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Bedford Historic District

Bedford Boro, Bedford County, PA

The Bedford Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document [‡]


The Bedford Borough Historic District is located in the Allegheny Mountains along the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River. The Historic District has three distinct divisions: business, governmental and residential.

The business section of the Historic District is located along Pitt Street, the transportation corridor of the eighteenth century Pennsylvania Road. Most commercial establishments are concentrated on Pitt Street between Bedford and South Thomas Streets. Adjoining areas of concentration are found on South Juliana and Richard Streets extending one block south of Pitt.

The center of activity in the Historic District and Borough is focused geographically on "the Squares", the park around the intersection of South Juliana and Penn Streets. The Squares form the common link between the governmental district whose offices are located on South Juliana Street between Penn and John Streets and the business district of the Borough. Established in the original survey, three of the squares are green areas with mature landscaping and the fourth contains the County Courthouse. This park area is bordered by two churches, legal row offices and the Post Office. Penn Street leading to the Squares is eighty feet wide giving an impression of spaciousness. All of the streets with the exception of Pitt are tree-lined.

The remainder of the Historic District is residential and includes churches and schools on well-landscaped lots. South Juliana Street between John and Watson Streets contains a great deal of open-space where a cemetery, dotted with mature trees, and the large landscaped playground of the elementary school are to be found. Other open-space forms a park along the river in the northwestern section of the district. The park is landscaped and includes adjoining parking facilities. A low impounding dam breeches the river here to provide depth for fishing. The Fort Bedford Museum, a stylized 1750's block- house abuts the eastern end of the park.

Bedford Borough's Historic District contains 268 buildings of which approximately 210 are of major historical, architectural, or cultural significance. The County Historic Sites Survey concluded that approximately 11% of the historic structures in the District were constructed from 1750 to 1825, 16% from 1826 to 1850, 20% from 1851 to 1875, 34% from 1876 to 1900, and 19% from 1901 to 1930. The Borough presents itself as an eclectic microcosm of American development, and Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival, Georgian, Italianate, Second Empire, Second Renaissance Revival, Victorian, Beaux Arts, Art-Deco, Bungaloid and commercial styles of architecture are represented. There is no particular concentration of architectural style in any one section of the district to suggest generational or sectional growth. The styles are. intermingled.

The buildings in the Historic District are of average to above average integrity: a few are outstanding rehabilitations and a few are in need of repair. Those in need of repair are not concentrated in any particular section of the district. Construction of buildings varies and consists of log and frame with shiplap, clapboard, or shingle siding; red and yellow brick; cut ashlar or rubble stone; and tile. The District contains about 86 intrusions in the form of vacant lots, parking lots, altered buildings, and post-1930's construction, however because of their proportions, the instrusions have minimal visual impact.

The uses of buildings in the Historic District reflect the Borough's role as County Seat and major commercial, financial, residential and cultural center of the County. Educational, exhibitional, administrative, religious, local governmental, cavern and hotel functions are among the traditional and current uses of buildings in the District. Adaptive re-use and building upon the integrity of the excellent early architectural styles has been the rule rather than the exception in Bedford. Relatively good caste has been exercised by the residents in maintaining the Borough's character The two-hundred-year heritage of Bedford Borough is mirrored in the Historic District with grace, dignity and pride. The District clearly illustrates that Bedford's roots developed early in the history of the State and the Nation.


Bedford Borough's Historic District developed around Fort Bedford which was strategically located on the first trans-Pennsylvania road. The Fort and the Borough played major roles in the French and Indian Wars and the Whiskey Rebellion. The road (present Route 30) and its successors remained the major east-west connector across the state until 1936, thereby securing Bedford's role in transportation-related commerce. The mineral springs reports Located just outside the Borough acted to establish a local tradition of inn- keeping. The continuous flow of ideas which the roads directed into Bedford contributed to the variety of architecture found within the Borough. Quality examples of most architectural styles are located in the Historic District and many of the early structures were designed by Solomon Filler, a local architect. Other craftsmen settled in the Borough and the contributions of some to the distinctive design of the Pennsylvania rifle are still recognized by collectors. Bedford Borough's Historic District is significant for the role it played in frontier military activities, for transportation-related commercial growth, and for the quality of craftsmanship and the variety of architectural style which characterize it.

Settled in 1750 by Indian trader Robert Ray, Ray's Town later became Fort Bedford and then Bedford Borough. The settlement developed near the water gap created by a branch of the Juniata River (Raystown Branch of the Juniata River) flowing to the east and dissecting the Appalachian Mountains. The location was probably selected because of its proximity to the north-south Indian trails along the mountain valleys and the east- west trail through the water gap. The significance of the location was recognized by the Penn Proprietaries who warranted this tract of land in 1748. The location of the settlement along prime transportation routes became the principle impetus for two hundred years of growth and development in Bedford Borough.

The settlement's development was initiated and accelerated by the role which it played in the French and Indian Wars (1754-1765). In 1755, an east-West military supply road was constructed through the area to support General Braddock's campaign to drive the French from Fort Dusquesne (later Fort Pitt); Braddock failed. In 1758, General John Forbes completed both the road (Forbes Road) and chain of forts and supply depots across Pennsylvania. On August 16, 1758, Major Joseph Shippen wrote to General Forbes from Raystown: "We have a good stockade fort here ..."

Because it was on the strategic intersection of north-south and east-west routes, Fort Bedford became the rendezvous for over 7,000 men under the leadership of Bouquet, Washington, Armstrong and Burd. By the fall of 1758, these troops had successfully defeated the French and had begun construction on Fort Pitt in present day Pittsburgh.

In 1761, possibly anticipating future development, the Perm family secured their warrant by having Deputy Surveyor General Colonel John Armstrong survey their holdings around Fort Bedford. The survey covered " . . . a tract of land, situated at Bedford, in the County of Cumberland, containing two thousand eight hundred and ten acres, and a half of one acre, with the usual allowance of six percent for roads, etc."

During Pontiac's Rebellion in 1763, Fort Bedford was one of four surviving frontier forts. The fort helped the English maintain tenuous control of the frontier by providing refuge for nearby settlers. Captain Ourry, Commander of Fort Bedford, wrote Colonel Bouquet on June 3, 1763: "No less than 93 families are now come in here for refuge, and more hourly arriving. I expect ten more before night." Colonel Bouquet's campaign in the fall of 1764 subdued the Indians.

In 1766, Governor Hamilton, Secretary Tieghman, Receiver General Hackley and Survevor General John Lukens met to discuss the establishment of a town to be called Bedford, with two hundred lots, streets, alleys and a large square " . . . in the most convenient place . . . ." By June of 1766, Lukens had completed his survey and had established the plan for Bedford That survey encompassed the majority of the area in the Historic District.

In 1769, an incident occurred at Fort Bedford which was publicized throughout the colonies. Indian skirmishes that year precipitated an attempt by vigilantes to stay the flow of weapons from traders to the Indians. Lacking leadership, the group was captured and held in chains in Fort Bedford. Questioning whether the military was the appropriate authority in this matter, James Smith organized eighteen frontiersmen to capture the Fort and tree the prisoners. Arrogantly warning the Fort's commander beforehand, Smith succeeded, without incident, by surprising the thirty guards in a pre-dawn attack. Fort Bedford fell to American rebels disputing military jurisdiction six years before the Revolution.

Bedford County was organized from Cumberland County in 1771. For twenty-four years before its incorporation on March 13, 1795, Bedford Borough was the County seat. No borough officials, other than justices-of-the-peace and constables, were elected, however, until a second Act of Incorporation was passed by the Assembly on February 5, 1817.

Although the Fort was a ruin before the Revolutionary War and was no longer useable, Bedford was the focus of a final significant military event in October of 1794. Troops from Carlisle rendezvoused in Bedford with General Lee's troops from the south. This army of over 7,000 was organized to quell the Whiskey Rebellion, the first domestic challenge to the newly-organized national government. President Washington was in direct command of the operation and maintained his headquarters in the Espy House for four days, the only time a President was in direct field command of his military. The presence of troops in Bedford was sufficient to resolve the rebellion, although Lee advanced some forces to Pittsburgh to secure matters.

Concurrent with military activities, a steady stream of westward migrants along the Forbes Road encouraged the growth of Bedford Borough. In 1793, appropriations from the Pennsylvania Legislature resulted in the completion of the Great Pennsylvania Road from Philadelphia to Pittsubrgh. This route basically followed the old Forbes Road. By 1804, Conestoga wagons and stage-coach lines were traversing the Pennsylvania Road and stopping in Bedford.

The constant flow of travelers inspired a local tradition of innkeeping. The first inn, while no longer standing, was the Frazier Tavern. In the late 1700's, the Greystone Hotel, still in operation, was constructed on the site of that inn.

Approximately twenty-eight of the structures in the Historic District were constructed prior to 1800. Among them are the Fort Bedford Powder Magazine, located in a a basement in the Mann Block, and the Espy House(circa 1765), called Captain Lewis' "new house" in John Lukens' survey notes — the only remains of the fort. Early colonial architecture is exemplified not only by the Espy House, now the Washington Bakery, but also by the Greystone Hotel and the old Mann Homestead (circa 1771). These are two- or three-bay, two-story, stone or brick structures with one or two rooms on each floor. The most significant is the Espy House. Listed on the National Register, this is the only site in the United States used as headquarters for a President commanding troops in the field. Other pre-1800 buildings include the Prothonotary's Office (circa 1799) and the Anthony Naugle Home (circa 1789).

Bedford Borough enjoyed a period of steady growth from 1800 to 1860. The population increased from 258 to 1,328 between those years. The development of a nearby resort and the westward migration along major transportation routes stimulated growth. Bedford became the terminus for three early turnpikes. The western-most point of the Chambersburg and Bedford Turnpike Road Company was at the intersection of West Pitt and Juliana Streets where the Bedford and Stoystown Turnpike Road Company began. These two turnpikes operated from 1816 until about 1900. Little is known about the Bedford and Hollidaysburg Turnpike which also terminated in Bedford.

The discovery of mineral springs one mile south of the Borough provided a Stimulus for development. Doctor John Anderson constructed the Bedford Springs Hotel on the site in 1806. The Hotel, a mineral spa resort, became popular and was used by President James Buchanan as a summer White House. The first trans-Atlantic telegraph communication was made from the Hotel; the Supreme Court met there to discuss the slavery issues; and Buchanan, the first of only two Presidents to renounce running for a second term of office, did so from Bedford Springs. The vacationing population of Bedford Springs enhanced the importance of Bedford Borough.

Seven more hotels were constructed in Bedford Borough to serve the growing number of travelers and wealthy, influential vacationers. They were the Colonial Inn (circa 1812), the National Hotel (1816). the Fort Bedford Inn (1816). the Penn West Hotel (1820). the Bedford Hotel (circa 1828), the Union Hotel (1835) and the Grand Central Hotel (1840) which became the Washington House. The Penn West is of particular interest; it was used during the nineteenth century as quarters for black servants attending their employers who were staying at the surrounding resorts.

One notable commercial and artistic development in Bedford County was riflemaking. Although every frontier town had gunsmiths and gunmakers to meet local demands, Bedford County's gunsmiths were an "outstanding exception" to the trend toward uniformity according to a Pennsylvania rifle historian. During this period twenty percent of the County's gunsmiths lived in Bedford Borough. Perhaps the most noted resident craftsman of the "Bedford County Rifle" was Daniel B. Border. The County's standard for excellence in gunmaking is still used as a comparison in the craft.

Bedford Borough's architecture mirrors the styles popular in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington during the period 1800 to 1860. Local architecture was recognized in 1936 by Charles Stotz, er al, during an architectural study of buildings in western Pennsylvania. Both the Greek Revival and late Federal styles were popular in Bedford during the early nineteenth century.

Solomon Filler, a local architect whose work spanned twenty-five years, designed and built many of Bedford's quality Greek Revival buildings. The Lyon House (circa 1833) is a fine example of Filler's work. This three-story structure with five bays and low third story (eyebrow) windows is flanked by paired doric columns and balanced by two small but unattached buildings: one originally a carriage house and the other servants' quarters. Other examples of Filler's Greek Revival structures include the Bedford County Courthouse (circa 1828) and the Bedford Presbyterian Church (circa 1839).

The Late Federal style is best typified in Bedford by the Anderson House (circa 1815), home of Doctor John Anderson. The Anderson House has a symmetrical facade with an ell addition of the left rear. Other characteristics include large scale six-over-six windows, plain cornice mouldings and bold fanlights over doorways and dormers. The dormers are an unusual rural addition. This building housed the Allegheny Bank of Pennsylvania from 1815 until 1832. Other significant buildings of this era include the St. Thomas Apostle Church (circa 1817), the first Catholic Church, the Russell House (circa 1816) which was built for the first Burgess of Bedford and is listed on the National Register, the Solomon Filler Mansion (circa 1326), and the Mann House (circa 1844) designed by Solomon Filler for Job Mann, once Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The period after the Civil War saw a seventy percent increase in Bedford's population to 2,167 in 1900. The popularity of the Borough as a Victorian vacation spot increased with renovations and additions to Chalybeate Springs Hotel (1867) just outside the Borough, and the completion of two rail-lines (1872) into Bedford.

Chalybeate, while less fashionable than Bedford Springs, was more the family resort. The hotel hosted Presidents Garfield, Hayes and Harrison and such other prominent persons as Horace Greeley, Henry Ward Beecher, Mr. and Mrs. Jay Gould, Mr. and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt, and visitors from Bavaria and China. This establishment helped the tourist attraction of the Borough and secured the tradition of hosting travelers and vacationers.

The architecture of this period (1860-1900) is best represented in the Borough by Italiante and Second Empire styles. Probably the best example of an Italiante structure is the Barclay House. This building, listed on the National Register, is a two and one- half story, late Victoria structure of red brick with two double-deep bays flanking its central entrance. Built in 1889 by John Jacob Barclay, the building now served as the Bedford County Public Library. Other Italianate structures include the Neptune House Library. (circa 1880), the G. C. Murphy Company building (circa 1875, and the Arnold Building (circa 1870).

The most striking example of Second Empire style is the Victoria House (1876). This building has all the features typical of this style including a mansard roof with geometric slate patterns and iron cresting, classical mouldings and details, windows that are arched and pedimented, a double-door entrance, and tall first floor windows. Victoria House was built by William Hartley, a local banker and successful oil speculator who lost a great deal of money by challenging John D. Rockfeller's supremacy in that field. Other Second Empire examples include the Bedford Cafe (circa 1875), the Talvin Lodge (1880), and the Feather House (1880). These buildings exhibit the characteristic mansard roof covered with multi-colored slates.

Bedford Borough's final historic building period was between 1900 and 1930. The population of the Borough was 2,953 in 1930.

The Lincoln Highway, completed in 1920, follows Pitt Street through Bedford Borough. Today called U.S. 30, the Lincoln Highway was the only improved east-west transportation route across the state. Bedford continued hosting travelers and maintained its long history of viable hotels and resorts.

To accommodate those traveling through Bedford by automobile, the Penn Bedford Hotel (1922), the Ford Garage, originally known as the Bedford Garage (19221, and the Gulf Service Station (1936) were erected along the route of the Lincoln Highway within the Borough.

The Penn Bedford, originally the Hotel Pennsylvania, was built by the Hotel Pennsylvania Corporation and replaced the Bedford Hotel. During the 1920's and 19301s, this hotel was listed in The Official American Automobile Association- and The Canadian Automobile Association-Blue Book of Hotels as one of the newest, largest and finest hotels on the Lincoln Highway between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The hotel had a glassed-in roof garden that overlooked the community.

The Ford Garage, like some other commercial structures of this period, was built around an existing building, in this case the I.O.O.F Building (1875). This garage was advertised in conjunction with the Penn Bedford Hotel, thereby offering both human and mechanical service for travelers.

The Gulf Service Station is a fine example of Art-Deco architecture. Still in operation as a Gulf station, this structure is faced with ceramic tiles.

Two additional prominent buildings of this period are the Johnstown Bank and Trust Building and the United States Post Office, both built in 1915. The Bank is of the Beaux Arcs style. The Post Office, designed by Oscar Wenderoth, is constructed of Indiana limestone in Neo-Classical style and includes doric columns.

Residential units constructed during this period represent bungalows and the Gibboney style. The Kund House (circa 1890) and the Wilson House (circa 1920) are examples of bungalows. Gibboney, another local architect, constructed five homes in the district in what is locally called the Gibboney style. These structures are cubic in shape with a hip roof, central chimney, and hipped-dormers. Some include an enclosed widow's walk. The Sell House (circa 1904), the Davidson House (circa 1906). and the Faust House, the Lesh House and the Mowry House (all circa 1920) are examples of this local design.

The ambiance of Bedford Borough is preserved in its Historic District. Although the leisurely Victorian vacationer has been replaced by the automobile tourist, Bedford has been able to maintain a viable tourist trade. Skilled local architects contributed to a tradition of quality architecture, and visitors today can enjoy a view of each of Bedford's architectural periods.

‡ John Drobnock, Bedford County Planning Commission, Bedford Historic District, Bedford County, PA, nomination document, 1982, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
Fort Bedford Street • John Street • Juliana Street • Penn Street • Pitt Street • Richard Street