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Wellsville Borough

York County, Pennsylvania

Wellsville Borough Hall is located at 299 Main Street, Wellsville PA 17365.
Phone: 717‑432‑3395.

The borough was incorporated in 1892; it is slightly more than 1/10th of a square mile in area.

The Wellsville Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.Text, below, was adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1]

Historic District

Historic Wellsville is epitomized by neither a house of architectural grandeur nor a spot at which some event of national significance occurred. Instead it is best described as an assemblage of some 50 dwellings which still provide a significant vista of a 19th century village. The overall scene is harmonious and practically unaltered since the turn of the century.

The village is located on state route 74 in the Triassic uplands of northern York County, Pennsylvania. It is still relatively isolated from urban influences as the cities of York, Carlisle and Harrisburg are all over a half an hour drive away. The historic district will include most of the 19th century houses in the village on either side of route 74 (Main Street and York Street).

The western boundary of the district encompasses the first focal point in the village, a casebook Gothic house built in 1872. It features red double doors, green shutters and a decoratively shingled front gable. Across the street to the east is the red brick Methodist Church with a gable end facade, pedimented lintels and paneled reveals. When the cornerstone was laid in 1852 the church stood in open fields. The buildings on both sides of the street up until the intersection of Main and Chestnut Streets are from a later period in the 19th century. Although of a variety of styles, they present a uniform vista. This effect is produced by the similar sizes of the structures, the brick sidewalks and the tree lined streets.

The next area of increased interest is located just east of the intersection of Main Street and Chestnut Street. The "Wellsville House," a grey clapboard structure on one side and two handsome Greek Revival style brick homes on the other side. Early maps and census lists (1850 and 1860) indicate that a tannery operated on the land now occupied by the Wellsville House and that the tannery included a two story frame building. The present building was probably once used as a tannery and is one of the few industrial buildings left in the village. Since that time the structure has been through many changes, it has been a restaurant, plastics factory, art gallery and most recently a real estate office.

The two bricks across the street are identical in style, however one is a 3-bay single house and the other is twice as big and is a duplex. Small eyebrow or architrave windows take the place of dormers on the third floor and are covered with a decorative iron grill work.

The very heart of the early village consists of the small clapboard buildings to the east of Chestnut Street, dating from c. 1845. The gable end construction and small size, 1-1/2 stories, is not typical of rural buildings and reflects their original purpose, housing for the hands in the whip factory. Two are still in use as residences and the third has been attractively revamped into a drygoods shop.

The center of Wellsville is a suitable focal point for village life. The post office, bank and dentist office stand on three corners. The post office has also been a multi-use building, constructed as a farmhouse, it was later expanded into the Wellsville Inn.

Across the street, the large brick building is named after its original owner, Wells Farrah. It was constructed in two sections. The western portion was once a Greek Revival style three bay house with the door on the side, very similar in style to the two bricks up the street. The eastern two bays were added about ten years later in c. 1860. The doorway is now the centerpiece of the building and is particularly handsome with its carved details, classical transoms and sidelights. Although the roof lines have been brought into harmony and the whole structure has been painted white it still remains two separate structures inside.

The sandstone bank is dated 1928 and was the last major construction site in the village. It faces one of the remnants of the original Wells farm, a small clapboard farmer tenant house. From this point, Main Street slopes gently down to the brook. On its slopes sit the large yellow barn part of the original Wells farm and across the street stands Abram Wells' 1869 mansion house. This classically fenestrated house with its decorative white trim was built to replace the earlier brick farm house that burned in the 1850's.

East of the brook, the land south of the street is still farmed. On the other side are two large turn of the century homes. The second house is the less altered of the two. It has Stick style motifs on the upper stories and rectangular stained glass windows. The large yards and open fields across the street give both houses an air of spaciousness.

Main Street gradually rises up again out of the, small valley carved by the brook. A row of simpler turn of the century houses follows this rise up to the intersection of Main and York Streets. The Historic District follows state Route 74 as it continues southeast on York Street leading towards the city of York 14 miles away.

Around the corner, the 1908 Evangelical Methodist Church offers a break of brick in the row of frame houses. The boundary of the district is reached at the property line of the last of the 19th century frame houses. Again, a feeling of uniformity is evoked by all these houses although none are identical in style. The use of novelty siding, decorative lintels and Gothic dormers adds interest to each structure. All were built between 1900 and 1910 at a later date than the western portion of the village.

The focal point of the eastern end of the village is a large Queen Anne styled school building. Built in 1903 the building manages to attractively combine a red tiled roof, half timbering, and a native fieldstone foundation. The school building's unusual appearance is enhanced by its location on a gentle rise at the head of the village.

The Historic District continues east across the street to encompass two more representative structures. One is an 1890 red brick one room school house which is now used as the borough office. Adjacent to this school and just outside the borough limits is the former Brougher fly net factory. A two story frame structure on a stone foundation, this building and the tannery are the two remaining monuments to what was once a thriving manufacturing center for leather products.

The Wellsville Historic District is an example of a small village brought to life by the industrial growth of the 19th century and then left in the backwaters by later technological advances. As Gibson writes in his 1886 History of York County, "This town was the direct result of the whip factory here and was started about the year 1843."

The development of what is today Wellsville borough began with the Wells family who bought the land from the original Quaker patentees. Abram Wells, a son of the original settler, started a whip manufacturing company in York, Pennsylvania which he moved back to the family farm in 1843.

The business prospered, a tannery was built in the village to provide raw materials for buggy whips. Later, other leather related industries settled in Wellsville; first a fly net factory followed by a company producing baby shoes.

The increasing use of the automobile in the 1920's brought great changes to Wellsville. The buggy whip and fly net factories declined and then folded, no new construction took place. The village residents had to look in other directions to find employment. The character of the village changed from industrial to residential.

The village is an amalgam of styles popular in the 19th century, reflecting the industrial prosperity of this period and the changing American tastes in houses.

Some of the rural origins of Wellsville are visible to this day. Near the center of the village stands a large yellow barn once used by the Wells family to shelter their stock and store winter forage. The one and one-half story clapboard house associated with the barn was once a farmer tenant house. The pitch of the roof and the wide, irregular clapboards are indicative of the early 19th century, when the land was first farmed.

Abram Wells and his brother, John, built at least three small gable end houses to fill at least some of the housing needs of the whip hands in the factory. The early tax rolls show that married men lived in the houses with their families, while the younger, single men boarded with the Wells brothers.

Around 1850 a brick kiln was established along the banks of Doe Run, the small brook that cuts across the borough. Handsome Greek Revival style houses, such as the two bricks and Wells Farrah's store were built at this time. Pedimented lintels, moderate roof angles, and third floor architrave windows with decorative iron grills distinguish these houses. The brick Methodist church on Main Street also emanates a classical feeling. The simple gable end structure has a dentil design along the pediment and cornice and pedimented window lintels.

The Civil War brought more business to the Wells Whip Company in the form of a large contract for whips and ammunition belts. It also brought Jeb Stuart's troops to the village on their way to Gettysburg. They reportedly bought out the Wells store and meticulously paid for everything in Confederate money.

The Victorian era is represented by several of the houses in the village, most notably "Willowdale" the Wells' 1869 cut stone mansion house located across from the barn. It is built of sandstone quarried only two miles from the village and is trimmed with whimsical white woodwork.

The Crone house at the western end of the village is a classic Victorian Gothic cottage. Touches of gingerbread are found throughout the village.

Despite several disastrous fires, whip manufacturing continued to prosper. By 1885 it had sales of over $100,000 a year. Steam engines were brought in to power the machinery and to heat the factory building.

Wellsville reached its zenith just past the turn of the century. A large, stone whip factory was built with increased steam power installed to drive large flywheel engines. A firm specializing first in fly nets and later in baby shoes constructed a three story frame factory near the whip factory. Another fly net manufacturer, the W.D. Brougher Net Company, went into business at the eastern end of the village. Their two story frame structure is one of the few industrial structures standing today.

Two large turn of the century frame houses exhibit the affluence of the factory managers. Also in this period (1903) the village was presented with a Queen Anne style school building by the New York industrialist, Richard Young, who was married to a daughter of Abram Wells. Dedicated to the memory of their son, William Wells Young, who died of diphtheria at age 12, the school offered a complete curriculum from elementary to high school. Although vacated by the school district, the school still stands at the head of the village.

With the industrial decline of the village after World War I, new construction in the village ceased. The last building of any note to be built in Wellsville was the bank, in 1928. Built in a classic revival style it is in harmony with the scale of the village. The cut sandstone walls were quarried from the same location as that used for "Willowdale."

As the evolution of the village is traced through deeds and plats only two major structures have disappeared.

The stone whip factory burned in 1959 and the Wellsville Manufacturing Co. was razed in the 1960's. There are even fewer 20th century intrusions into the spectrum of 19th century building styles that comprise the village – only a few bungalows from the 1940's, one tin garage sign, and some modish paint jobs.

Despite the mixture of early styles, Wellsville does not seem busy or lacking continuity. Most of the buildings are of a similar height and set back. Most are painted white with a few punctuation points of cut stone or red brick. The village has been sustained for the last 50 years by the longtime residents and by the newcomers who value a certain way of life. The excellent physical condition of the village today is a result of continued maintenance, not recent restoration.

  1. Barrett, Brenda, Wellsville Historic District,, 1976, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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