East Washington Historic District
The East Washington Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
East Washington is a late Victorian residential borough to the east of the city of Washington, the seat of Washington County. It is one of several late nineteenth century/early twentieth century neighborhoods built along the main transportation routes that radiate from the center of Washington, and it is the last of these neighborhoods with intact architecture and character from the turn of the century. The boundaries of the East Washington Historic District are not geometrically regular in any way, but rather indicate irregular growth and also eliminate areas where contemporary houses have been intrusively altered. Predominantly built between 1880 and 1900, East Washington's dwellings vary in size and scale with Queen Anne, Shingle, Colonial Revival, and Victorian vernacular types predominating. Although a number of the buildings have been altered, only a few (fourteen) are irretrievably intrusive. Ninety-one are contributing and eight are significant. Intrusions have been defined as those buildings which have had form, detail and fenestration obliterated beyond recognition. Some contributing buildings have replaced siding, windows or porches as itemized in the building inventory.
A few very large houses with matching coach houses on panoramic lots at the core of the East Washington Historic District between Beau and Wade set the tone for the range and juxtaposition of styles echoed by the surrounding smaller buildings. There is a brick Italian villa at 63 S. Wade, adjacent to a fine example of Shingle style at 355 Wheeling Street, with a stone first story, band windows, broad eaveless roofs and fanning shingle skin. Next to this is a huge Colonial Revival at 345 Wheeling, while farther east on S. Wade at #45 is a well executed transitional Queen Anne. Turreted houses dot the East Washington Historic District, the most elaborate and airy ones being at 238 E. Wheeling, 513 and 517 E. Chestnut Streets. Towers and turrets, squat or slender, round or octagonal, springing from ground level, mid-level or piercing steep roofs punctuate every street vista and adorn even small houses such as at 187 and 183 S. Wade. Porches are almost universal — spindled, jig-sawn, bracketed, split-balustered or Neo-Classical; Palladian windows and pseudo-Palladian tripartite groups are freely used; and inset balconies are frequent. Such houses of compound mass and multiplanar roofs are interspersed with 2-story 5-bay gabled houses such as are seen in the countryside and frame or brick gabled L and T plan buildings with progressively more decoration and elaboration. At #90 S. Wade is an interesting and readable farmhouse conversion with an addition which reorients the plan and includes a stained glass-lit stairhall. Scattered throughout the East Washington Historic District is an unusual duplex subtype (for example, 308/310 E. Beau), a two-story house with a center bay advanced to accommodate entries from flanking porches. Among these varied houses, the row of structures on North Avenue is the only unified group. While each is unique in plan and decoration, tight siting, similar size, and uniform roofs with cross gables of this North Avenue detached row provide background rhythm for the riot of towers and dainty porches.
The neighborhood focuses on two main arteries, South Wade Street and East Beau Street, which intersect at an acute angle. Fragments of a street grid are produced by streets running parallel and perpendicular to these two streets. These side streets contain similar but smaller and more closely packed houses. Wade is a tree-lined avenue with the district's most intact mixture of large and small buildings of various periods, very well harmonized into a singularly distinctive street. Beau, formerly the Monongahela Turnpike, is a sloped artery radiating from the center of downtown Washington. Its houses sit up with a dignified and aloof appearance.
The crossing of Wade and Beau Streets may have originally been more important. A vacant lot at the northeast corner of the intersection indicates where s large elementary school stood until about a decade ago, and diagonally across from this lot is a modest grocery store which has been in existence since the neighborhood's inception. But as they are now, East Beau and South Wade are independent in character.
The East Washington Historic District is isolated physically from the city by the campus of Washington and Jefferson College and politically by East Washington's distinction as a separate borough. It presents a gracious, richly varied and well-kept face to visitors. The siting of impressive, imposingly large homes on spacious grounds lends visual expanse to enrich and elevate the numerous closely spaced modest homes, the largest and smallest houses facing each other across wide, tree-lined streets.
East Washington Historic District is a collection of Queen Anne, Shingle style, and Colonial Revival homes of varying character and size. It is one of the richest and most intact collections of fashionable turn-of-the-century buildings in southwestern Pennsylvania where simple vernacular buildings are the rule both in urban/industrial areas and on the farmstead. This East Washington Historic District is a physical expression of the profound shift from the agricultural to the industrial, and from the traditional to the stylish.
Money and a cash economy came to Washington County on the hoof with sheep and wool as a bulk commodity in the mid-nineteenth century. Improved transportation and development of oil and gas resources followed. Oil was especially important from the time of the Civil War until just prior to the turn of the century. Domestic gas became available to the city of Washington in 1884. These resources first attracted glass manufacturers. (Hazel; Atlas; and Duncan & Miller) and later in the 1890's, the steel industry. Rapid industrialization spurred growth of Washington and heavily increased the needs for commerce, construction and services.
Constrained by topography, subdivided piecemeal from surrounding agricultural lands, and built up individually or as small scale investments, East Washington does not present a unity of plan or architecture other than its frenetic eclecticism within a tight frame. A profusion of towers, elaborated attic gables, and spindle porches dominate the street vistas. Although sometimes provincial in execution, it is the density and frequency of detail, juxtaposition of styles, and variety within a limited vocabulary that create a rhythm unusual in southwestern Pennsylvania.
East Washington was originally only one of several pretentious Washington town neighborhoods radiating along the thoroughfares that crossed the center of town. However, the East Washington Historic District is the only neighborhood to have survived with a strong independent identity and a high proportion of intact late nineteenth and early twentieth century architecture. This is due, in part, to the incorporation of East Washington as a borough in 1892, prompted by the self interests of the new inhabitants.
During major rapid culture change, a clear break with tradition is often followed by a period of variety or instability of style or form in a mode such as architecture. Because it is the product of individuals without master plan or a developer, East Washington reflects this change quite clearly. It is similarly significant that the variety and building occurred not only with the few central grand houses of the gentlemen, professionals, wool barons, and industrialists, but also with the styling, and construction of the smaller and more numerous homes for tradesmen, farmers, and those in the support professions. It is indicative of the pervasiveness of the change. Few truly high style examples of architecture can be found, and within any one type there is a high coincidence of associated traits, the limits of the builder's familiarity with the new fashion and the limits of a carpenter's repertoire) such as the lunette shingled balcony in a cross gable roof or the floor length windows within the porch of an Italianate-detailed L or T shaped two-story house. Detailing and density of decoration has little correlation to the size of the dwelling. The fact that such whimsical architecture is broadly based points to a perception, prompted by burgeoning development of Washington industry and its stimulated cash flow, of Washington as an important industrial center and growing county seat.
Although there are many isolated examples of individual buildings of Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and other ornate turn-of-the-century styles woven into the predominantly repetitious industrial towns and frugal farming communities of southwestern Pennsylvania, East Washington Historic District stands alone as a rich and varied suburban neighborhood built within a short span of years, encompassing a wide population range, and maintaining its integrity, intactness and identity today.
Art Work of Washington Co., Pennsylvania. Chicago: The Gravure Illustration Company, 1905. (Nine folios, contains photos of 13 dwellings within the district.)
Beers, J. H. Commemorative Biographical Record of Washington County, Pennsylvania. Chicago: J.H. Beers and Co. 1893.
Crumrein, Boyd, ed. History of Washington County Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: L.H. Everts Co. Press of J.B. Lippincott and Co.; 1882. Reprinted, Evansville, Indiana: Unigraphic, Inc.: 1975.
Forrest, Earle R. History of Washington County Pennsylvania. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co.: 1926.
Hambly, Herbert K., Washington, PA 1905; A City of Homes, Education, and Industry. Washington: The Observer-Reporter. nd. 62 pp. Promotional pamphlet.
Incorporation Charter of East Washington - Do 172, p 5-11.
McFarland, Joseph F., Twentieth Century History of the City of Washington and Washington County. Chicago: Richmond-Arnold Publishing Company, 1910.
Minute Book of the Borough of East Washington. MS minutes of all meetings, Ap 4, 1892 on. (Located at the Office of the Borough Secretary, 15 Thayer Street).
Polk's Washington City Directory. (Located at Citizen's Library.)
Barker's Map of Washington County Pennsylvania. North Hector NY: William J. Barker, 1856. Reprinted by Washington County Historical Society.
Borough of East Washington Map. Office of the borough secretary Cat# T-56 nd (1890's).
Caldwell, J.A. Caldwell's Illustrated Historical Centennial Atlas of Washington County, Pennsylvania. Condit, Ohio: the author. Engraved, printed by Otto Krebs, Pittsburgh, PA 1876. (pull-out map of city of Washington not reprinted. Citizen's Library has a copy.)
Map of Washington, Washington County PA, surveyed, drawn and published by T. Doran. Philadelphia, PA: Litho. of Friend and Aub 80 Walnut Street, 1855. (Copy in the collection of Citizen's Library.)
Map of Washington Pennsylvania. T.M. Fowler and James B. Moyer 1897. (Reprinted by Chuck Stock.)
Plat maps, Washington County Courthouse.
Sanborn Map of Washington, PA. New York: Sanborn Insurance Company, 1904.