Look around!

Warren Historic District one of 11 sites in Warren County on the National Register of Historic Places

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton The Flat Iron Building in downtown Warren, one of many built in late 19th century in the wake of fires that destroyed many of the town’s original buildings.

Smile Downtown Warren!

You’re on the National Register of Historic Places.

That’s right, the historic district in Warren is one of the 11 sites in Warren County listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The boundaries? The Allegheny River, Conewango Creek and Seventh Ave. and Laurel St.

When districts are considered for inclusion, part of the evaluation process is what number of buildings or sites contibute to the criteria that the application author seeks inclusion under.

Two criteria were selected as for the Warren Historic District:

¯ Property is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history.

¯ Property embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction represents the work of a master, or possesses high artistic values, or represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components lack individual distinction.

“It encompasses the City’s two great periods of prosperity associated with the lumber industry between 1820 and 1845, and the oil industry, between 1875 and 1945,” the application explains. “The results are residential and commercial streetscapes throughout the istrict that reflect significant nineteenth and early twentieth century commerce, politics and architecture.”

To that end, in 1999 when the application was approved, officials determined that 587 buildings, five sites and three objects that “contribute to its historic character” while just 31 buildings and one site did not, specifically because they were less than 50 years old.

“The overall integrity of the district is very strong,” the authors claim.

And it starts with the way the City was laid out.

“Warren retains its original 1795 layout, a grid plan with the streets rotated approximately 15 degrees counter-clockwise from the north-south axis,” the application explains. “The district’s range of historic and architectural styles is typical of both New York and Northern Pennsylvania towns dating from the early nineteenth to twentieth centuries.

“Warren’s earliest settlement patterns are evident in the street grid, river orientation and intermingling of pre-1850 regional architecture styles drawn from two of the major westward migration routes…. The result of he survey (completed by the Commonwealth in 1795), was a town plan firmly rooted in the eighteenth century; a strong regular grid pattern with a designated town square at Market and High (not Fourth Avenue) Streets. This careful design set Warren apart from many northwestern Pennsylvania river towns, which are usually locate in narrow, steep valleys and tend to be irregularly strung out along the available flat land. Warren’s original town lots, measuing 58 1/4 feet by 233 1/4 feet, were auctioned in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1796.”

Residential growth started to shift to the east, south and west in the early 20th century once those original lots “had been built up” though 81 percent of the buildings in the Historic Districts were constructed as single family dwellings. “Most of the built housing stock in Warren is still serving its original purpose,” the application states.

As a side note, the application states that roughly 70 percent of the buildings in the district are wood-framed.

“Warren’s oldest surviving buildings date from the 1820s and 1830s,” the application states. “Dwellings built prior to 1860 make up only about 6.8 percent of the district’s existing housing stock…. The dwellings at 114 East Street and 117 Market Street are typical of the modest pre-1860 housing stock in Warren.

“As Warren developed, its lifeblood, like most towns in northwestern Pennsylvania, was the river. Commercial and industrial growth was oriented to the Allegheny River, as the main thoroughfare of commerce…. The result was that, while still obeying the street design laid down by General Irvine, the entire commercial and industrial life of the town grew up, until the railroads arrived in the 1850s.”

In those early years, “sawmills were seen as the main harbingers of civilization,” according to the application, with the first sawmill popping up one mile north of town in 1797.

“The first major lumber raft to reach New Orleans from Warren County was shipped in 1806” and as late as 1855 a lumber raft was shipped from Warren to Cincinnati with 1,500,000 board feet of lumber that covered nearly two acres.

Buildings built in the ensuing 60 years – 1860 to 1920 – “also dominate the historic district’s residential resources,” according to the application. “Most buidings, 78 percent, were built between 1880 and 1910.”

That corresponds to the oil boom.

“Warren’s entire economic and architectural history changed, however, in early 1875 when David Beaty, drilling for natural gas on his newly acqured estate east of the Conewango Creek, struck oil,” the application explains. “His well produced 100 to 100 barrels and drew swarms of oil speculators… Warren quickly developed into a major oil center. By May, 1876, there were fifteen derricks ni the Warren COil field, and a new pipeline ran from the wells across the Conewango Creek to a railroad loading docket.”

Over-drilling quickly became a problem but “with a railroad transportation system already in place, Warren became a center for related oil service industries, including the cutting of lumber for oil rigs, the production of railroad tank cars by the Struthers Iron Works, the laying of pipeline and railroad tracks, and the refining of oil.”

From 1880 to 1920, the Borough of Warren’s population grew almost 400 percent, the application states.

Brick buildings make up 22 percent of the buildings in the district and two are made of stone and the brick and stone buildings are focused in the city’s business district.

“While many of Warren’s earliest buildings were builty along Pennsylania Avenue, most of the downtown buildings date to the late nineteenth of early twentieth centuries,” the applacation explains. “Fires in the nineteenth century periodically removed older, usually wood-frame buildings, from the downtown streetscape. In 1870, a large fire destroyed 26 buildings downtown. As the oil discoveries and the development of related industries brought economic prosperity to the community in the late nineteenth century, fashionable two and three-story masonry buildings came to dominate the streetscape.”

The application speifically mentions the flat-iron National City Bank Building at the intersection of Second Ave. and Pennsylvania Ave.

“Elaborately carved Hummesltown brownstone and a clock-tower topped by a dragon weather-wave are a few of the defining architectural details on this 1891 building, which replaced a block destroyed by fire in 1889” the application states. “Although fires necessitated the replacement of many downtown buildings, other builidings were replaced when businessmen and merchants sought additional space or more modern facilities in order to do business more efficiently or attract customers.”

Being the center of the county’s legal affairs has assisted in preserving the historic nature.

“Much of the exterior integrity of Market Street’s large houses, which might otherwise be threatened, is maintained by their new use as law offices. The Warren County Jail built in 1975… is noncontributing. Overall, however, the preservation and continued use of the courthouse for its original purpose is a strong asset in the historic character of the district.”

Social clubs – the Conewango Club and Elks Club – as well as churches – Trinity Episcopal and First Presbyterian, for example – also add to the histor nature of the downtown.

“Most church congregations replaced their early nineteenth century churches in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries when economic prosperity and swelling congregations provided the impetus to do so,” the application explains. “Congregations employed the popular ecclesiastical styles of the period.”

Part of making the case for the Historic District on the National Register is explaining how the noncontributing buildings  fit into the downtown landscape.

“Noncontributing buildings are not concentrated in any one area, but are scattered throughout the district,” the authors claim. “As the historic district encompasses the oldest section of the city, all of its streets were built up by the early twentieth century. Newer buildings have been constructed in the district to fill the few holes created by the loss of older buildings,” specifically detailing the jail, the Hickory St. Kwik Fill and the former Market St. School building, now the home of Pennsylvania General Energy.

The apartment buildings and 209 Market St. as well as Canterbury Court on Liberty Street are also included in this realm.

“Changing uses have also affected the district,” the applicatoin states. “Some residential housing along the first two blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue West has bene turned into commercial and office space, sometimes accompanied by a loss of architectural integrity. The loss of dwellings, outbuildings and landscaping, often to parking lots, has had a greater negative impact on the streetscape of Warren than the construction of noncontributing buildings.”

In conclusion, the authors states that “the integrity of the district is remarkably intact” and explain that “there is a strong cohesiveness to the commnity; historical setbacks have been maintained, as well as the architectural scale and primary architectural elements of entire streetscapes. Throughout the district, entire blocks retain a level of integrity that, compared to other districts, is relatively rare.

“The Warren Historic District conforms to the original 1795 street plan, the frontier origin of the community,” the application indicates. “The 120-year architectural record of the Warren’s district, like that of Franklin and Ridgway, accurately conveys Warren’s transformation from a small community settled largely by New York and New England immigrants dependent on local resources and river transportation, to a prosperous town whose building styles and methods reflect connections to larger national trends and markets and industrial development.”

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