Clarion County was created as the 54th of Pennsylvania's 67 counties on March 11, 1839, from parts of Venango and Armstrong counties. The Clarion River was the dividing line between the two mother counties was in early times known as Stump Creek and Toby’s Creek. In 1817, the legislature passed an Act, authorizing the survey of a state road from Indiana to Franklin. The surveyors selected were David Lawson and Daniel Stannard. While lying in their tent one night, along Toby Creek, which was heavily fringed by a wall of close and massive timber, they noticed this wall condensed and reflected the murmur of the stream, giving it a silvery mellowness. Stannard remarked, “The water sounds like a distant clarion.” And so Pennsylvania got a name for a river, a county, and, a town.
Sometime in the fall of 1839, the town plot containing 200 acres, was surveyed by John Sloan, Jr. There were 275 in-lots and 50 out-lots. The public sale of the lots began October 30, 1839 and continued for three days. The highest price for a lot was $757.50 and the next in value was sold for $560.00.
The community was incorporated as a borough in 1841 and lay along the historic overland Susquehanna and Waterford Turnpike (later known as the Lakes-to-Sea Highway and now U.S. Route 322). Large stands of virgin timber provided the impetus for the first industry; later, local sand reserves helped make Clarion known as a producer of glass bottles. Clarion also prospered during the region’s oil boom f the 1860s and 1870s. Around that time the Carrier Seminary was established in Clarion; it eventually became Clarion University of Pennsylvania, and continues to be among the leading economic forces in the community.
Our walking tour will begin in a small park dedicated to America’s veterans, opposite the town’s most obvious landmark...
Clarion County Veterans Memorial Park
bounded by Main Street, Grant Street, 4th Avenue and Jefferson Place
Clarion County Veterans Memorial Park includes a large gazebo and memorials conflicts through America’s history. The POW/MIA monument that was placed here in July 2001 contains the ashes of a “watch fire,” a symbolic fire that is burned until the last patrol returns to base camp, signifying all of those who are missing in action or are prisoners of war. This monument was dedicated during a visit of the “moving wall” a traveling version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
CROSS MAIN STREET TO THE COURTHOUSE.
Clarion County Courthouse
421 Main Street
This is the third courthouse that has graced the county seat of Clarion. The first Clarion County Courthouse, completed in 1842 at the cost of$10,636.16, was brick, two stories, and divided by a slight offset ― from which there were two narrow recesses into two longitudinal wings. In 1859 fire erupted in a faulty flue and destroyed the building. It was replaced by a substantial brick building with, unfortunately, a wooden roof approximately 65 feet high. About one o’clock on the morning of September 12, 1882, fire which had been smoldering in the loft, burst through the roof. The water pressure was not enough to force the stream to the top. The building was gutted in a few hours, leaving the walls standing comparatively intact for a new courthouse. The current Victorian courthouse was completed shortly afterwards. It is dominated by a 25-foot square tower, 213 feet high. It rises 139 feet above the roof. The walls of the main part are 22 inches thick. This roof is of tin and slate. The clock dial, nine feet in diameter, and the bell, weighing 1,313 pounds, were furnished by the Howard Clock Company from New York. The interior of the clock loft is fitted with gas pipes for illumination. Todays’ appearance reflects a complete exterior renovation undertaken in 1981.
WALK BEHIND THE COURTHOUSE, ON THE WEST SIDE.
Grace Lutheran Church
421 Madison Street
This Gothic Revival brick church with stone trim was completed in 1844, originally for the Methodist congregation in town.
TURN RIGHT, WALKING BEHIND THE COURTHOUSE.
Clarion County Jail
421 Main Street
This imposing brick and stone structure with a square battlement was built in the 1870s and is the second jail on this site. The first jail was a plain structure of square cut sandstone with a small yard surrounded by a stone wall in the rear. In 1847 the building was remodeled and a new front put on. After the completion of the new prison, it was finally torn down in 1883 and it’s stones used in the foundation of the courthouse. The old jail stood a few rods west of the present one. It is 97 feet in height from the ground and 18 feet square at the base and 10 feet at the top. The outside walls of the prison proper are of ashlar rough dressed sandstone 2 feet in thickness. It contains 20 cells at 81/2 x 14’ each, arranged in two tiers on each side of the interior court. On June 11, 1911 the only execution in the history of the county took place here. Vincent Voycheck of Rimersburg, an immigrant coal miner, stabbed his landlord Andrew Stupka to death and was convicted of murder. It was said that a woman, Zoe Himes, secretary in a courthouse office, pulled the cord that released the trap on the gallows.
RETURN TO MAIN STREET AND TURN LEFT, WALKING EAST.
511 Main Street
Clarion’s first nickelodeon, owned by Finkbeiner and O’Brien, opened at Wood Street and Sixth Avenue in 1908. The Orpheum Theatre, with its Art Deco facade, opened in the days of silent films in 1925. A movie house managed to stay in business here until 1998 before going the way of most downtown theaters.
539 Main Street
Crooks Clothing Co., Inc. was founded in 1905 by F.L. Crooks at the same location it is today. The two-story building with large display cases and a neon sign, once housed Weaver Hardware and the Clarion Restaurant in the basement. Murals depicting scenes of Clarion grace the walls.
southeast corner of Main Street and Sixth Avenue
Charles Kaufman built this two-story brick structure to serve as a clothing store and family home in 1853. It remained in the Kaufman family as it was rented out; a long-time tenant was Widman’s Store.
606 Main Street
These Main Street fixtures were built between 1840 and 1860. At 606 Main Street Sam Cherico opened the Modern Store, the first self-serve grocery store in northwestern Pennsylvania in 1938.
United States Post Office
626 Main Street
In the first half of the 20th century the federal government set out to provide small towns with significant architecture, usually in the form of a post office that was most people’s only connection to the United States government until the Great Depression. In Clarion, the post office received an Art Deco treatment on dark brick.
Ross Memorial Library/Clarion Free Library
644 Main Street
The Clarion Free Library opened its doors in a gymnasium on Fourth Avenue with 225 books. in 1914. in 1920, the will of the late John D. Ross, member of a prominent Clarion family and son of a former mayor, provided for the erection of a memorial library and auditorium, to be known as the Ross Memorial Library and to be built in Clarion to perpetuate the memory of his late mother, Mrs. Mary Ann Wilson Ross. Completed in 1929, the roof edge is balustraded and the pediment features an open book motif framed by leafy vines. The pediment is supported by Doric columns and the doorway has a bracketed cornice with dentils and a transom.
645 Main Street
The Clarion News was first published in 1840, the same year Clarion County was formed. It was then the Clarion Democrat and was the only paper in the county until 1843 when the Clarion Republican made its debut. The two papers were published separately for 122 years until they merged in November 1965 and became the Clarion News. With one brief exception - during the oil excitement days when the Edenburg Daily Herald was founded in Knox - all the papers that have served Clarion County have been weeklies. The Clarion News publishes each Tuesday and Thursday. The brick newspaper building, sporting an elaborate cornice with finials and corner quoins, dates to 1876. The windows have caved hood moldings and stone sills.
First Baptist Church
northwest corner of Main Street and Seventh Avenue
The First Baptist Church earned the designation in its name by appearing on the Clarion streetscape in 1877.
TURN RIGHT ON SEVENTH AVENUE.
First Presbyterian Church
700 Wood Street on the southeast corner of Seventh Avenue
The first church meetings of the Clarion Presbyterians were held in the loft of the old jail in 1841. The first church building was located nearby on Grant Street. This Romanesque stone church began serving the congregation in 1896.
TURN RIGHT ON WOOD STREET.
First United Methodist Church
600 Wood Street on southeast corner of Sixth Avenue
The First United Methodist Church of Clarion has its roots in 1840 when Methodists first began to hold services here. The Erie Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church appointed its first minister in 1841. The early meetings were held in a schoolhouse and then in the jail. In 1843, the congregation decided to build a meeting place that was completed in 1844 (the present Lutheran Church). After fire destroyed the Clarion County courthouse in 1882, the Methodist Church was used for holding court until the present courthouse was completed in 1885. The present Romanesque building of native stone was erected and dedicated in 1887-1889.
TURN RIGHT ON 5TH AVENUE. TURN LEFT ON GRANT STREET AT VETERANS PARK.
Sutton Ditz House Museum
17 South 5th Avenue
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, thethree-bay Greek Revival style Sutton-Ditz house was constructed when Clarion was still in its infancy. Thomas Sutton, a native of Indiana County and Deputy Attorney General of the county, came to Clarion in 1846 and built a small brick law office opposite the courthouse and, a year later, this brick house as well. Tragedy struck the Suttons in Clarion when Thomas died in 1853 of typhoid fever at the age of 37 and two days later Thomas, Jr. passed away from scarlet fever. Widow Anne remained in the house until 1862 when she left for Philadelphia to oversee a girls’ school. She sold the property for $2,000. A succession of private owners followed until John Ditz, a prosperous hardware dealer in town, purchased the property in 1908. Ditz tore down the former law office and gave his new home a major remodeling in the then-popular Neoclassical style with a new domineering Ionic portico. Ditz suffered financial reversals in Florida land speculation in the 1920s and the house was converted into “tourist rooms” while the family remained in the house. Minnie Ditz lived here until she died in 1972 at the age of ninety-nine. In 1975 thehouse was acquired by the Clarion County Historical Society.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN VETERANS PARK.