Brookville Historic District

Brookville Boro, Jefferson County, PA

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The Brookville 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 Brookville Historic District is a mixed-use resource consisting of a commercial area, several residential neighborhoods, and a small industrial section. The district consists of approximately 90 acres and includes much of the original plat of the town as well as parts of later additions, some of which are contiguous to the downtown area. The bulk of the district is sited on a hillside north of Redbank Creek in the heart of the Borough. For the most part, building lots measure 58' x 150', except for the irregular subdivision of some outlots and other sections which were never formally platted into regularly-delineated lots.

The district is roughly divided into north and south sections by Main Street (originally Market Street), a 90-foot wide thoroughfare whose width contributes significantly to the spacious character of the central business district as a whole. The early arrangement of the town followed a grid pattern with Main Street roughly in the center, White Street running perpendicular on the west, and Franklin Avenue (originally Mill Street) on the east. Madison Street (originally Water Street) and Jefferson Street run parallel to Main on the south and north, respectively. Intersecting Main between White and Franklin from the east side to the west end are Spring Alley, Pickering Street, an unnamed alley at the Court House, Diamond Alley, Barnett Street, and parts of Gordon Alley. Cherry Alley parallels Main to the north and Hunt's Alley parallels to the south. North of Jefferson Street, moving toward the northern boundary of the district, are Coal Alley, Jared Street, and Church Street. Walnut Street can be thought of as a northward extension of White Street, near the western boundary of the district. Most streets and alleys are 66 feet and 15 feet in width, respectively. By the turn of the century most streets have been paved with brick; today parts of White, Barnett, Franklin, and Church Streets remain brick-paved, as do some of the alleys.

Of the 285 buildings in the Brookville Historic District, 221 (80%) are residential in character. There are four public buildings (the Court House, the Brookville Borough Building, Northside School, and the U. S. Post Office), six churches, and one small interconnected industrial complex. The remainder of the buildings in the district are commercial in character (18%). The nominated area has not seen a high degree of deterioration in its commercial building stock nor in the adjoining residential areas. Along the entire length of Main Street there are three vacant lots which are presently used for parking and which are shown as such on the accompanying district map. Of the total number of buildings in the district, only 22 (7%) are considered to be architecturally non-conforming; these structures are noted on the map as well as in the accompanying building inventory. In this case, non-conformity has been defined as (1) contemporary construction and (2) insensitive alteration resulting in a significant loss of architectural integrity. Incremental storefront alteration which has not seriously compromised the upper facade of any given building does not constitute non-conformity, nor in most cases does the installation of artificial siding materials. In addition to the above-mentioned parking lots on Main Street, the only other large tract of vacant land is a steep hillside area of approximately two acres which lies between Pickering, Jared, and Barnett Streets and Coal Alley. Tax maps show that there were six small wood frame houses in this area, five of which have been removed. Due to the topography this tract has remained undeveloped. In analyzing construction methods, it is noted that most of the commercial structures are of masonry construction while the residential stock is about evenly divided between wood frame and masonry. During the first quarter of the twentieth century the use of brick veneer came into vogue and some of the residences are of this type. Several tile structures (generally with a stuccoed finish) exist as do two large-scale stone churches.


The seat of Jefferson County since 1830, Brookville has played a significant role in the county and region for more than 150 years. The historic district in Brookville reflects much of that prominence. An important like in the transportation system in north-western Pennsylvania, Brookville became the heart of the region's lumber industry and an important commercial center during the mid-19th century. Architecturally, many of the structures within the district display the high degree of design skill and quality of workmanship that have been associated with Brookville for well over a century.

Development in Brookville began along Main Street and Jefferson Street and gradually spread north and south to include Franklin Avenue, Madison Street, and West Main Street. Walnut Street developed during the 1880s, and while there were dwellings on Church Street earlier, most of Church Street's development occurred between 1890 and 1930. In the town's early years most people lived in close proximity to Main Street, and these close-in areas are included in the proposed district. Immediate downtown residential development slowed during the years of the great fires of the 1870s. An 1873 newspaper editorial opinion expressed the notion that, "our Main Street is fast ceasing to be a desirable place for residences, as the business of our town will soon require the whole of it [Brookville Jeffersonian, June 11, 1873]." This opinion notwithstanding, new residences along Main Street were constructed as late as 1902.

Brookville was established in 1830 and was immediately designated county seat of Jefferson County. Its early growth and development can be attributed to its strategic location on the Susquehanna and Waterford Turnpike, the "Great Highway" which led from the Susquehanna River in Clearfield County to Waterford, in Erie County. This major overland route entered Brookville along East Main Street and originally followed Jefferson Street. As the commercial center became firmly established on Main Street, the Turnpike was moved one block to the south to conform to the right-of-way of Main Street itself. To accommodate the traffic of drovers and stage coach passengers, a number of hotels were built along Main Street. Surviving today are the Railroad House (1851, later the Union Hotel, at Main and White Streets), the Central Hotel (1876, located diagonally across Main Street from the Court House), and the New Jefferson House (1904, at Main Street and Spring Alley; remodeled in 1918 as the Columbia Theater). None of these remain in use as hotels today.

While transportation certainly played a major role in Brookville's earliest development, the greatest force which affected the town's fortunes during its first 75 years was the lumber industry. As early as 1830 timber was being taken off the land around Brookville and rafted down Sandy Lick, North Fork, and Redbank Creeks to the lumber markets at Pittsburgh. By the 1860s lumber trade in Brookville was estimated at 20 million feet annually and was served by more than fifty mills in the immediate Brookville area. Mill Street (later Franklin Avenue) was named for its close proximity to the Litch and Cook mills at the east end of Main Street. Several important mills were located near the downtown but none have survived. Some commercial buildings in the district, including the two blocks built by Uriah Matson and the Marlin Opera House Block, were built by men whose fortunes had been made in lumbering around Brookville.

Successful lumbermen also chose the heart of town to erect their own dwellings which today add to the associative significance of the historic district. Among these are the homes of J. N. Garrison (360 Main Street), S. S. Henderson (100 Franklin Avenue) William D. Shields (296 Jefferson Street), Edward Litch (147 Jefferson Street), Frank L. Verstine (173 Main Street), Edward H. Darrah (340 Main Street), Calvin Rodgers (160 Jefferson Street), and Joseph E. Hall House, (419 W. Main Street), and later occupied by R. J. Nicholson, another prominent lumberman; listed individually in the National Register as the Joseph E. Hall House, 12-13-78).

Merchants and professionals made a considerable contribution to the character and significance of the Brookville Historic District, not only in the buildings which were constructed in the commercial area, but also in the residences which were built in the district during the town's first century. These include individuals such as Levi Lerch (216 Franklin Avenue), Charles S. Irvin (170 Jefferson Street), Harry G. Means (182 Jefferson Street), William K. Fetzer (252 Jefferson Street), David A. Henderson (302 Jefferson Street), W. H. Gray (9 Walnut Street), Lewis A. Brady (360 Main Street), James Canning (316 Main Street), William I. Burton (280 Jefferson Street), and J. W. Henderson (164 Main Street). Bankers, too, are represented in the neighborhoods surrounding the commercial area. Local bankers whose homes are in the historic district include W. F. Clark (160 Jefferson Street and 319 Main Street), Joseph B. Henderson (476 West Main Street), Frank P. Verstine (173 Main Street), Lawrence V. Deemer (5 South Main Street), D. L. Taylor (333 Church Street), and Thomas L. Templeton (113 Main Street). As the county seat, Brookville was home to a number of attorneys (including one Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.) Lawyers and judges represented in the historic district include Alexander L. Gordon (301 Main Street), Charles Corbet (340 Main Street), Alexander C. White (200 Jefferson Street), E. Heath Clark (306 Main Street), Edward A. Carmalt (197 Barnett Street), C. C. Benscoater (134 Jefferson Street), Chief Justice Isaac Grantham Gordon (home at 12 Walnut Street, office at 278 Main Street), C. Z. Gordon (24 Walnut Street), John Reed (corner Gordon and Cherry Alleys), William T. Darr (125 North White Street), and John B. Stewart (189 Franklin Avenue). Physicians represented in the district include Drs. A. M. Clarke (354 Main Street), A. F. Balmer (269 Main Street), Robert S. Hunt (15 Walnut Street), T. C. Lawson and Wayne Snyder (both 103 Jefferson Street), and Walter Dick (Church and Walnut Streets). Dr. A. F. Balmer was one of the founders of the Jefferson County Medical Society, and the home of Dr. A. M. Clarke was the site of an 1850's incident which in the 1880's led to the passage of legislation of prime importance to medical research in Pennsylvania.

In 1857 a group of local physicians exhumed the body of a recently-deceased man with the intention of medical dissection — a highly illegal activity at the time. The dissection itself took place in a back room of the Dr. A. M. Clarke House at 345 Main Street. The perpetrators were apprehended and were prosecuted for their crime. One of the group, Dr. William J. McKnight (who had read medicine under Dr. Clarke and had married his daughter), went on to become a State Senator and in 1883 sponsored and saw passed Pennsylvania's first piece of legislation permitting human dissection for medical research purposes.

During the Civil War the famous "Wildcat Regiment," the 105th Pennsylvania Volunteers, was recruited from the area around Brookville, and the homes of a number of officers in this and other regiments are included in the historic district, adding to the associative historical significance of the nominated area. In addition, there is also one early-documented Underground Railroad refuge in the district. Private residences with local military significance include the homes of the following: Dr. A. M. Clarke (345 Main Street), home of the first man to plant Union colors on Confederate-held territory during the Battle of Winchester in 1862; W. A. Burkett (5 Walnut Street), home of 2nd Lieutenant in the Emergency Men of 1864; J. N. Garrison, (360 Main Street), residence of a 2nd Lieutenant in Co. H., 57th Regiment; A. L. Gordon (301 Main Street), home of a Captain in Co. B., 57th Regiment; R. J. Nicholson (413 West Main Street), home of a Captain who was one of a 4-man honor guard for the lying-in-state of Abraham Lincoln at Indianapolis, Indiana; and John McMurray (388 Jefferson Street), residence of a Major with the 6th U. S. Colored Troop. In addition to these homes, the Marlin Opera House on Main Street, itself an architectural landmark of major proportions, is the only tangible remnant of the productive life of Col. Silas J. Marlin, the Brookville man who recruited Co. 1 of the 148th and who in 1865 was appointed Inspector at Fortress Monroe during the first part of Confederate President Jefferson Davis' imprisonment there.

The home of Judge Elijah Heath, at 66 Pickering Street, is of prime importance to humanitarian abolitionist endeavors in Brookville. Judge Heath (1797-1875) was a noted leader in the local anti-slavery movement and his modest frame home, built in 1836 and remodeled in a Victorian mode in 1902 was documented as early as 1888 as having been one of Brookville's Underground Railroad stops. The house retains the basement passageway which provided cover for runaways on their way to Canada, a fact documented in 1902 in a local newspaper article [Jeffersonian Democrat, March 6, 1902]

Architecturally, the Brookville Historic District is significant for its well-maintained cohesive collection of commercial and residential buildings executed in a variety of stylistic modes and reflecting the architectural taste of the community over a 90-year span. The earliest high-style buildings in the district are Greek Revival in characteristics, with symmetrical arrangements, relatively low windows, moulded cornices with full or partial returns, and doorways having glazed transoms and sidelights. These include the Joseph E. Hall House (413 West Main Street, ca. 1848; N.R. 12-13-78) a monumental temple-form residence with a 2-story Ionic portico flanked by wings on both sides of a pilastered central portion; the old M. E. Parsonage (154 Madison Street), a 3-bay temple-form house with a full return on the cornice and a handsome, delicately glazed transom and sidelights surrounding the main door; the Enoch Hall House (433 Madison Street), a 3-bay house with a symmetrical facade and a deeply recessed entry with transom and sidelights; the Railroad House Hotel (1851, at Main and White Streets) whose original section is a 5-bay brick structure with partial returns on the cornice and glazed transom and sidelights; the W. F. Clark House (1851-52, 160 Jefferson Street), a 3-bay half house in brick with the main door offset on the facade with handsome, presently leaded, glass transom and sidelights; an upright-and-wing in wood frame at 455 West Main, featuring a pilastered 3-bay upright section with a 1-story wing on commercial building with corner pilasters and a full return on the cornice. The only hint at the Romanesque Revival is found in the doorway of the otherwise Greek Revival Truby-Means House (1849, 197 Jefferson Street). This door features a rock-faced, round-arched void on a formal, symmetrical facade of trabeated openings. The district also contains a number of interesting residential buildings exhibiting board-and-batten finishes. Some of these are vernacular in character while others are executed in the more highly-detailed modes of the Gothic Revival. These generally have steeply pitched roofs, moulded battens, bargeboard in the eaves, and windows with hoodmolds. Included here are three vernacular houses at 413, 417, and 419 Madison Street; the Kennedy L. Blood House at 332 Madison Street, the Edward A. Carmalt House (1888, 197 Barnett Street); the R. S. Hunt House (15 Walnut Street); and the town's finest Steamboat Gothic cottage, the George VanVliet House (1867, 271 Church Street). By far, the most prevalent style in the district's commercial building stock — and not unrepresented in the residential mix — is Italianate. Commercial buildings are characterized by tall, narrow window proportions, ornamental window heads of stone or metal, and lavish, overhanging cornices of wood or metal. Italianate commercial buildings of particular note in the Brookville Historic District include the Blood Block (1875-1876, 172-176 Main Street), the Verstine-Sandt Building (1882, 183-185 Main Street), the Long-Pearsall Building (1874, 191 Main Street), the Marlin Opera House Block (1883-1884, 225,237 Main Street), and the Rodgers-Canning Building (1878, 251-259 Main Street). Italianate residences are generally large in scale, in Brookville's case usually of wood frame construction, often are finished with rusticated wood siding giving the effect of stone, have highly-detailed window trim, and have lavishly ornamented cornices with brackets and panels. Outstanding examples of Italianate residences include the Garrison-Brady House (ca. 1871, 360 Main Street), the Darrah-Corbet House (1872, 340 Main Street), and the homes of Dr. T. C. Lawson (ca. 1870, 103 Jefferson Street), George F. Dodd (1873, 134 Church Street), James Brick (1875, 152 Church Street), and E. Clark Hall (ca. 1875, 461 Madison Street). Eastlake is generally a mode of ornament rather than an architectural style per se, and Eastlake porches are noted on the Dr. A. M. Clarke House (ca. 1856, 345 Main Street), on the Lutheran Parsonage (porch added 1899, 86 Jefferson Street), and on the old M. E. Parsonage at 154 Madison Street. The French Second Empire style is also found in the district and is used exclusively for residential construction. Notable examples of Second Empire, homes include the Gray-Taylor House (1882, 9 Walnut Street; N.R. 8-3-79), the Burkett-Truman House (1882, 5 Walnut Street), the B. M. Clark House (Gordon and Cherry Alleys), and the Presbyterian Manse (1884, 120 North White Street; N.R. 11/25/82). Several important Queen Anne homes also add character to the district and stand out with their irregular plan, sometimes the use of towers, and generally some sort of variegated finish. These include the Charles S. Krvin House (ca. 1890, 170 Jefferson Street), the Meredith-Henderson House (1873, 476 West Main Street), the Judge Henry Truman House (1890, 100 Main Street), the Edward B. Henderson House (1894, 357 Main Street) and the S. S. Henderson House (1894, 100 Franklin Avenue). Other handsome Queen Anne residences include the David A. Henderson House (1893, 304 Jefferson Street) and the C. Z. Gordon House (1889-1890, 24 Walnut Street).

The waning of the nineteenth century in Brookville saw the rise of new architectural styles, many of which are represented in the historic district. The Colonial Revival saw the construction of a number of homes in the historic district, most of which were characterized by a symmetry of plan and an overall formalism unheard of during the years of Victorian flamboyance. Executed along these lines were the homes of William I. Burton (1903, 284 Jefferson Street), Harry G. Means (1910, 180 Jefferson Street), Taylor D. Rhines (1903, 264 Jefferson Street), and the town's finest, the Georgian Revival home of Frank K. Brown (1922, 420 West Main Street). One Spanish Colonial home was built, that of Frank P. Verstine (1922, 438 West Main Street); there are two Tudor Revival homes, those of L. V. Deemer (5 South Main Street) and John T. Armstrong (152 Jefferson Street); and several bungalows, the finest — and earliest — of which is the William D. Shields House (1914, 296 Jefferson Street).

Three resources represent the educational history of the town of Brookville. At the intersection of Church and Franklin, there is a small wood frame residence which once was a school house. The Board of Education purchased the ground in the late 1850s , and this modest structure is the earliest documented building used for educational purposes in the Borough of Brookville. Further west on Church Street stands a much later educational resource, the Northside School of 1939, a Works Progress Administration project built in the Colonial Revival style. Finally, at 209 Main Street, in the heart of the central business district, stands the McKnight Building. In February, 1888, Ida Hall opened a kindergarten here, the first of its kind recorded in Brookville.

The religious history of the town is represented in a number of churches. Two large stone churches are architectural landmarks in their own right: the Presbyterian Church (Main and White Streets, 1904; N.R. 11/26/1982), a Richardsonian Romanesque church in brownstone with a green tile roof; and the Methodist Episcopal Church at Jefferson and Pickering Streets (1910; burned, 1921 and rebuilt 1922-23), a Late Gothic Revival edifice of limestone capped with a red barrel tile roof. Other churches in the district include the Baptist Church at Main and Franklin Avenue, a Gothic Revival structure of wood frame, to which has been added a new entrance and artificial siding; the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church at Pickering and Madison, also a frame church of the Gothic Revival, and also somewhat altered; the Evangelical Church, on Madison Street, is a wood frame Gothic Revival Church built in 1872; and the Grace Lutheran Church, at Jefferson and Franklin, a Gothic Revival church with a central tower, trimmed with Italianate brackets.

One small industrial site is located in the district. This is the Jenks Foundry, located at the foot of the Pickering Street hill, along Redbank Creek. The earliest of the present buildings, namely those facing Pickering Street, were erected by W. H. Jenks in 1878, after a fire in the summer of 1877 swept away the earlier foundry. From this foundry Jenks produced steam engines, boilers, equipment for use in area coal mining operations, and during the 1920s manufactured North Star refrigerators.

While one naturally assumes that master builders were active in the life of any town, the Brookville Historic District is especially important because of the fact that a number of individual builders have been conclusively identified with specific buildings throughout the district. The town's best-known early builder was Robert P. Barr, who died in 1870. Primarily a stone and brick mason, he assisted in the construction of the first Jefferson County Court House, built the Harrison Matson Building (1849, 188-198 Main Street), and the W. F. Clark Street (1851-42, 160 Jefferson Street). Thomas M. Barr built the Truby-Means House (1849, 197 Jefferson Street), the Railroad House Hotel (1851, 405 West Main Street), and the Judge E. Heath Clark House (1881, 306 Main Street). Other builders from this early period include Daniel English, an architect/builder who is represented in the district by the Jefferson County Court House (1867) and by his own home at 379 Main Street. Another local architect/builder who figured into the early construction history of Brookville is Martin Sadler (1833-1906), who built the old M. E. Church at Pickering Street and Cherry Alley in 1885-1886, undertook the carpentry work for the W. H. Darrah House (1880, 179 Franklin Avenue), and designed and built his own residence at 431 West Main Street. Daniel Baumgardner built the G. B. Carrier House (1897, 365 Main Street). He is known to have been very active in Brookville, but this is the only structure in the historic district associated with his work. A Mr. Mapes, of Corsica, Pennsylvania, was responsible for the masonry work on the above-mentioned W. H. Darrah House, and also built the Gray-Taylor House (1882, 9 Walnut Street; N.R. 8-3-79). Charles B. Hastings was one of Brookville's most active builders from the 1880s through the 'teens. He worked with Martin Sader on the above-mentioned M. E. Church, in 1897 designed and installed a handsome oriel for the Carrah-Corbet House (340 Main Street) added a veranda on the E. Heath Clark House (306 Main Street) in 1898, in 1899 undertook extensive remodeling of the Dr. T. C. Lawson House (103 Jefferson Street) including a magnificent veranda, and in 1903 was responsible for both a remodeling of the Court House and the construction of the W. I. Burton House (284 Jefferson Street). The long career of John H. Carr is also amply represented in the district, including the following: the M. E. Parsonage (196 Jefferson Street), and homes for Gilmore C. Reitz (198 North Pickering Street) and D. F. Hibbard (33 S. Pickering Street), all in 1903; the New Jefferson House Hotel (150 Main Street), the Presbyterian Church (Main and White Streets), and the Porter S. Brown House (320 Jefferson Street), all in 1904; an addition to the Union Hotel (405 W. Main Street) in 1906; the Buffington Building (180 Main Street) in 1908; an extensive remodeling of the B. M. Clark House for Judge John Reed (at the corner of Cherry and Gordon Alleys) in 1909; the Rev. W. S. Fulton House (353 Church Street) in 1910; the L. A. Leather Ford garage (224-230 Madison Street) in 1917; the Jefferson County National Bank (213 Main Street) in 1926; and a stucco-on-tile service station for Walter J. Sandt (298 Main Street) in 1929. Builder Ray H. Richards (1878-1948) was active during this period, building homes for George D. Jenks (443 W. Main Street, 1906), Harry G. Means (182 Jefferson Street, 1910) and Dr. A. R. Day (453 W. Main Street, 1912), Frank K. Brown (420 West Main) and Frank P. Verstine (438 West Main), both in 1922, as well as the Brookville Y.M.C.A. (1915), the Baker Buick Co. (281-291 Main Street, 1919) and the remodeling of and an auditorium addition to the New Jefferson House Hotel for its new use as the Columbia Theater (1918-1919).

Finally, artistry of a more specialized nature is also found in the Brookville Historic District in the work of master parquet artist Casper Helmheckel. The installation of parquet floors became popular in Brookville around the turn of the century, and Helmheckel was universally recognized as the foremost partitioner of this impressive art form. In some cases he installed parquet floors (also locally known as "opera" floors) in new residences, while in other instances he placed parquetry in homes as part of a remodeling plan. Identified examples of his work in the district include the homes of the following: Richard M. Matson (106 Main Street, 1900), William I. Burton (284 Jefferson Street, 1903), David L. Taylor (333 Church Street, remodeled 1903), Truby-Means House (197 Jefferson Street, remodeled 1903), L.A. Brady (360 Main Street, remodeled 1904), Sylvester Truman (246 Jefferson Street, remodeled 1904), E. Heath Clark (306 Main Street, remodeled 1904), Richard Arthurs (273 Main Street, remodeled 1904) and W. H. Gray (9 Walnut Street, remodeled 1909).

As demonstrated in the preceding paragraphs, the Brookville Historic District is the embodiment of the history of the county seat of Jefferson County since its earliest days. The district possesses a high degree of architectural integrity and cohesiveness, and represents the cultural, political, religious, professional, and domestic life of Brookville from the 1830s until the 1930s. The town was home to one State Supreme Court Chief Justice and to another attorney who was one of the incorporators of the Law School at Dickinson College. It was home to one physician who sponsored legislation which impacted the study of anatomy across the state. And, finally, the district reflects the architecture and the building trades in the community of Brookville as shown in an impressive array of individual residential, commercial, and industrial buildings.

Major Bibliographical References

Brookville Civic Club. "Heritage Buildings of Brookville" (Brookville, Pa.: Brookville Civic Club, 1980).

Caldwell, J. A. Illustrated Historical Combination Atlas of Jefferson County, Pennsylvania (Condit, Ohio: J. A. Caldwell, 1878).

Craig, Robert S. A History of Brookville (Brookville, Pa.: The McMurray Company, 1972).

McCracken, W. L. Builders of a County Seat (Brookville, Pa.: Brookville Republican, 1920)

McKnight, William J., M. D. A Pioneer History of Jefferson County, Pennsylvania: 1755-1844 (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippencott, 1898).

__________. Jefferson County, Pennsylvania: Her Pioneers and People (Chicago: J. H. Beers, 1917).

"Sanborn Insurance Maps of Brookville, Pennsylvania." (New York: Sanborn Map Co., 1887, 1890, 1894, 1899, 1904, 1910, 1921).

Scott, Kate M. History of Jefferson County, Pennsylvania (Syracuse, New York: D. Mason & Co., 1888).

  1. Taylor, David L., Historic Brookville Inc., Brookville Historic District, Jefferson County PA, nomination document, 1984, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Church Street • Franklin Avenue • Jefferson Street • Madison Street • Main Street

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