During the French and Indian War, British General John Forbes was assigned the daunting task of seizing Fort Duquesne, the French citadel at the forks of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers. He ordered construction of a new road across Pennsylvania, guarded by a chain of fortifications, the final link being the “Post at Loyalhanna,” fifty miles from his objective, to serve as a supply depot and staging area for a British-American army of 5000 troops. The fort was constructed in September 1758 about the time the British were repulsed in an attack at Fort Duquesne. After a successful defense of Loyalhanna from a French attack on October 12 the heavily outnumbered French abandoned the post, which Forbes occupied on November 25. He designated the site “Pittsburgh” in honor of Secretary of State William Pitt. Forbes also named Loyalhanna “Fort Ligonier” after his superior, Sir John Ligonier, commander in chief in Great Britain. There are two other sites in America that honor the grizzled warrior who was made the Earl of Ligonier in 1766 at the age of 87, four years before his death. One is a small bay on Lake Champlain and the other a town in Indiana that was founded by a pioneer from the Ligonier Valley.
The town of Ligonier was laid out by Colonel John Ramsey in 1817. He rode out fromChambersburg to build a mill on his newly acquired 672 acres of land on the north bank of the Loyalhanna Creek. When the borough was incorporated in 1834, a descendent changed the name of Ramseytown to the more exotic “Ligonier.” Perhaps he was anticipating attracting vacationing tourists in the future. He certainly anticipated the town becoming the most important in the area, designing it round a central diamond awaiting a county courthouse. The designation as a county seat never came but the tourists did and Ligonier has been a resort destination for Pittsburghers since the 1800s.
But growth came slowly, it was non-existent for a time, in fact. In its early days Ligonier was a welcome stop for stagecoach and commercial wagon traffic between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. But in 1952 the Pennsylvania Railroad was completed across the state and it ran not through Ligonier but Latrobe ten miles away The population of Ligonier actually declined from 350 people in 1860 to 317 in 1870.
It would not be until 1878 that the Judge Thomas Mellon, scion of what was to become one of the 20th century’s greatest family fortunes, completed a 10-mile feeder line with the Ligonier Valley Railroad that fortunes reversed. But even though town businesses now had an outlet for their goods, Ligonier’s character remained less commercial than some of its more advanced neighbors. Its reputation as a summer excursion destination was assured in the 1890s when the Mellons developed Idlewild, a picnicking park that is considered the nation’s third oldest amusement park still in operation today. Not coincidentally, Idlewild was sited directly on the Ligonier Valley Railroad right-of-way.
When the Lincoln Highway, America’s first paved transcontinental road, rolled through Ligonier in 1919 it brought more tourists, not industry. Our walking tour will explore the remnants of that historic road that is now the town’s Main Street...
Market Street and Main Street
Before Ligonier’s diamond was landscaped as a park in 1894, it served much of the 19th century as a corral and parking area for wagon horses and cattle. Its present design, including the bandstand, was created in 1971. A cast iron water fountain installed in 1894 with separate drinking positions for man, dog and horse, retains its historic position on the square’s north side.
EXIT THE DIAMOND ONTO WEST MAIN STREET (THE METHODIST CHURCH WILL BE ON YOUR LEFT).
Heritage United Methodist Church
southwest corner of the Diamond
The Redstone Circuit of the Methodists was formed in 1784. It comprised all the territory west of the Allegheny Mountains. In 1788, The Ligonier Methodist Episcopal Church was established in “name, style and title” authorized by a letter from John Wesley which was dated September 19, 1788 and postmarked Bristol, England. Jacob Shaw held the first services in his home. The congregation consisted of five of his family and one other. For a time, services were held in an old pottery on Main Street. A lot on the corner of St. Clair and Church Streets was purchased for twenty dollars and a small wooden church was erected. The congregation outgrew the little church by 1857 and land was bought at the present site of Main and South Market Streets on which a brick church was constructed. This brick church served the congregation until 1902 when it was torn down to make room for the larger present church. The bluestone for the building was quarried from Laurel Mountain. The new $25,000 church was dedicated debt-free in 1903.
131 West Main Street
This house survives from the turnpike era of 1830-1850. Although altered for retail use, its original five-bay, center door Federal facade and Flemish bond (alternating headers and stretchers) brickwork is still in evidence.
137 West Main Street
This three-story commercial/apartment brick building was constructed in 1924 during the Lincoln Highway era.
Ligonier Theater Building
208 West Main Street
In 1920 A.J. McColley constructed this building for his Ford dealership and automobile repair garage. After financial reversals in the 1930s he sold the building which was eventually converted into a movie theater by Vilie Alexas of Johnstown. The Mellon family acquired the building in 1966 and remodeled the building in an attempt to make it smaller and profitable in an age of the emerging movie multiplex. The losing battle was abandoned and the family sold the property in 1993 and new ownership struggled on until 1997 before the theater closed. In 2003 the Valley Players of Ligonier purchased the building and have breathed life back into the performing arts center.
Pioneer Presbyterian Church
240 West Main Street
In 1866 the Presbyterians in Ligonier were organized. This sanctuary, the oldest church in Ligonier, dates to 1878.
358 West Main Street at Walnut Street
The Ligonier Armory for Company D, 103rd Medical Regiment of the Pennsylvania National Guard was built in 1938 as a Depression-relief project on property belonging to the Ligonier Valley Railroad. The utilitarian building is constructed of brick, originally laid out on a T plan. Architect Robert T. Brocker added a simple yet refined Art Moderne finish. The armory contains a drill hall, kitchen, locker room, offices and storage rooms.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS BACK TO THE DIAMOND. TURN LEFT ON NORTH MARKET STREET.
112 North Market Street
Thomas Mellon was a lawyer, judge and banker, founding Mellon Bank precursor T. Mellon & Sons in 1869. In 1877, Mellon was approached to finance the Ligonier Valley Railroad. In 1878 he acquired land around the railroad just west of Ligonier, Pennsylvania where he began a picnic park, Idlewild. Additional land in the Ligonier Valley which he once owned is now the Rolling Rock Club. By the end of the 20th century Mellon Bank would be the largest financial institution in America outside of New York City. This is the first bank Mellon built in Ligonier.
Covenant Presbyterian Church
200 North Market Street at Church Street
The beautiful stone Covenant Church was completed in 1902: the Presbyterian burying ground dating back adjacent dates to 1798. Many of the town’s founding families are buried here.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS BACK TO THE DIAMOND. TURN LEFT ON EAST MAIN STREET AND STAY ON THE NORTH (LEFT) SIDE OF THE STREET.
northeast corner of Diamond
This Colonial Revival government building replaced the historic Ligonier House on the Diamond in 1967.
Odd Fellows Hall
136-138 East Main Street
This property was purchased by trustees of Ligonier Lodge #964 IOOF in 1920. The original structure, was torn down and replaced by a brick building with two double front store rooms and a meeting room on the second floor.
144 East Main Street
This two-story building features Victorian elements such as corner tower, fish-scale shingles and Stick Style woodwork in the gable. It became the home of Dr. Jacob T. Ambrose, a veteran of the Civil War, in 1883. A smaller building, located at 140 East Main, later was used for his physician’s office. For the first 26 years of his 50-year practice, Ambrose traveled on horseback to his patients. Roy Sibel next opened his funeral home here.
204 East Main Street
It is believed that bricks for both buildings at this location came from the Robb brick works, which was located near the present entrance to Ligonier Valley Cemetery on Route 711 South. In 1870 Bales McColly, a former Westmoreland County Prothonotary, purchased the property for his residence and used the smaller building for his saddle and harness shop.
224 East Main Street
This unornamented Victorian from the late 1800s stands out on Main Street with its Queen Anne asymmetrical massing, corner turret and wraparound porch. it features a small Colonial Revival three-part Palladian window in the gable. The iron fence was a late 20th century addition.
228 East Main Street
This was the residence of Colonel John Ramsey, who laid out the town lots in 1817. The Federal-style brick residence features a symmetrical design around a center entry hall and a two-sided stepped entrance. Eventually, more rooms were added to the rear, a side porch tacked on and a garage placed in the back of the lot.
230 East Main Street
This plank house was built by William Ashcom in 1780; a room for a cobbler’s shop, with its own entrance, was added around 1799 at the east side of the building. This is believed to be the oldest home in Ligonier Borough.
304-306 East Main Street
C.A. Lowry operated an undertaking and furniture making business in the smaller building and resided in the adjacent building in 1871. In 1936, Ford F. Kinsey purchased the property, operating a service station in the smaller building. The stone wall was built after the street surface was lowered. In the 1940s two millstones were placed at each side of the stone wall and the cement pineapple added.
Albright Evangelical Church
324 East Main Street
If you peek in the alley on the west side of this square brick building you can see the outline of when it was a Gothic style church built in 1882. The concrete block section on the east side of the building was added when the facility became a school bus garage.
CROSS THE STREET AND FIND THE HISTORICAL MARKER.
Fort Ligonier Historical Marker
301 East Main Street
Fort Ligonier, built by order of General Forbes, was located 200 yards west of this marker.
237 East Main Street
This is the middle of three adjoining lots purchased by the Weimer family from Somerset County. Items were made in the carpentry shop at 235 East Main and brought here for painting, varnishing and storing. The building originally faced on to East Main, but was turned 90 degrees enlarging the adjoining lot on the east and facing a wide door on the second floor to the street. This allowed for caskets stored there to be slid down onto wagons. The brick addition to the rear was built in the 1990s.
235 East Main Street
This two story structure was built, around 1813, using plank and clapboard. It was framed with seven inch square white oak hand-hewn timbers held in place with wooden pins. The second floor did not have any flooring, only hand hewn joists for the overhead storing of lumber to be used in the making of cabinets and caskets. In the mid 1950s, it became Don Robb’s workshop for the custom manufacturing of specialty rods and other tackles for fishermen from all over the country.
Crawford Metal Shop
233 East Main Street
Built in 1888, this building was constructed of wood siding and tin ceilings by John W. Crawford, who operated it as the Crawford Sheet Metal Shop. John’s son, Frank W., purchased the building, in 1918, and it became the Crawford Sheet Metal and Roofing Shop. The original windows and the tin ceilings remain there today, however, the ceilings were covered over during remodeling.
223 East Main Street
Built in 1921 by Earl McCune of McKeesport, this two and a half story, buff brick structure was constructed from tile-backed brick. It housed the McCune family and the Jackson Barber Shop. In 1950, the building was sold to the Ligonier Valley Library Association. It remained a library until 1968. The building then became the Fern Museum of Clocks for a time.
219 East Main Street
This 1880-1890 structure was originally a six-room residence. Indented in the newel post at the foot of the original stairway is a glass ball, which according to Victorian lore, was placed there when the mortgage was paid. In the 1930s and 1940s, Marion Horner operated Horner’s Tourist Rooms, popular with Pittsburghers spending their summers in Ligonier.
209 East Main Street
Built around 1820 or 1830 as a large residence, the unusual feature of this building is the facade. It appears to be painted stone or brick, but it is wood. The smaller attached building, at 211 East Main, was added, along with a third floor, in the early 1900s.
201 East Main Street
This three-bay, federal period brick house, that retains much of its original woodwork, was built about 1840 for Noah M. Marker, a prominent merchant and state legislator. This house later became the home and office of one of the town’s early physicians, E. E. McAdoo. In later life a large dining room was added and it became a restaurant.
149 East Main Street
The National Hotel was built on this site in the mid 1800s. Hotel rates were $1.50 per day, with free transportation to and from the train station located on the west side of town. In 1918, Roy Sibel purchased the property and used it for his furniture store, undertaking business and residence. When he went out of the furniture business in the 1930s, Sibel rented out the space for Pon’s Family Restaurant. In 1955, Sibel sold the property to the VFW Home Association.
WALK ONE MORE BLOCK TO REACH THE TOUR STARTING POINT ON THE DIAMOND.