North Side Historic District
The Oil City North Side Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. 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 Oil City North Side Historic District is an area of 250 acres containing a late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century neighborhood located northeast of the central business district of the City of Oil City, Venango County, in northwestern Pennsylvania. The northern reaches of the district overlook Oil Creek, which flows through the community from north to south toward its confluence with the Allegheny River in the downtown area of the city. The district is nearly exclusively residential in character; only a few neighborhood commercial buildings, churches, and two schools are interspersed with the housing stock. Most buildings are of modest proportions, two to two-and-one-half stories in height, and constructed of wood. The major church buildings and all three schools are of masonry. Foundation material includes coursed rubble and ashlar stone along with twentieth-century innovations such as concrete and ceramic tile block. Those residences which exhibit formally-derived characteristics draw from motifs reminiscent of the Italianate, French Second Empire, Neo-Classical, and Colonial Revival, and Dutch Colonial Revival styles, along with vernacular adaptations of each. Since some sections of the district developed during the first forty years of the twentieth century, Bungalows and American Foursquares are found in these areas. Many buildings are executed without reference to any formal style; virtually every street in the district contains vernacular cottages, gabled ell homes, and simple gable-fronted dwellings. Some nineteenth-century homes retain Eastlake-style verandas with turned porch posts and related trim. The churches in the district are Romanesque Revival, Gothic Revival and Late Gothic Revival in design; one religious building was converted from its original use as a residence. The Palace Hill/Polish Hill area of the district, northeast of Plummer Street, is characterized by buildings of less pretension than the neighborhood southwest of Plummer Street. No single area contains a preponderance of any individual style. The overall physical character of the district is that of a late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century residential working class neighborhood, built upon two hillsides which intersect each other and whose topography resulted in portions of several streets remaining unopened and undeveloped. The district contains 1,214 resources, of which 1,140 (94%) contribute to the character of the district and 74 (6%) are non-contributing. Approximately 30% of the buildings were built during the nineteenth century and 70% date from the twentieth century. Of the buildings in the district, 95% are residential in character and the balance is of commercial or institutional character. No structures, sites, or objects within the district possess significance or scale to justify their individual identification. The district retains integrity; non-contributing resources are dispersed widely throughout the area and do not significantly detract from the ability of the district to convey a sense of history reflective of its period of significance (c. 1870-1945). The district is located on the slopes and plateau of a hillside overlooking both the downtown and the "Hogback," the precipitous hillside across Oil Creek northwest of the central business district. The oldest buildings in the district date from the early 1870s, the years which followed the initial oil boom in Venango County; most construction occurred between c. 1880 and the 1930s. While no single area contains a majority of buildings from any particular era, some of the oldest buildings are in the vicinity of Pearl Avenue. The neighborhood developed in an easterly pattern moving up the slope away from Pearl Avenue and, consequently, the age of the buildings generally decreases moving toward Cedar and Linden Avenues near the eastern edge of the district. The topography of the district rises sharply away from Grove Avenue and Spring Street on the west, away from the Allegheny River on the south, and away from Emerald Street on the northwest. Portions of the district are too steep to be buildable and contain undeveloped woodland with steep precipices supported by retaining walls of stone and concrete in varying condition. These walls are treated as landscape features and are not included in the district's resource count. Most streets are paved with asphalt and alleys are generally unpaved. Some historic brick sidewalks are extant as additional uncounted landscape features.
Moving from west to east, the major streets are Spring, Grove, Emerald, Elk, Clearfield, Warren, and Jefferson Streets, Pearl Avenue, Clarion, Stout, and Oak Streets, Washington Avenue, Crawford and Mylan Streets, Bissell, Hoffman, Hone, and Cedar Avenues, Manning Street, Hasson Avenue, and Linden Street. Between several of these streets run the north-south Butler, Clark, Clarion, Crawford, Bissell, Hoffman, and Butternut Alleys. Moving from south to north the major streets are Colbert Street (originally Allegheny Avenue), East Bissell and Bishop Avenues, Graff Street, Harriott and Seeley Avenue, Plummer (originally Plumer) and Deer Streets, Cooper Avenue, and Cornplanter, Gay, and Lawrence Streets. East-to-west alleys include Water, Drake, Skelly, Lamberton and Haines (spelled "Haynes" on some plat maps) Alleys. Several alleys bear no recorded names.
Most streets and alleys within the North Side Historic District are arranged in a grid and intersect at right angles. The orientation of Plummer and Colbert Avenues is dictated by the topography, as is the angle with which Water Alley intersects Colbert Avenue. Building lots within the district are relatively small and most buildings are placed on the lots with modest setback from the street. The majority of the properties have small side yards and comparatively larger rear yards. Dependencies are scattered throughout the district and consist primarily of diverse and unremarkable outbuildings and automobile garages dating from the 1920s and 1930s. Larger dependencies (such as two-story carriage houses) are identified in the resource count, but sheds and single-story garages are treated as landscape features and are not generally included in the count.
The cultural landscape of the district is typified by dense residential development on nearly all of the buildable portions of the district. Landscaping varies from street to street according to the diligence of the residents and the lay of the land. Some streets retain mature shade trees. In some areas where trees have been removed, they have been replaced with new plant material, other streets are nearly devoid of plantings. The steep hillside areas contain mature deciduous trees which reflect no coordinated landscape plan and appear to have grown and matured as "volunteers."
Early in its history, the district was dotted with oil rigs, tanks, and central powers units. Some of these early industrialized features were depicted in T. M. Fowler's 1896 "bird's eye" view of the city, an excerpt of which appears as Figure 1 in the original National Register document. As the oil industry matured, Oil City itself became more settled. The appearance of the district matured as well and regionally-distinctive industrial structures such as oil-related paraphernalia eventually assumed the characteristics of public nuisances, and in 1908 became the subject of an ordinance prohibiting such construction "within one hundred feet of any church, school, or public building or any occupied house." The appearance of the district changed dramatically from its earliest days to the 1920s, by which time the neighborhood essentially assumed its present appearance. As the neighborhood matured, more permanent and substantial homes were built, along with schools, churches, and neighborhood commercial buildings, the streets were paved, the oil rigs were removed, and trees were planted.
As noted above, the majority of the buildings in the district are residential in character. Construction materials vary between wood and brick, with wood predominating significantly; one church is of stone and some homes are stucco-finished. The foundations of most buildings erected prior to c. 1900 are sandstone, either coursed rubble or ashlar. Later foundation materials reflect twentieth-century technological advancements which led to the mass production of concrete block (generally with rock-faced or rusticated profiles) and ceramic tile block. Roof forms are typically hipped or gabled; properties with more complex plans have multiple roof systems. The few French Second Empire-style buildings in the district have the Mansard roof which defines that particular style and Dutch Colonial Revival-style residences have gambrel roofs. Residential window forms vary widely throughout the district. Most window openings are flat-topped, with simple ornament and double-hung wood sash. Churches employ round-arched or lancet-arched window forms with religious art glass. Some multi-light residential "Queen Anne" sash and other forms of secular art glass appear on more pretentious homes. Most properties retain their historic chimneys, almost exclusively of brick and occasionally with corbeled decorative features, which penetrate the rooflines at various points and are usually of a modest rectangular form. The residences in this district nearly all were originally built with porches, some of which extended across the length of the facade and wrapped around a portion of one or more side elevations. Many of these porches remain, some with original supports and balustrades and others with replacement features. Porch trim includes both turned and rectilinear posts and balustrades. An apparent local design feature is found in porch railings which consist of solid wood bulkheads with recessed panels, similar to those found on commercial storefronts of the period.
Nearly all of the design modes popular during the period of significance are seen in the district, including old-world derivative styles such as Italianate, French Second Empire, Queen Anne, and Neo-Classical, Colonial, and Dutch Colonial Revival, along with more purely American products such as Bungalows and American Foursquares. The presence of houses built on speculation, from pattern books, and/or from mail-order sources is suggested by several house types which appear in repetition. Repetitive designs are represented by the buildings at 6 and 8 Seeley Avenue, 279 and 283 Hasson Avenue, 5 and 7 Graff Streets, 100-102 and 104-106 Washington Avenue, 101 and 103 East Bissell Avenue, 141 and 203 Cedar Avenue, and a set of three houses at 212, 207, and 206 Bishop Avenue.
One example of the "Lustron" house, a distinctive and regionally-rare post-World War II manufactured home with outer surfaces of enameled steel, is at 9 Hoffman Street.
Working-class vernacular design, particularly that found in the Polish Hill area, includes a variety of small-scale homes including gabled cottages (205 and 19 Crawford Street, 19 Crawford Street, 309 Clarion Street, 305 Clarion Street, 14 Deer Street, 12 Manning Street, and 528 Hoffman Avenue) and gabled ells (517 Bissell Avenue, 406 Bissell Avenue, 305 Jefferson Street, 9 Jefferson Street, 12 Clearfield Street, and 327 Emerald Street). These types of residences are also found within the district outside the Polish Hill neighborhood including at 200 Colbert Avenue, 309 Bissell Avenue, 305 Harriott Avenue, and 32 East Bissell Avenue.
Formal styles represented in the district's residential architecture include Italianate (22 Graff Avenue, 24 Harriott Avenue, 14, 26, 36, and 75 Pearl Avenue, and 8 and 137 East Bissell Avenue). The French Second Empire style is seen in the homes at 20, 22, and 28 Pearl Avenue, 128 Washington Avenue, and 28 East Bissell Avenue. Buildings executed in the Gothic Revival style include 13 Harriott Avenue, 47 Pearl Avenue, and 122 Washington Avenue. Queen Anne-style design is represented by the homes at 16 Colbert Avenue, 3 Graff Street, 11 Harriott Avenue, 213, 201, 102, and 116 Bissell Avenue, and 131 East Bissell Avenue. Some of the earlier buildings in the district retain modest Eastlake-style ornament, particularly as manifested in turned wood porch trim. These include homes at 112 East Bissell Avenue , 4, 306, 213, and 211 Harriot Avenue, and 103 Washington Avenue. Neo-Classical Revival-style residences include 60% and 35 Pearl Avenue, St. Joseph's Convent (29 Pearl Avenue), the double house at 324-326 Washington Avenue, 241 Washington Avenue, 120 and 609 Bissell Avenue, 183 East Bissell Avenue, and 105 Hoffman Avenue. The insertion of a sunburst motif or Palladian window in the pediment of the gable end of an otherwise modest home provides a flavor of the Colonial Revival style, as seen in the houses at 6 Harriott Avenue, 109 and 107 Harriott Avenue, 202 Plummer Street, 9 Stout Street, and 228 Plummer Street. More formal Colonial Revival-style architecture includes residences both with detailing and massing reminiscent of the Georgian period, such as the Blessed Assumption Rectory (210 Emerald Street), and the homes at 1 Graff Avenue, 1, 109, and 107 Harriott Avenue, 202 and 228 Plummer Street, 30 and 34 Pearl Avenue and 129 Washington Avenue. Gambrel-roofed homes, large and small, executed in the Dutch Colonial Revival-style, include repetitive house types at 6 and 8 Seeley Avenue, 216 Bissell Avenue, 18 and 122 Hone Avenue, 303 Hasson Avenue, 512 Hoffman Avenue, 217 Crawford Street, 2 Crawford, Street, 219 Clarion Street, and 315 Jefferson Street, and the repetitive houses at 206, 207 and 212 Bishop Street. Bungalows were erected throughout the district, particularly during the years between the two world wars. Representative examples of this style include the houses at 243 Washington Avenue, 3 and 204 Hoffman Avenue, 228 Hone Avenue, 289, 231, 137, and 302 Cedar Avenue, 213 Crawford Street, 312 Clarion Street, 505 Plummer Street, 311 Jefferson Street, 106 Clearfield Street, and 343 Emerald Street and the adjacent repetitive house types at 283 and 279 Hasson Avenue. American Foursquares are found throughout the district, including the properties at 113 Crawford Street, 3 Crawford Street, 302 Crawford, Street, 203 Clarion Street, 210 Clarion Street, 507 Plummer Street, 416 Bissell Avenue, 22 Warren Street, and 113 Emerald Street and at 308 Harriott Avenue, 207 Seeley Avenue, 57 Pearl Avenue. 51 Pearl Avenue, and 133 East Bissell Avenue.
The non-residential buildings in this otherwise solidly residential district include religious architecture (three churches, and a convent), three public and church-related schools, and a small sampling of commercial buildings. Most commercial buildings are located along the northwest edge of the district and are vernacular in character, of small scale (two to three bays in width), and are generally of wood construction set on stone foundations. All institutional architecture in the district is built on ashlar sandstone foundations and most are of an imposing scale. Except for the sandstone 1907-1908 First United Presbyterian Church (14 Harriott Avenue), these buildings are of brick. The largest single building in the district is the sprawling 1920s Oil City High School (69 Spring Street), which dominates a portion of the skyline of the southwest side of the district and whose earliest section dates from 1923. The district's institutional architecture is rectilinear in massing, with varying roof forms — churches have hipped and gabled roofs, St. Joseph's Convent is hipped-roofed, and the schools are flat-roofed. But for the lancet-and round-arched fenestration of the churches, most windows on non-residential buildings are flat-topped; the windows on the High School are of a multi-light configuration. The principal features on the skyline of the central portion of the district are the twin spires of St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, which since the early 1890s has been the spiritual anchor of many of the district's residents and a physical anchor for the entire neighborhood.
The architectural styles evident in the few examples of institutional properties within the North Side Historic District include the Gothic and Late Gothic Revival as seen in St. Joseph's Church (37 Pearl Avenue), the First United Presbyterian Church (145 Harriott Avenue) and Collegiate Gothic, represented by the Oil City High School (69 Spring Street) and the McSweeney Memorial High School (13 Seeley Avenue). The Blessed Assumption Church (8 Pulaski Street) is designed in the Romanesque Revival style.
The North Side Historic District as a whole retains a high degree of integrity. Among the most pervasive alterations to the buildings within the district are the application of synthetic siding (including the early twentieth-century use of asbestos and insul-brick), the replacement of historic window sash, and the removal of porches and decorative trim. Only a small amount of new construction has occurred in the district, consisting of a few homes and a scattering of dependencies, primarily automobile garages. Neither the alterations to existing buildings nor the instances of new construction seriously compromise the physical integrity of the district. Most extant buildings in the district are well-maintained. The religious properties are in excellent repair, and with reference to the district's institutional architecture, only the future of the High School — vacant at the time of writing — is in question. The sole park-like open space in the district is a small triangular grassy plot at the irregular intersection of Butternut Alley and Manning, Hoffman, and Gay Streets, containing mature shrubbery and a flag pole; this feature has neither the scale nor the character to warrant its being counted as a separate resource for the district. Sensitive rehabilitation projects have added to the visual quality of the district including the dramatic exterior color treatment of the Thomas Anderton House (201 Bissell Avenue).
Except for the typical insensitive alterations that occur over time, a limited amount of new construction, and twentieth-century additions reflecting the development of public utilities, the North Side Historic District has changed little since it assumed its essential form and character early in the twentieth century. The overall plan of the neighborhood has not been modified, streets have not been widened to create turning lanes or multi-lane traffic patterns, and land-use controls have prevented insensitive commercial intrusion into the inner reaches of this otherwise primarily residential neighborhood. Viewed in its entirety, the North Side Historic District represents a cohesive late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century petroleum-related northwestern Pennsylvania working class residential neighborhood in a generally well-preserved condition.
The Oil City North Side Historic District is associated with the historic petroleum industry in this leading northwestern Pennsylvania oil community. The district area was home to a broad and socially diverse spectrum of individuals associated with the petroleum industry, ranging from rig, pipeline, refinery, and other workers to corporate leaders associated with giants including John D. Rockefeller's National Transit Company. Within the context of working-class neighborhood development, the district is also significant as the home of an identifiable ethnic group consisting of Polish immigrants who, beginning in the 1880s, fled religious persecution and came to Oil City to make new homes in the New World. During the late nineteenth century, they settled a portion of the Palace Hill neighborhood and established a presence reflected still in the vernacular name by which that neighborhood is known: Polish Hill. Under Criterion C, the district stands as an architecturally-cohesive residential neighborhood containing examples of many of the architectural styles popular throughout the period of significance as well as workers' housing of vernacular character which stand beside pretentious homes of oilmen who — more often than not — in the past had been workers themselves. Among the styles which appear in the district are the Italianate, French Second Empire, Queen Anne, Gothic, Late Gothic, Neo-Classical, and Colonial Revival, Bungalow and American Foursquare. Interspersed among the examples of these styles are dozens of vernacular residences-gabled ells, gable-fronts, cottages, etc. — designed and built by anonymous carpenters without any formal antecedents. Modest though they are, these houses are equal in importance to those of the industrialists, since the workers, as well as the owners, built the oil industry and forged the history of oil in Oil City. The district is further significant under Criterion C for its association with regionally-prominent architects Joseph P. Brenot, Brenot & Hicks, Emmett E. Bailey, and W. Holmes Crosby, with Chicago church architect Adolphus Druiding, and with locally-prominent master builders Louis Bouquin and Maxwell Strickland. The district meets the registration requirements for Property Sub-Type 1b, residential historic districts, as described in the Multiple Property Documentation Form, "Historic Resources of the Oil Industry in Western Pennsylvania, 1859-1945." The period of significance of the district begins c. 1870 and ends in 1945. The earlier date corresponds to the approximate date of construction of the earliest extant resources in the district. The closing date corresponds with (1)the end of the "Production Phase" of the Pennsylvania oil industry as described in the MPDF and (2)with the approximate date of construction of the few more recent historic properties in the district.
Placing the North Side Historic District in an historical perspective, much of that area which now encompasses Oil City was part of a tract given in 1796 by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to the Seneca Indian chief, Cornplanter, in appreciation for his services to the colonists during the Revolutionary War. Over the next half-century, the land traded hands several times. The unincorporated settlement was initially known as Cornplanter and later as Oilville. With Col. Edwin L. Drake's 1859 discovery of oil at nearby Titusville, the prospects of the community soared. In 1862 the Borough of Oil City was incorporated and nine years later was chartered as a city. The unbridled growth of the area during the early years of the oil boom is evident in the population statistics which in 1860 recorded an estimated twelve families in the area that was to become Oil City. By 1865, more permanent buildings had been erected on both sides of the Allegheny River and the population topped 6,000, although few yet lived on the hillside that would become the North Side Historic District.
Much of the initial growth of the community occurred on the flood-prone flats along Oil Creek and the Allegheny River. From the time of the first recorded flood in 1862, however, the fear of flooding spurred the development of the adjacent uplands. Oil producers Graff, Hasson, & Company had acquired considerable land holdings in and around the district. In 1863, Charles Haines and Joseph Marston purchased a portion of the Graff and Hasson property and laid out building lots along Grove Avenue, which comprises part of the northwest edge of the district. Small homes were soon erected along this new street, and the entire neighborhood became known as "Cottage Hill." None of these 1860s residences survives, the result of the hastily-erected, boomtown nature of the early growth of the area.
In 1864, the remaining hillside above Grove Avenue, encompassing the district and outlying lands including St. Joseph's and Grove Hill Cemeteries (just outside the district boundaries east of Cedar Avenue), was acquired from Graft and Hasson by the United Petroleum Farms Association. The UPFA, managed by Imperial Boiler Works president Charles Cooper, was a multi-faceted land development entity which was described in an 1890 county history as controlling "vast estates in the oil regions — embracing oil fields whereon some of the most noted 'gushers' have been found; farm property devoted to agriculture; and valuable 'city property.'"
The lands which became part of the North Side Historic District were included among the Association's "valuable city property." The UPFA platted three hundred acres in building lots on the hillside, streets were graded, and the more permanent growth of the neighborhood began.
Streets and alleys were named both for prominent local citizens and for nearby counties. Cooper Avenue bears the name of UPFA manager Charles Cooper. Haines Alley, Graff Street, and Hasson Avenue honor individuals and families long associated with Oil City and the petroleum industry. Bishop Avenue was named for Fid Bishop, an early postmaster and oilman, who was a member of the first Borough Council of Oil City and served as the first Borough Treasurer. Robert Colbert was a physician-druggist who was appointed collector of inland revenue by president Abraham Lincoln. George H. Bissell was "honorably identified with the petroleum industry from its inception." Arnold Plumer (whose namesake street was identified as "Franklin and Warren Pike" on an 1865 map and has over the years been spelled variously with one and two "m's") was an early local official, congressman, and State Treasurer. Joseph Manning was a land developer who laid out a section of Oil City known briefly as "Mannington," and John B. Smithman was a leading oilman who organized and was president of the Manufacturers Gas Company and managed the pipeline operations of the Keystone Oil Company. Some streets and alleys in the "Polish Hill" section of the district bear the names of the nearby counties of Crawford, Clarion, Jefferson, Clearfield, Lawrence, Elk, and Warren; Cornplanter Street was named in honor of the Seneca leader of the same name, and Pulaski Street honors the Polish soldier-hero who served under George Washington during the American Revolution and whose homeland was shared by many of the neighborhood's immigrant settlers.
The growth of Oil City's south side (now the South Side Historic District, which was listed in the National Register in 1998) occurred during the same general time period as the north side, but the south side was platted with more generous building lots and the north side, with its small house lots, became popular with a far broader cross-section of the population. Although the majority of the leading industrialists lived on the south side, the north side was favored by its share of community leaders as well. Demographically, the north side differed from the south side in that the former developed from the beginning with workers living beside industrialists and financiers, the vast majority of whom were linked to the oil industry or its associated endeavors. The north side setting was ideal for workers' housing, since it lay in close proximity to some of Oil City's largest industrial operations. The first refinery in the city was established in the early 1860s. It was soon followed by others which were subject to the ebb and flow of the fortunes of oil as the petroleum markets fluctuated and the prices of the raw material were manipulated by speculators. With the rise of the local petroleum industry, a variety of associated industries grew, ranging from the production of barrels and sucker rods to pipe and drilling rigs. Many of these plants were easily accessible to the North Side Historic District. John Baton's mammoth Oil Well Supply Company was in Siverly — originally a municipality separate from Oil City — just upstream from the district along the Allegheny River. The Imperial Refining Company lay at the bottom of the hill below Emerald Street, as did the railroad shops and the Oil City Tube Company (later the Oil City Boiler Works). The sprawling factory of Rockefeller's National Transit Company was a short distance from the downtown below the confluence of Oil Creek and the Allegheny River. Except for the Saltzman Brewery (no longer extant) at the corner of Plummer Street and Bissell Avenue, industrial development never occurred in the district, but workers and mangers from most of the factories made their homes in the neighborhood, which began to assume the characteristics of a "melting pot" as a working class, largely immigrant, population began to settle the neighborhood in earnest.
Anglo-Saxon immigrants were the first to settle the district, and the naming of Emerald Street likely reflects the influence of families bearing names such as Connors, Berry, Burke, Connell, and McCutcheon, who appeared in an 1887 atlas as some of the property owners in the neighborhood. They were soon joined by Poles who fled their homeland to avoid religious persecution by Germany and Russia. Adam Brezezowski and his wife, generally acknowledged as the founders of the Oil City Polish community, arrived from Cracow in 1885. The first house of worship for the Polish Hill neighborhood was an 1885 mission church associated with the First Presbyterian Church, erected at Pulaski and Emerald Streets. St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, south of the Polish Hill area, was organized in the 1860s. By the 1880s, it was the center of the neighborhood's inextricably linked social and religious life and became the first permanent spiritual home to many of the Polish families who settled the neighborhood.
The ethnicity of the Palace/Polish Hill neighborhood was firmly established by the late 1890s. In 1894, Eighth Ward assessor W. J.Taylor cited the following names as being of identifiable Polish origin: Cominski, Jarecki, Klos, Kresinski, Letzniski, Rogesozerski, and Sabuski. Three years later, the 1897 city directory further illustrated some of the obvious Polish surnames which by then were associated with this portion of the district: Michael Saboski, Emerald Street; J. and Jacob Rogazekaski, 111 and 117 Crawford Street; Harry Coshnitzke, 332 Emerald Street; E. Kaminski, 3 Clarion Street; John Swartzkop, 8 Clearfield Street; Catherine Zesky, 515 Bissell Avenue; and Frank Kaminski, 514 Bissell Avenue.
According to a 1971 commemorative issue of the local newspaper, the Rev. Fr. Maximilian Polaski came to Oil City in 1899 as the assistant pastor of St. Joseph's and encountered "forty families and about eighty unmarrieds" of Polish extraction. The article notes that these new citizens were building "along Emerald and Clearfield Streets [which] were sought as they gave those who kept cows free access to grassy spots on hills and flats of Oil Creek and Cornplanter Run."
The rapid growth of the Polish community north of Cooper Avenue hastened the decision to create a new parish for the Polish Catholics. On April 3, 1899 Fr. Polaski organized a meeting of Polish families with the intent of organizing a new congregation distinct from St. Joseph's. The church was christened Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but it immediately became popularly known as the "Polish Church." The fifty-five families who founded the parish worshiped in the aforementioned former Presbyterian mission church until 1907, when a new brick church was erected, Romanesque Revival in style; it remains in use at the time of writing and by 1974 had hosted 3,054 baptisms. Within five years, the parish established a parochial education program staffed by Felician Sisters who came to Oil City from the Pittsburgh area. In 1912 a new brick school building was erected behind the church. It accommodated the educational needs of the parish on the first story and provided living quarters for the Sisters on the second. The parochial education program ceased to function but the building remains as a parish social center. In 1928, local contractors Kowalski and Kay built the Georgian Revival-style parish rectory adjacent to the church on Emerald Street.
The aforementioned 1897 city directory carried a United Petroleum Farms Association advertisement which proclaimed the availability for sale of "100 most desirable building lots on Palace Hill, price $200 to $300." During the waning years of the century, the district matured along with the City. The 1865 population cited above grew to more than 10,900 in 1890, surpassed 13,200 in 1910, and exceeded 22,000 by the 1920s. In 1919, historian Charles Babcock reported, "The growth from fifty or sixty in 1860 to 22,127 fifty-eight years later is certainly remarkable. The town and its industries, and the number and character of its buildings, are improving at a more rapid rate at the beginning of 1919 than ever."
The growth and maturity of the neighborhood brought with it significant patterns of social and institutional development, represented in the district by three other churches and two additional schools. The churches are the aforementioned twin-spired St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church (35 Pearl Avenue), which occupies a commanding site at the crest of Pearl Avenue, the 1907-1908 First United Presbyterian Church at 14 Harriott Avenue, and the former Albert G. Sittig residence at 1 Graft Street, acquired by the local Christian Missionary Alliance congregation in 1929 and converted for use as a church.
As the neighborhood grew, school houses were erected in the district to serve the burgeoning population. Three buildings, the Gay Street School and the Seventh and First Ward Schools, have been razed. Extant educational resources include the Polish congregation's Blessed Assumption School on Emerald Street, the Oil City High School (69 Spring Street), and the McSweeney Memorial High School (13 Seeley Avenue). The High School is a rambling complex of yellow brick, whose earliest section dates from 1923. With the growth of Roman Catholicism in the neighborhood, the need for expanded parochial education hastened the construction of facilities associated with St. Joseph's Church. The parish's educational ministry initially took the form of a primary-level academy, but it eventually expanded to embrace secondary education and, operating as St. Joseph's High School, graduated its first class in 1928. In 1930, a new, permanent facility for the high school opened, named McSweeney Memorial High School, honoring the gift of oilman and former parishioner-turned-philanthropist Henry McSweeney whose generosity had also extended to the Belles Lettres Club, to which McSweeney gave his home on the south side.
With the maturity of the neighborhood, its socially-diverse class and architectural character became firmly established. The North Side Historic District was a popular residential neighborhood throughout the latter years of the nineteenth century and the first forty years of the twentieth. It was home to worker and manager alike, and fully reflects the patterns of residential development of this major oil town. Properties representative of the district's ties to the oil industry include the homes of John Fornot (206 Hoffman), Harris and Maurice Goldstein (13 Harriott Avenue), James B. Crawford (116 Bissell Avenue), John Steeman (212 Hoffman Avenue), and C. B. Curran (227 Hone Avenue); all of these individuals were identified as an "oilman" or "oil producer" in early twentieth-century city directories. John G. McKinley began his association with oil at the 1860s boomtown of Pithole and eventually resided in the district at 8 East Bissell Avenue. Properties associated with laborers in the industry include the homes of Oil Well Supply Company machinist Daniel F. Smith (17 Harriott Street), Southern Pipe Line Company clerk William K. Sittig (215 Bissell Avenue), right-of-way specialist Albert N. Johnson (127 East Bissell Avenue), and National Transit Company bookkeeper J. E. Kerr and machinist Leon Bunnell (112 and 234 East Bissell Avenue). The homes of managers, too, were in the district, many along Bissell Avenue and its extension, East Bissell Avenue, the district's premiere residential street. Among these are the adjacent homes of Thomas Anderton and his son, Thomas A. Anderton (201 and 213 Bissell Avenue). The elder Anderton (1840-1915) came to Oil City in 1866 and established the Continental Refinery; his son was the firm's treasurer. William Hasson (1833-1923) lived at 111 East Bissell Avenue. A banker, oilman, and philanthropist who owned much of what became downtown Oil City, Hasson both presented and bequeathed significant acreage to the city for charitable and civic use. George Lewis, one of the leaders in the Standard Oil Company, lived at 32 East Bissell Avenue and the home of William K. Borland, president of the Oil City Engine and Power Company, was at 183 East Bissell Avenue. At 169 East Bissell Avenue lived Samuel Justus (1826-1920), one of the incorporators of the Penn Refining Company, who became another of Oil City's philanthropists. Daniel R. MacKenzie, treasurer of the National Transit Company and assistant treasurer of the Maryland Pipe Line Company, lived at 102 East Bissell Avenue and William Heagerty, general manager of the Oil City Boiler Works, made his home at 320 Bissell Avenue.
With respect to Criterion C, the North Side Historic District is significant as a physically-cohesive neighborhood representing not only vernacular styles of working-class residential development but also many of the popular styles which were in vogue during the period of significance of the district.
With further reference to Criterion C, the North Side Historic District is significant for its association with several prominent architects and builders. One of Oil City's earliest architects, Joseph P. Brenot (1865-c.1927), lived in the district at 100 Hoffman Avenue, in a Neo-Classical Revival-style home which he likely designed c.1898. Born in adjacent Crawford County, Brenot worked in the New York offices of Palliser & Co., publishers of a series of popular late nineteenth-century architectural pattern books. He was associated with the office of Chicago architect W. A. Otis prior to coming to Oil City in the early 1890s, where he soon established himself as a well-respected practitioner. In 1912 a professional journal described him as "an architect who has done much towards [sic] the upbuilding of that section of the Keystone state in whose depths lay the foundations of the amassed fortunes of many of our distinguished townsmen and others, embraced in the oil industry of America."
Brenot practiced throughout the Oil Region and beyond, designing homes, commercial building, and churches in the Oil City environs as well as in Youngstown, Ohio and the Pennsylvania communities of Smethport, Kane, Ferrell, Union City, Titusville, Franklin, Sharon, and Punxsutawney. He developed a specialty in church and school design and as a practicing Roman Catholic received a variety of ecclesiastical commissions including significant work for the Diocese of Erie.
Within the district, J. P. Brenot was responsible for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary School of 1912 on Emerald Street, St. Joseph's School and Convent (no longer extant), and was likely also the architect for the 1907 Assumption Church (8 Pulaski Street), although this has not been confirmed. City directories suggest that Joseph Brenot died c. 1927, after which time his practice was succeeded by his son, Oscar E. Brenot, who had been trained in his father's studio. Oscar Brenot partnered with J. Howard Hicks as Brenot and Hicks and continued the elder Brenot's long association with ecclesiastical design, designing in 1928 both the Blessed Assumption Rectory (210 Emerald Street) and St. Joseph's Convent (29 Pearl Avenue).
Architect Emmett E. Bailey (1872-1942) was a leading designer throughout much of the Oil Region of northwestern Pennsylvania. A native of Tully Valley, New York, Bailey came to Oil City c. 1904. He developed a prominent practice, designing homes as well as commercial and public buildings, schools, and churches. From c. 1907 until his death he lived in the North Side Historic District, first at 16 East Bissell Avenue from 1907 to 1911, and then at 46 East Bissell Avenue from 1912 until his death thirty years later.
W. Holmes Crosby (1888-1985) was a Carnegie Institute of Technology graduate (1912; Master's 1914); he also held a Certificate of the Beaux Arts Architects. Crosby came to Oil City in 1915 and first associated with Emmett Bailey. He was in practice in Oil City for more than forty years. The district's largest building, the Oil City High School, is representative of Holmes Crosby's educational design.
The centerpiece of the district, the twin-spired St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church (37 Pearl Avenue), dominates the skyline of the southwestern corner of the district. Begun in 1890 and completed four years later, it is the region's only identified work by the German-born master church architect Adolphus Druiding (1839-c.1900). Druiding emigrated to America and was in practice in St. Louis by 1866. He became well-known for his ecclesiastical designs, which, according to some sources, numbered in excess of 400. Eventually operating from Chicago, Druiding was responsible for large, often complex, urban churches throughout the Midwest and as far east as Jersey City, New Jersey. St. Joseph's represents Druiding's work in the Gothic Revival style, which he abandoned in favor of more classically-derived forms not long after completing St. Joseph's.
Chicago architects Morris H. Beckman and Roy B. Blass were responsible for the design of the c.1950 Lustron house at 9 Hoffman Avenue. Lustrons were developed in 1946 by Carl Strandlund, president of the Chicago Vitreous Enamel Product Company and were mass-produced until the company went bankrupt in 1951. The Hoffman Avenue house is a "Westchester" model, 2-bedroom Lustron, with the serial number 01445 on an original plaque in the kitchen. No other Lustron house has been identified in Venango County.
In addition to architects, leading master builders were active within the district. Louis O. Bouquin (1872- ?) was a Chautauqua County, New York native who came to Oil City as a builder in 1909. He developed a specialty in the construction of industrial buildings throughout the region but was responsible for other types of construction as well. Within the district, he built the 1928 St. Joseph's Convent at 29 Pearl Avenue and the Oil City High School.
Maxwell Strickland (1882-1960) was another local builder whose work is seen in the North Side Historic District. He came to the community in 1901 and established a general contracting business. In 1928, Strickland built the parsonage for the Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church at 8 Pearl Avenue, from designs by former parishioner Paul A. Riseman, by then of Lorain, Ohio.
With reference to the local and regional context of Oil City's North Side Historic District, this area is clearly distinct from the City's presently-listed historic districts, in that the Downtown Commercial Historic District is largely commercial in character and the South Side Historic District contains a substantial commercial area as well as a large residential neighborhood. While the South Side District does contain middle-class housing, much of its residential architecture is of a far grander scale than is found in the North Side Historic District. Beyond Oil City but also in Venango County, the Franklin Historic District (in the county seat, eight miles to the south), is a mixed-use district characterized by opulent commercial and residential architecture. The Emlenton Historic District, about twenty-five miles distant, is located in a considerably smaller Allegheny River community. The home of the Quaker State Refinery, Emlenton contains homes dating from a generation earlier than the Oil City North Side Historic District, and portrays a far more "small town" character than does the North Side District. None of these districts can claim the clear and identifiable link to an immigrant working class that the North Side Historic District possesses as a National Register-eligible resource.
In summary, the Oil City North Side Historic District is a nearly-exclusively residential neighborhood platted in a grid and sited on parallel hillsides overlooking downtown Oil City' consisting of modestly-scaled homes, a scattering of commercial buildings, and a few larger examples of institutional design, most of the which date from the early 1870s through the early 1940s.
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Brown, Runk & Company History of Venango County, Pennsylvania: Its Past and Present 2 vols. (Chicago: Brown, Runk, & Co., 1890).
Martens, Charles D. The Oil City (Oil City: First Seneca Bank and Trust Company, 1971). Newton, J. H., ed. History of Venango County, Pennsylvania (Columbus: J. A. Caldwell, 1879). Risenman, Joseph, Jr. History of Northwestern Pennsylvania (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1943).
Ross, Philip W. Allegheny Oil: The Historic Petroleum Industry on the Allegheny National Forest (Warren: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, 1996).
St. Joseph's Church, Oil City (Oil City, 1974). Seward, H. W. & Co. The New York Industrial Recorder (New York & Buffalo: W. H. Seward & Co., 1904).
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Fuener, Cynthia, "Heavy Metal, Forties Style," Historic Illinois 16:3 (October, 1993), 2-6. "Joseph P. Brenot," Ohio Architect, Engineer, and Builder (December 1912), pp. 13-45." Nabors, Jean, "'A New Standard of Living': The Lustron Home," Internet web site: www.dgltd.com/ihs1830/lustron.htm
Atlas of Oil City, Pennsylvania (Beers, Ellis, & Co., 1865).
Atlas of Oil City, Pennsylvania (Beers, Ellis, & Co., 1887).
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Hampton, Roy A. III, "Adolphus Druiding, Architect — A Synopsis of His Life and Work," unpublished MS in the local history collection of the Oil City Public Library, Oil City, Pennsylvania.
Proper, Beth Ann Built Environment of Oil City, Pennsylvania (unpublished Master's thesis, The Pennsylvania State University, 1981).
[†] Taylor, David L., Oil City North Side Historic District, nomination document, 1999, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.