Waterford Historic District
The Waterford Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. 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 Waterford Borough Historic District is located approximately twenty miles south of the City of Erie and provides examples of commercial and residential buildings constructed between 1820 and 1939. The building styles represented in the Waterford District include Federal, Greek Revival, Georgian, Italianate, Victorian and Vernacular. The buildings range from two to three stories with the common building materials being brick and frame, though stone and concrete block are extant. The integrity of these buildings is good to excellent. The town of Waterford is laid out on a flat plain with rolling hills in all directions. The streets are arranged on a grid pattern with High Street, the main commercial strip, running north-south through the center of town. Generally, the district includes the commercial buildings along High Street and the residential buildings located on First, Second, Third and Walnut Streets to the west of High Street. The boundaries exclude those properties to the north of the town square which include a gas station, a car dealership, and other historic properties which have been substantially altered by remodeling and additions. The district boundaries include those properties facing High Street, between South Park Row and the Judson House, and the Eagle Hotel to the south. This southern boundary excludes the c. 1970 Fort LeBoeuf Museum and the vacant properties further south. The western boundary encompasses the residential properties on Second, Third and Walnut Streets. The boundaries exclude those residential properties which have been substantially remodeled and those buildings constructed after the period of significance.
The town square, located at High Street and South Park Row, has also been included in the district. The square is comprised of two blocks covered with grass and shade trees with a bandstand located at the center of one of these blocks. To the east of the square is the 1832 St. Peter's Episcopal Church constructed of stone in a Gothic inspired style. To the west is the c. 1850 Greek Revival Presbyterian Church. Both of these churches are included in the district.
In all, the district includes 42 contributing buildings and 12 non-contributing buildings. Of the former, 26 are commercial, 13 are residential, and 3 are religious. The non-contributing buildings include 7 residential and 4 commercial buildings and one bandstand.
The commercial buildings along High Street are predominately late 19th century Italianate row buildings such as 120-126 High Street, which are typical of these rows in scale, material and integrity. These two story brick buildings are constructed on adjoining lots and share common party walls. The buildings have first story storefronts, simple windows and detailing at the second story, and a contiguous Italianate Style cornice along the flat roofs. Although the original storefronts have been replaced with contemporary aluminum storefronts, all other detailings are original, therefore, the integrity of the buildings is good.
Other commercial buildings along High Street pre-date the post 1890 Italianate row buildings, although their scale and integrity are generally consistent with the row buildings. These Federal and Greek Revival commercial buildings are of stone, frame or brick construction. Typical of these buildings are the Eagle Hotel and 117 High Street. The 1820 Eagle Hotel, located on High and First Streets, features stone construction in the Federal Style with stepped gable ends. The building at 117 High Street is a 2 1/2 story frame Greek Revival building constructed in c. 1840.
There are four non-contributing commercial buildings in the district that were built between 1950 and 1980. They are all one story brick or frame buildings of which two are located between First and Second Streets on the east side of High Street. The c. 1960 brick telephone company is set back off of South Park Row.
The residential buildings in the Waterford District were constructed between 1820 and 1939 and their styles include Federal, Greek Revival, Georgian, Italianate, Vernacular and Victorian. These residences are generally two stories, are constructed of frame or brick and exhibit simple, but distinctive, detailing. Their integrity ranges from good to excellent.
The Federal, Greek Revival, Georgian, and Vernacular homes represent the earliest period of residential construction in Waterford which occurred between 1820 and 1850. The Federal Style homes are modest, frame buildings with minimal detail, such as the Judson House at the corner of High and First Streets and 218 Walnut Street. Representative of Greek Revival homes is the dwelling at 102 High Street, which has a pediment roof capping a two story, rectangular main section, pilasters accenting the corners of this section, and pedimented portico over the main entrance. A plain, one and one half story wing is attached to one side of the main section. The two Georgian residences are more substantial buildings with distinctive detailing such as 124 West Third Street and the stepped gable ends at 104 Walnut Street. The vernacular residence at 101 West Second Street is a simple L-shaped frame residence without ornamentation and typical of area vernacular homes. Other vernacular residences, such as 130 West Third Street, are representative of later vernacular construction.
There are two Italianate residences representative of residential construction between 1860 and 1880. The home at 214 Walnut Street is a large frame Italianate residence with a bracketed cornice and cupola. This home was constructed in c. 1860. The 1872 residence at 12 East Second Street is a small brick home with decorative Italianate window and cornice detailing.
The sole concrete block residence within the district, 29 South Park Row, represents the last period of residential construction after 1900. This home was constructed c. 1915 and is typical of other period residences in the town of Waterford.
There are 7 non-contributing residences in the Waterford District. The majority of these residences are post 1950 suburban ranch or block homes, such as 127 and 135 West Third Street. Other residences, like 28 West Second and 105 Walnut Streets, have been remodeled for commercial use. The remodeling has stripped these buildings of any original distinguishing detailing.
The majority of the residences retain a high degree of integrity because they have remained single family residences and have been maintained without alterations. Some of the frame vernacular homes have been covered with aluminum siding and have had aluminum windows installed to replace the original wood windows.
Although the town of Waterford has other homes of historic and architectural importance, as identified by the Erie County Survey, they do not represent contiguous area. They are scattered among homes which have suffered unsympathetic remodelings and have virtually lost all distinguishing characteristics. The homes that have been selected for inclusion in the district are a sample of the typical styles within the town of Waterford.
The Waterford Historic District is significant in the area of commerce for its growth and sustenance as a local service center. In the early decades of the 19th century, Waterford began servicing local farmers and travelers along the Waterford Turnpike. After the town was by-passed by the canals and the railroads at mid-century, it continued to be a service center for local farmers through the early twentieth century. The Waterford Historic District has architectural significance as an intact concentration of nineteenth and early twentieth century high style architecture in Erie County.
See also: Waterford Boro: Beginnings
Through this early period of commercial development in Waterford, the religious component of frontier village life in Waterford was confined to the old warehouses along the creek or the schoolhouses in town. This changed with the construction of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in 1832 to the east of the town square and the construction of the Presbyterian Church, two years later, to the west of the town square. The two churches face each other across the square.
Waterford's service-oriented businesses were concentrated along High Street between the town square and First Street to the south. The three story brick building at 102 High Street was built in the mid-1830's by Peter F. Judson, a dealer in dry goods and groceries. The two story frame Greek Revival building at 117 High Street was constructed in the mid-1840's and, although remodeled, it remains as the only frame commercial structure along this street. The building at 201 High Street was also constructed in the mid-1840's and was used as Carson and Maxwell's Dry Goods Store. By the turn-of-the-century, this building housed both the post office and the headquarters for the Masonic Temple. These buildings survive today as reminders of mid-century Waterford.
In the 1840's and 1850's, the State of Pennsylvania expanded transportation capacity with the construction of canals and railroads across the state. For many frontier villages in northwestern Pennsylvania, these transportation improvements meant the possibility of attracting new industry and the chance to open their isolated hinterland markets to the larger markets of the cities. Waterford was not successful in attracting either the canal or the railroad. The Beaver and Lake Erie Canal continued up French Creek into Erie, and the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad located its depot one mile outside of Waterford. The town could not attract new industries without the incentive of improved transportation capacity, but it continued as a vital service center for the surrounding area.
In 1860, the population of Waterford peaked at 900. The majority of the residents were native-born Americans who came to Waterford from New York, Connecticut or Vermont. Although early residential development occurred along the creek, by the 1860's most of these early residences had disappeared and homes were being constructed to the north of First Street and to the east and west of High Street. Waterford was a modest town, but its residents were well-to-do having succeeded in farming, local business, or local professional practice. This is reflected in the residences of Dr. William Judson (c. 1845) at First and Walnut Streets, and the E. B. Sleeper House at 124 West Third Street (c. 1854) within the district. These homes are unique to Waterford because of their Georgian style. The more typical Waterford residences are represented by the c. 1865 frame Federal style residences of Dr. William Faulkner at 146 West Second Street, Dr. I. Barton's residence at 218 Walnut Street, and the vernacular residence of William Boyd at 101 West Second Street. The homes which survive within the district retain a high degree of integrity and are representative of the homes in Waterford constructed between 1840 and 1900.
The commercial district on High Street in 1860 was lined with two and three story frame commercial buildings. Everything from dry goods to clothing, and from hardware to paints and pharmaceuticals, was available in Waterford. In 1865, the Waterford Hotel was constructed on the southwest corner of Third and High Streets and joined the ranks of businesses servicing the region. The same year, Waterford experienced its first in a series of fires which would eventually destroy all but one of the original frame commercial buildings (117 High Street). Additional fires occurred in 1873, 1881, 1883 and a major fire in 1895 destroyed the majority of buildings along the west side of High Street. Most of the fires were suspicious and they permanently altered the appearance of the commercial district.
Following the fire of 1895, the town council of Waterford passed an ordinance prohibiting the construction of frame buildings on High Street. By August of 1895, Waterford's commercial center was well under reconstruction. At 208 High Street, H. P. Gillett constructed a two story brick building for his grocery business known as Stone and Gillett. Although the partnership dissolved in 1901, the business continued for many years. Another grocer, T. W. Whitney, constructed a new two story building for his business at 128 High Street. Davis and Patton opened at M. A. Patton's new building at 130 High Street. They sold medicines, stationary and hardware. J. L. McKay and Son reopened their dry goods business in their new building at 120 High Street. In 1898, F. W. Ensworth opened his bank in a new two story brick building at 110-112 High Street. Around the same time, the I.O.O.F. purchased the burnt property of T. W. Barton and W. L. Kelly at 216 High Street where they had operated a drug store and an Opera House. In 1905, the Odd Fellows began and completed construction on their building. In 1915, the property at 108 High Street became Burns Auto Garage with apartments on the upper floors. These various businesses continued supplying Waterford's residents and area farmers up to 1939, the end of the period of significance. Since 1939, the businesses operating along High Street have changed to accommodate contemporary needs, but they have remained local service oriented operations. The commercial district has changed very little except for the construction of a new, privately owned building that serves as the post office and a new bank on the east side of High Street.
The Waterford Historic District is architecturally significant as an intact concentration of high-style, nineteenth and early twentieth century architecture in Erie County. As confirmed by a comprehensive historic sites survey of Erie County, Waterford offers one of the best concentrations of nineteenth and early twentieth century architectural styles in the county.
Historical Reference Book of Erie County, Pennsylvania, S. B. Nelson, Erie, 1896, Vol. 1, Pages 372-378, Vol. 2, Pages 585, 676
J. J. Lints, Erie County General Directory, 1856-60, Pages 162-165
John E. Reed, History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, Warner, Beers & Company, 1884
A Twentieth Century History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, John Miller, Chicago, 1909
Jack Walter, "The Old Judson House", Erie Sunday Times, October 1, 1950
Edward Wishart, "Waterford 80 Years Ago," The Waterford Leader, June 19, 1958
Edward Wishart, "Waterford's History & Development," personal collection and clippings file, Volumes 1-10, held at Erie County Historical Society
Erie County Department of Planning, Data Analysis Reports, August 1986 and June 1987