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Waynesburg Historic District

Waynesburg Boro, Greene County, PA

The Waynesburg 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. [1]

The historic district is located in the center of the Borough of Waynesburg. It encompasses 152.6 acres which is almost 36 percent of the total size of the Borough. All of the central business district is included in addition to the entire campus of Waynesburg College. The balance of the proposed district includes residential structures.

There are 741 buildings located within the proposed historic district of which 85 are commercial, 10 are associated with Waynesburg College, 7 churches, 1 County Courthouse, 1 County Jail, and 1 Borough Building with the remaining (636) encompassing residential structures.

The vast majority of the buildings are in very good condition (approximately 80 percent). It is estimated that almost 12 percent are in excellent condition, leaving a balance of only 8 percent in poor condition. (Please note: The above percentages are presented for illustrative purposes only and based upon several windshield surveys and two comprehensive surveys conducted on foot.)

The integrity of the entire proposed district is of the highest quality. Very few buildings (approximately 5 percent) have been "remodeled" which is defined as "removing significant architectural elements, covering over important building material with inappropriate modern material or the removal of significant portions of the building/adding inappropriate additions."

The important architectural styles of the proposed district are:

  1. a. High Victorian Italianate with its segmented arched windows. Cornices contain overscaled and highly decorative brackets.
  2. Second Empire style with its high mansard roof and a curb around the top of its visible slopes. In general, these buildings are tall, boldly remodeled and three-dimensional in visual appearance.
  3. Stick style which have tall proportions with high, steep roofs and complex floor plans. The eaves of the roof are supported by large brackets; and, finally, there is often exposed framing in the gable end of the roof.
  4. Queen Anne style having an irregular floor plan and massing, variety of color and texture in addition to the use of several different types of material used for the wall surfaces.
  5. Georgian Revival Neo-Colonial style having a very rectangular floor plan, minimum of minor projections. The hipped roof is often topped with a flat deck and contains a central cupola.

Almost all buildings are constructed of brick-bearing walls with the roof and floors supported by wood joists. Some contain stained-glass windows at the stair landings or on the middle window of the second floor. Most residential roofs were originally covered with multi-colored slate of a highly decorative pattern while the pitched roofs of the center city commercial buildings were constructed of standing seam galvanized iron.

Most residential structures are two stories high with a full height attic spaces (8 feet in the center). They sit in the center of a lot which is normally 50-60 feet wide and 100 feet deep. The structure approaches 30 feet in height (measured from the sidewalk elevating to the top pitch of the roof). Approximately 3 feet of the basement wall is exposed (normally constructed of sandstone) with two small windows visible from the street elevation. Most buildings contain front porches which are integrated with the floor plan of the building and are not simply "attached" to the front facade. Most residential buildings are 35-40 feet wide and 55 feet long and have a total square footage of 3200 (excluding the basement and attic space).

The center city portion of the proposed district is concentrated along High Street and is 360 feet wide and 1700 feet long (14 acres). Almost all buildings are two stories high with the older structures (1850-1880) containing hip or gable roofs constructed of standing seam galvanized iron. Very few structures have slate roofs as opposed to the residential neighborhoods. The structures within this category (1850-1880) have a Federal (1. steeply-pitched roofs; 2. thin, light mouldings; 3. lack of architectural embellishment; 4. delicate design; 5. dormers; 6. simply ornamented cornices) or Greek Revival feeling (1. wide cornices; 2. flat-headed entry ways flanked by pilasters; 3. side lights surrounding the front door).

The second category of center city buildings are those constructed between 1880-1910. These structures are usually much larger and contain a third floor. In one case, the building reaches 6 stories in height. Their roofs were usually flat and are associated with the Italianate Style (1. emphasis on vertical orientation; 2. flat roofs; 3. floral "frieze" patterns; 4. ornate cornices brackets; 5. decorative trim over doors and windows).

Some of the more recent structures (such as, the First Federal Bank Building) were constructed in 1920 and are "modern" Greek Revival in design.

It is estimated that only 5 percent of the total number of structures contained within the proposed historic district are "non-contributing" (gas stations, trailer court, circa 1970 college buildings) with an equal amount of "significant" buildings (County Courthouse, original college buildings, churches and mansions). Therefore, approximately 90 percent of the building "contribute" to the historic district.

The Borough of Waynesburg currently represents a fine example of "Victorian" architecture as it appeared at the turn of the century. The vast majority of its buildings have not been altered, thereby giving one a true sense of a small rural town during the 1890's to 1910. Within the proposed district Boundaries are found three types of land use of which each possesses groupings of distinctly visible features. When viewed as a coherent whole, they present relationships which convey a sense of historic environment. The land uses are: the campus of Waynesburg College, the central business district and the surrounding residential area. Perhaps the most important feature of the district is the authenticity of the built environment's historic quality: its integrity. Few towns in Western Pennsylvania possess such integrity of high quality. The district conveys a strong association of historical architectural quality as it existed in the late 1890's. Most of the important architectural styles, popular at that time, can be found side-by-side within the proposed district.

The location of the town's major land uses is a textbook example of how small-town America developed as the Nation expanded under its industrial revolution. A quick review of Main Street: The Face of Urban America by Carole Rifkind and Small Town America: A Narrative History by Richard Lingeman confirm the importance of the relationship between the College, town center and residential uses around the Commons. The Commons, or open space park, was an important part of the City Beautiful Movement at the turn of the century. It remains today an important space in which many community events occur. Its adjacency to Waynesburg College, center city and prominent residential structures insure its continued use in the future.

Buildings remain at their original setting and feature quality materials. Roofs are covered with multi-colored slate of various shapes and sizes. Highly decorative wood brackets support large cornices and dentils and diamond or lozenge frets. Oak doors with sidelights adorn the main entrance of many of these brick buildings. The workmanship is of the highest quality; therefore, it is the combination of all of the above factors which convey a feeling and association of turn-of-the-century small town.

The development of the town corresponds to the development of its economy. In the later part of the 1860's, Greene County became Pennsylvania's second largest producer of wool. Several important commercial buildings were constructed in the center of town during this time (County Courthouse and Jail, Messenger Building, The Bull's Head Tavern - present location of Fort Jackson Hotel, The Farmers and Drovers National Bank Building - presently occupied by the Borough). In 1889 large amounts of natural gas were found on the E. M. Sayers and Grimes farms. By 1900 more than 1,600 productive gas wells could be found throughout the County.

The need to supply coal for the emerging steel industry in Pittsburgh, only 50 miles down stream via the Monongahela River, gave rise to coal speculation in the 1890's. Both these natural resources made many local landowners very wealthy as they began to sell their mineral rights. This substantial influx of capital enabled Waynesburg, the County seat, to construct impressive buildings. The vast majority of the center city was actually constructed between 1885 and 1910. Individual houses of substantial size and elegance were constructed during this era. These were normally located just north of the business district, adjacent to the College and churches, or along High Street or Greene Street, just east of the center city.

Greene County lies in the southwestern corner of the State. Permanent settlement in the area began in 1764 following the last major Indian effort in response to Pontiac's rebellion.

Many of these early settlers came from Maryland and Virginia, with some coming as far away as New Jersey.

In 1767 both Jackson's Fort (near Waynesburg) and Garard's Fort were constructed. (Unfortunately, both forts have been destroyed.) Although there are no historical accounts of pitched bottles or of lengthy sieges, there are over a hundred stories of atrocities. Most hostility occurred between 1774 and 1794 when the Indians often attacked an individual family in its cabin. The last of the "massacres" by Indians was the killing of the Crow sisters in the western part of the county in 1791.

Greene County, created by a statute of February 9,1796, was made up of townships then part of Washington County (the adjacent county due south). The basic reason for its creation was to put a maximum amount of land in the hands of actual settlers so as to reduce the amount of land held by absentee landowners who held large areas for speculation.

The first task of the newly appointed County Commissioners in 1796 was to select and purchase a site for the County Seat. The act creating the new county required that it be located within five miles of the County's center.

In 1771 Thomas Slater settled on Ten Mile Creek in what was then W. Augusta District, Virginia. Legend states that he purchased 395 acres of this land from an Indian for a two-year old heifer and a flint-lock rifle. The legal title to this land (later known as Waynesburg Borough) was procured by application and survey upon which a patent was issued March 7, 1789.

Thomas Slater sold almost 159 acres, called Eden, to the newly appointed County Commissioners on October 28, 1796, for $2,396 to be used as a new County Seat.

In 1843 there were only about eighty dwellings in Waynesburg. By 1875 there were approximately 120 dwellings (as determined by a "roof count" from a photograph). As 1906 approached, more than 350 residential, commercial and industrial buildings could be found within the Borough boundaries (as determined by a "roof count" from a photograph).

The original boundary streets were appropriately named East, West, South and North (Wayne) Streets. Other interior streets were named after Revolutionary War heroes. The Borough became incorporated in 1816. County business was first conducted in a log house located on Greene Street (still in existence but hardly recognizable because of extensive remodeling). The first County Courthouse was built in 1800 and was located in Public Square on High Street, the center of town. This small brick structure, with accompanying stone jail, was built by Robert Milliken, a native of Ireland. The present Courthouse was built in 1850 and was built in the same location as the first. Samuel and John Bryan of Uniontown were the contractors for a building which was to emulate the plan, style and material of the then-existing Fayette Courthouse for a total cost of $16,000.

Waynesburg College opened its doors in 1851. It was founded by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, a denomination believing in emotional worship and a zealous life. The College has always taken pride in having been the first co-educational institution of higher learning in Pennsylvania. Three important alumni are: Gov. Edward Martin and Congressman Thomas Ellsworth Morgan and Dr. L. James Lewis, a key man in the team of scientists working with Dr. Jonas Salk who discovered the first polio vaccine.

The proposed district is significant because it retains, almost unaltered, small town environment typical of those established in the mid-nineteenth century and developed at the turn of the century. All of the important land uses (commercial, center city, college, railroad station and associated residential) necessary to the development of a small town in the hinterland of a developing nation can be viewed in an undisturbed state. It is the purpose of this district to preserve and protect its small town environment and related cultural resources.

  1. Glance, A. Richard, Waynesburg Historic District, Greene County, nomination document, 1983, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
1st Avenue • 2nd Alley • Blackberry Alley • Bowlby Street • Cherry Alley • Church Street • College Street West • Cumberland Street North • Findley Alley • Franklin Street East • Franklin Street West • Morgan Street North • Morris Street North • Nazer Street • Richhill Street North • Route 19 • Route 21 • Spring Street • Strawberry Street • Washington Street North • Wayne Street East • Wayne Street West • West Street North • Woods Street North