, etc. One non-contributing structure, a Pennsylvania Electric Company substation, is located at the corner of Kerr Avenue and Garden Street and consists of transformers, high-tension cabling, and related components. The substation is a non-contributing feature due to the fact that it does not date from the period of significance of the district.
The resources within the Emlenton Historic District are in a generally excellent state of repair and suggest only scattered evidence of disinvestment. Some sensitive rehabilitation work has occurred in the district, spearheaded by the local Chamber of Commerce and a dedicated core of volunteers. Two landmark homes on the river bank have been converted into bed-and breakfast inns: the Jeremiah Heasley House/Apple Valley Bed & Breakfast (214 River Avenue) and the Barnard House (109 River Avenue). As mentioned above, the Emlenton Mill has been converted into an antique mall with spin-off rehabilitation occurring in adjoining homes, creating a major tourist draw for local and regional travelers. Other examples of period-appropriate exterior painting and storefront rehabilitation efforts give the Emlenton Historic District a particularly attractive appearance.
Insensitive rehabilitation activity and demolition has occurred on a small scale within the confines of the district. The railroad depots were razed many years ago. Fire destroyed a large residence-turned-commercial building at the corner of Main and Fifth Streets; this property was replaced by a convenience store/office building. A multi-family public housing facility, two stories in height, was built on Main Street between Fifth and Sixth Streets, across the street from a contemporary medical clinic. A small amount of clearance has occurred within the downtown to create surface parking areas, and some buildings were removed from the areas abutting the railroad right-of-way. As in virtually any older area, the introduction of new materials — particularly artificial siding — has wrought some of the most pervasive changes in the Emlenton Historic District. Noncontributing resources are generally spread throughout the district, and where minor concentrations exist — as along some of the river front — they are of a scale and appearance that do not greatly disrupt the fabric of the district. The presence of insensitive rehabilitation or noncontributing resources does not diminish significantly the ability of the district to meet the National Register requirements for integrity of setting, design, feeling, workmanship, materials, and association.
Taken as a whole, the Emlenton Historic District stands out as a cohesive collection of residential, commercial, and institutional architecture, which also contains one singularly important industrial resource. The district, with its vistas of the Allegheny River, is characterized by a compact residential area of small-, medium-, and larger-scale homes of varying architectural styles, erected for the local leaders of the oil industry, for the merchant class, and for the working class.
The Emlenton Historic District is significant for its association with the broad pattern of industrial development patterns within the Oil Region of western Pennsylvania, particularly as the home of one of the nation's major petroleum refiners, Quaker State. The district is also significant as the reflection of the success of the oil industry, manifest in the commercial and residential buildings erected within the community. The district's residential neighborhoods contain the homes of oilmen and industry executives as well as workers. The district is significant for its association with Emlenton-born resident Harry Jennings Crawford, a leading oil industrialist over a fifty-year span in the late nineteenth and twentieth century and an unsurpassed philanthropist in his home town. The district is significant for its collection of historic residential, commercial, institutional, and industrial architecture, representing many of the popular styles of architecture of the period of significance and also because of the presence in the district of historic buildings designed by regionally-prominent architect W. Holmes Crosby. The period of significance of the district begins in 1837, when the district's earliest extant building (Valley House Hotel) was built, and ends in 1945, corresponding to the end of the "Production Phase" of the Pennsylvania oil industry as described in the Multiple Property Documentation Form, "Resources of the Oil Industry of Western Pennsylvania, 1859-1945." The Emlenton Historic District meets the registration requirements for Property Types la, 1b, and 1c, commercial historic districts, residential historic districts, and oil-related manufacturing and industrial districts, respectively.
The Emlenton Historic District is significant for industry, reflecting the growth of this oil town throughout the period of significance. The central business district is characterized by buildings dating from the heyday of nineteenth-century oil exploration in the area through the establishment of the refinery here in the 1890s and the birth of Quaker State in the early 1930s. The residential neighborhoods contain the homes of the oilmen and industry executives as well as refinery workers. Complementing the residential and commercial architecture are the district's five historic churches, the spiritual homes of both the workers and the owners of the refinery. Representative of early industrial development is the Emlenton Mill, erected in the mid-1870s for the processing of flour and grain. The five-story wood frame complex, located at Main and Second Streets was built by miller James Bennett in 1874 or '75. A steam-powered operation, it had engines and boilers totaling sixty horsepower, which ran nine sets of rollers with a capacity of 150 barrels daily. The source of power was eventually converted to natural gas and electricity. The mill operated continuously for more than a half-century. During World War II the building was used for storage by Quaker State and by the Bantam Company. In 1946 it returned to operation and remained in production until 1974. The refinery itself dominates the north end both of the town and of the historic district. The complex is spread along the banks of the Allegheny River, a constant reminder of the forces which shaped this community and made it different from boomtowns such as Pithole and Petroleum Centre, whose raison d'etre vanished when the wells dried up.
The Emlenton Historic District is significant for its association with Harry Jennings Crawford (1867-1953), oilman extraordinaire, philanthropist, and a leading businessman in the region for more than a half century. Crawford grew from humble origins in Emlenton to become a prominent financier and co-founder of the Quaker State Oil Refining Company. Born in a modest ca. 1860 Greek Revival home at 620 Main Street, he was educated in local public and private schools and as a youth pumped oil wells for his father. Young Crawford also assisted in laying the first natural gas line into Emlenton and eventually became involved with the Emlenton Gas, Light, and Heat Company, serving as the organization's treasurer for fifteen years. Crawford also served as lease superintendent for the South Penn Oil Company, one of the early giants in oil exploration within the northwestern Pennsylvania Oil Region.
In 1898 he organized the Emlenton Refining Company and in 1900, with Thomas B. Gregory, undertook the rehabilitation of three oil wells near Emlenton. He and Gregory (whose home at 202 Main Street (also in the district) set up business extracting oil and gas, trading as Crawford and Gregory. H. J. Crawford built his life around the oil industry, with ancillary associations with banking in Emlenton and Oil City. His involvement with the oil industry eventually led to multi-million-dollar entrepreneurial activity in petroleum exploration and refining. In 1931 Crawford was one of the principal organizers of the Quaker State Oil Refining Company, when that company was formed from nineteen smaller refining operations, including Crawford's Emlenton Refining Company and the Oil City-based Independent Oil Company (later the Independent Refining Company, Ltd.), of which Crawford was a director. Quaker State built its trade based upon the high heat-resisting lubricant which had been developed by Crawford's turn-of-the-century Emlenton Refining Company and which Crawford had marketed under the "Quaker State" brand as early as 1914. Its recognized superior quality even caused the producers of the Franklin automobile to recommend only Quaker State for use in their vehicles; a two-gallon container of the oil was supplied as a standard feature under the front seat of every new car they produced.
H. J. Crawford was president of Quaker State from the time of its organization until 1947, when he became Chairman of the Board of the oil giant, a post which he held until the time of his death six years later. Shortly before he died, he was honored with the title, "Pioneer of Pioneers," bestowed upon him by the International Petroleum Exposition at Tulsa, . From 1909 until his death in 1953, Crawford was also president of the First National Bank of Emlenton (where he had started as cashier) and from 1934 until 1953 served as president of the Oil City National Bank. He also was president of the Oil City-based Citizens Banking Company, but resigned in 1939 due to banking conflict-of-interest laws. His directorates ranged far and wide, including the Columbia Gas & Electric Company (New York City), the Manufacturers Light & Heat Company (Pittsburgh), the Emlenton-based Pennsylvania Fuel and Supply Company, the Union Heat & Light Company and the Slippery Rock Heat & Light Company (both of Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania), the Mountain Fuel Supply Company (Salt Lake City), the Devonian Oil Company (Tulsa, Oklahoma), the Reno Oil Company (Sistersville, West Virginia), the Talon Fastener Company (Meadville, Pennsylvania) and the Lightning Fastener Company (Ontario, Canada) — the latter two of which were pioneers in the manufacture of zippers.
Crawford's role in local philanthropy is unsurpassed. In the mid-1920s he engaged Oil City architect W. Holmes Crosby to design a new school building for his home town. Completed in 1928 and built entirely at Crawford's expense, the building (605 Hill Street) was named Crawford Memorial School, in honor of his wife and parents; it was in continual use as an educational facility in Emlenton for nearly seventy years. Presently vacant, re-use potential for the building is under study at the time of writing. At the same time, Crawford commissioned architect Crosby to prepare plans for a new municipal building for Emlenton. Designed in a similar style to the Crawford Memorial School, the Emlenton Borough Building (413 Hill Street) is located one block away from the school. H. J. Crawford's philanthropy also extended to higher education; he established the Crawford Scholarship Trust, which provided educational grants to Emlenton students who attended nearby Grove City College, and was the principal donor for the construction of Crawford Hall, on the Grove City campus.
Crawford lived his entire life in Emlenton, first in his birthplace and boyhood home at 620 Main Street and later in his ca. 1890 Queen Anne-style home at 619 Hill Street.
The Emlenton Historic District is significant for its cohesive collection of historic architecture — residential commercial, institutional, and industrial — which dates from as early as the second quarter of the nineteenth century and which represents most of the architectural styles in vogue during the period of significance of the district. Emlenton possesses an outstanding array of nineteenth- and twentieth- century architecture, largely due to the wealth of the oil industry here. Within the Emlenton Historic District are found a variety of both academic and vernacular adaptations of the following styles: Greek, Gothic, and Romanesque Revivals, Italianate, French Second Empire, Queen Anne, Stick, Colonial Revival, Neo-Classical Revival, Dutch Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, and Bungalow. The Eastlake style is represented in exterior decorative motifs on porches and verandas, including turned support posts and upper and lower balustrades. There are also examples of mail-order homes from the first third of the twentieth century and pockets of vernacular-style workers' housing occupied by employees at the Quaker State Refinery.
The Emlenton Historic District is also significant for its association with the work of regionally-prominent architect W, Holmes Crosby (1888-1986). Crosby's Emlenton work has been identified by local historians and by property owners retaining original architectural plans; the identities of other designers/builders from Emlenton's historic period are not known. Crosby was a Grove City, Pennsylvania, native, and received his education at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University) in Pittsburgh. He completed his baccalaureate degree in 1914 and a Master's degree the following year, being one of the first three students to receive a Master's degree from that institution. He came to Oil City in 1915, and remained in practice for nearly a half century. He was first associated with well-known Oil City architect Emmett E. Bailey before opening his own practice in 1922. Throughout the region Crosby designed residences, schools, churches, and public buildings. In Emlenton, his work includes the Crawford Memorial School and the Emlenton Borough Building, as well as 604 Garden Street, 308 Highland Avenue, and 705 Chestnut Street.
Viewing the Emlenton Historic District within the context of other similar resources within northwestern Pennsylvania, this community is the most architecturally cohesive of the small towns along the Allegheny River in the Lower Region of the Pennsylvania oil fields. Franklin, Oil City, and Warren — all outside the Lower Region — are larger Allegheny River cities, and while they posses a rich legacy of historic fabric, neither exudes the "small oil town" qualities of Emlenton. Tidioute, on the Allegheny River in Warren County, is perhaps the most similar to Emlenton, but it is outside the confines of the Lower Region. Butler, the county seat of Butler County to the south, is in the Lower Region, is a much larger city than Emlenton and has been impacted by new construction and incompatible rehabilitation activities.
As demonstrated above, the Emlenton Historic District is significant as the reflection of patterns of industrial development within the Oil Region of western Pennsylvania. The district is associated with oilman/entrepreneur/philanthropist H. J. Crawford. The district is significant for its collection of historic residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional architecture, some of which are associated with regionally-prominent architect W. Holmes Crosby.
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