David Mead, Connecticut-born in 1752, was the pioneer to the waters of the French Creek, following land claims from his native colony through the Wyoming lands of northeast Pennsylvania to these lands of the Iroquois Indians where Chief Custaloga had built a village known as Cussewago. Mead led a small band of settlers that included his brothers, their wives and families and optimistically laid out the original town plat in 1792 in the face of looming Indian hostilities. But by the next year he had sold a few lots and Meadville was off and running.
In 1800, the Pennsylvania counties of Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Crawford, Erie, Mercer, Warren and Venango were cleaved from a part of Allegheny County. The population of Crawford County was then 2,346. Owing to the sparse population of the new counties, Erie, Mercer, Warren and Venango were included in the Crawford County District with the courts of justice located in Meadville. By the mid nineteenth century, Meadville was the most prominent and elegant community in this part of Pennsylvania. It had a reputation for education (Allegheny College was the second school west of the Allegheny Mountains when it was established in 1815), religion (the Meadville Theological School was a minister-generator for the Unitarian church), and law (the town was the birthplace of the direct primary system of elections in the United States).
The big boost for commerce arrived with the Atlantic and Great Western Railway of Pennsylvania (now the Erie Railroad) in October 1862. With Meadville practically half way between New York and Chicago, the railroad opened a wide area of markets to the farms and industries of Crawford County. Meadville was also well-positioned as the gateway town to the new oil boom that came with Edwin Drake’s new oil wells in the region in 1859. With its already well-established base, Meadville enjoyed the boom without crashing in the bust of the oil days.
Meadville’s 20th century notoriety began in Chicago in 1893 when Whitcomb L. Judson invented the hookless fastener. Meadville’s Lewis Walker moved the enterprise back to Pennsylvania where Gideon Sundback invented the fastener used everywhere today. It was not a money-maker, however, until 1923 when the B.F. Goodrich Company used it on a new line of rubber galoshes. The new shoes were called Zippers - the galoshes forgotten today but not so their little metal fastener. Meadville became known as the “Zipper Capital of the World.”
Our walking tour will visit commercial, residential, ecclesiastical and governmental sites all fastened together by Diamond Park, still a public use green area as planned more than 200 years ago, and where our explorations will commence...
Main Street between Chestnut Street and Walnut Street
When Evans W. Shippen, a Philadelphia foundry owner who was the son of Sixth Judicial District Judge Henry Shippen, gave a multi-tiered structure overflowing with lion heads, fish and seahorses to the town as a gift Meadvillewas perplexed as to what to do with it. So the powers that be took the fountain and placed it in a fenced field where cows grazed as they were driven to markets in Pittsburgh and Diamond Park was born. Originally the cast iron fountain was painted in multicolored hues, but has since been painted green. The fountain, currently facing $100,000 in repairs, is listed as a significant sculpture on the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Art Inventories Catalog. Diamond Park is now dotted with public monuments. The first to be erected was the Pioneer Statue, dedicated on May 12, 1888 to “mark the hundredth anniversary of the settlement of Crawford County.” In 1891 came a Civil War monument and in 1916 a Firemen’s Memorial Statue.
STAND IN THE CENTER OF DIAMOND PARK AND FACE WEST (THE MOST IMPOSING BUILDING, THE COURTHOUSE, WILL BE AT YOUR BACK) AND TRAVEL CLOCKWISE AROUND THE PUBLIC GREEN.
Judge Derickson House and Office
902/918 Diamond Park
David Derickson, a prominent Meadville citizen and attorney, built a Jefferson Classical one-story Revival structure at 918 Diamond for use as a law office. Derickson built the neighboring single classical brick structure, c.1830. In addition, Derickson later built a second empire structure on the same block, c.1848. All three of these buildings remain today, facing the Diamond. Derickson, in addition to being a counselor-of-law, also served as Deputy Attorney General and District Judge in Pennsylvania.
908 Diamond Park
The Founders Housestands on the property where once stood the log courthouse where Allegheny College was founded. The site was also the founding location of Meadville’s Chamber of Commerce, the third oldest in the country. Allegheny College purchased the property in 2008 and completely refurbished it.
894 Diamond Park
This brick armory with parapet walls and crenellation served the National Guard for over 100 years before a recent move into a $20 million training and preparedness facility.
Christ Episcopal Church
870 Diamond Park
The Episcopalian congregation in Crawford County traces its beginnings back to 1825 and two years later an English Village Gothic church was begun. The current sanctuary dates to the 1880s and blends Romanesque elements onto the basic Gothic visage. An elaborate rose window dominates the gable. The bell tower soars into a pointed steeple. The sandstone tracery is especially fine.
Meadville Public Library
848 North Main Street
Meadville was founded in 1787, and the first library was established in 1812, with 150 volumes. The library contained the standard works of the time in history, biography and travel, but by policy, no fiction. A citizen could use the library if he donated a dollar and a volume annually. In 1868, the City Library of Meadville was formed. Anyone could become a member by paying a dollar. In 1879 the Meadville Library Art and Historical Association was organized by joining the library with the Art and Historical Societies. In order to buy a building, shares of stock were sold for $25.00. One can still buy a share of stock for $25.00. The Library was supported by rentals, gifts and annual association dues of five dollars. In 1895 the library was opened to citizens free of charge. In 1924 a fund drive for $100,000 to finance a new library building was begun. Within a week the total was raised , all from local sources. The new building opened its doors in 1926, and the same building continues to be the home of the library. The building was designed by Edward L. Tilton, a leading architect of the day and an expert on libraries. It used the same red brick and sandstone as the high school across the street and on all four sides huge arched windows extended from floor to ceiling “leaving no shadow to distract the reader.”
Meadville Junior High School/Parkville Commons
North Main Street
This collegiate style school replaced the 1888 Centennial High School on Market Street in 1923. It was constructed around a courtyard and featured gymnasiums for boys and gils and an acoustically perfect auditorium. It was reconstituted as a junior high school and then abandoned altogether. It is currently awaiting private development.
871-873 Diamond Park
100 years before Jed Clampett discovered some bubblin’ crude and “loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly” there were the Tarrs of Oil Creek. In 1861 oil was discovered on his farm that is now Oil Creek State Park. It was the largest oil strike ever found up to that time. After receiving well over $1,000,000 in royalties, James Tarr in 1865 sold his interest in the farm for $2,000,000 in gold. And the family moved to Meadville. The Tarrs built this exquisite High Victorian Italianate mansion that exhibits all the requisites of the form including tall, slender windows, molded window hoods and an elaborate bracketed cornice. The building has been subdivided into offices.
Crawford County Courthouse
903 Diamond Park
A courthouse and jail were built here in 1820; still the site of the County Courthouse. A Second Empire Style Courthouse was built late in the 1800s only to be expanded and encased in a Georgian Revival Style building in the 1950s.
First Baptist Church
353 Chestnut Street
The cornerstone for this stone church building was laid in 1904. Accesson the Diamond is accomplished through an arcade-style entry that blends the wide, muscular arches of the Richardsonian Romanesque style and the pointed remnants of the Gothic style. The gabled entrance is dominated by a rose window. The corner bell tower is topped by a crenellated parapet.
Unitarian Universalist Church of Meadville
346 Chestnut Street
E.S. The name of Meadville rang familiar in liberal religious circles through the existence here of an important religious institution, the Meadville Theological School, founded in 1844 in great part through the efforts of Harm Jan Huidekoper and his sons. Meadville thus was the temporary home of hundreds of young men who became Unitarian ministers and supplied pulpits all across the nation. The school remained here for 82 years, but in 1926 was moved to Chicago as an entity of the Federated Theological Faculty of the University of Chicago, where it preserves the town’s memory in its name: the Meadville Lombard Theological School. The Unitarian Church in town was established ii 1825 when a group of 32 worshipers broke away from the local Presbyterian church. It was formally organized in 1829 as the independent Congregational Church. Three families had important roles in the church’s early history: Harm Jan Huidekoper established the church; Margaret Shippen and Harm Jan Huidekoper provided the congregation with land; and George W. Cullum, who would later play a part in rebuilding South Carolina’s Fort Sumter, ground zero for the Civil War, designed the imposing Greek Revival church. Looking out on Diamond Park behind a portico of stout, fluted Doric columns, buildings, the church is remarkably true to its original aspect of 1836.
TURN LEFT ON CHESTNUT STREET.
John McCloskey House
363 Chestnut Street
These blocks of Chestnut Street developed into the town’s most prestigious address. John Newton McCloskey was born at Saegerstown on St. Patrick’s Day, 1839. He attended the State Normal School at Edinboro, read law, and was admitted to practice in the courts of Crawford county, where he has acquired wealth and distinction. His house blends the asymmetrical massing of the Victorian age with the Colonial Revival detailing popularized in the early 1900s.
Judge Shippen House
403 Chestnut Street
Henry Shippen arrived in the village of Meadville in 1825 after being appointed Judge of the Sixth Judicial District. The grandson of Philadelphia’s first mayor, Shippen built this sophisticated Federal-style brick house in 1838 to accommodate his growing family. Unfortunately the Judge died a year later leaving his widow, Margaret Shippen, to rear their ten children. The oldest son, Evan, an iron furnace manager in Lancaster, York and Philadelphia during the 1850s and 60s (he is the one who donated the fountain where the tour began), converted the house to the Second Empire style decorative scroll-shaped brackets with pendants and alternating with modillion blocks were built to support a new cornice. On the interior the house was partitioned into two apartments, but all the original woodwork was retained. Occupied by an exclusive clientele through the early 20th century, the house remained an anchor within Meadville’s most fashionable neighborhood.
Huidekoper Land Office
423 Chestnut Street
Harm Jan Huidekoper was a native of Holland, born in Hoogeveen, in the district of Drenthe, April 3, 1776. He sailed for New York in 1796, spending the 63 days at sea in the study of the English language and so great was his advancement that when the voyage had ended he was able to express himself quite intelligibly. He found employment as bookkeeper for the Holland Land Company. The firm’s agent in Western Pennsylvania, Major Roger Alden, were incompetent as bookkeepers, and as a result great confusion was produced in the agency’s accounts. To adjust these, Huidekoper was sent to Meadville, making the journey on horseback. When Alden resigned two years later, Huidekoper replaced him. Following legal difficulties in 1836 the company decided to close out its interests in New York and Pennsylvania and Huidekoper purchased all its lands in Erie, Crawford, Warren and Venango counties, paying for them the sum of $187,000. This was added to prior purchases of considerable magnitude from the Pennsylvania Population Company. Subsequent generations of Huidekopers managed their land business from this office; the family built several substantial homes around town, including a hilltop landmark on Terrace Street. Today the 1850s building houses the Johnson-Shaw Stereoscopic Museum, an expensive collection of stereoviews, lantern slides, historic documents, books and equipment manufactured by Keystone View Company, the largest manufacturer of stereoscopic views in the United States.
485 Chestnut Street
This excellent brick Victorian structure with two trefoil windows in gables on either side of the tower standing out from the front facade. The trefoil windows and fleur-de-lis decorated gable vergeboards are Gothic elements interestingly imposed on an Italianate mass.
TURN AND WALK BACK DOWN CHESTNUT STREET TO THE TOWN CENTER.
Stone United Methodist Church
956 South Main Street
All the church’s English Gothic origins were replicated - lancet windows, small buttresses and stained glass windows.
310 Chestnut Street
This early 20th century brick building was constructed for Crawford Lodge No. 234 when they moved up from Water Street. The five-story hall is in the Second Renaissance Revival style.
296 Chestnut Street
This beautifully constructed Georgian Revival federal building, teeming with high-quality building materials, dates to World War I. A white marble balustrade emphasizes the roofline and white granite quoins embrace the corners. The Chestnut Street facade is graced by a trio of Palladian windows. Inside the lobby features black walnut carved woodwork, terrazzo floors and brass grillwork.
Academy of Music
275 Chestnut Street
The theater was built in 1886 and operated as an opera house under the name of the Academy of Music. It was was built by Ernest Hempstead. It hosted live stage shows up into the 1920’s when it began to share the stage with silent films and eventually was converted to a movie theater. The building was damaged by fire and closed in the 1980s but a restoration has brought the building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, back to its original appearance.
245 Chestnut Street
Albert I. Eldred was born in Spartansburg in 1885 and after attending the Meadville Commercial College and Allegheny College he entered the leather goods business with the firm of Grove & Eldred for six years. He later added various novelty lines and china when he constructed this building.
Crawford County Trust Building
231 Chestnut Street
Crawford County Trust organized in 1900 under the direction of Albert Milton Fuller and quickly established itself in the community, paying “four per cent on all Savings Accounts.” There were enough depositors by 1920 to build Meadville’s only “skyscraper.” It is a classically-influenced truncated six-story version of early high-rises in America with a base-shaft-capital design that mimics ancient columns.
TURN RIGHT ON MARKET STREET.
Meadville Market House
910 Market Street
As the county seat and market center for the region, it seemed long overdue when the town cleared a square in the downtown business district and put up a one-floor brick market house in 1870. No longer did farmers need to peddle their fruits and vegetables from curbside wagons on the street or go door-to-door. From the get-go it was a success and in 1917 a second floor and additional bays were added. After a centennial restoration in 1970, the Market House (minus its once-useful elaborate wind vane on the roof) remains a meeting place for people from all walks of life and as a one of the major underpinnings of downtown Meadville. It is the oldest continuous market use structure in Pennsylvania.
TURN RIGHT ON CENTER STREET.
875 Park Avenue at Center Street
Prior to 1915 the community was served by volunteer hose, pumper and ladder departments around town. Fire horses had stables in City Hall. With the coming of this building, Meadville switched to a new motorized engine fleet and a full-time, paid fire-fighting force. Today, the handsome orange brick building serves as a fire station-themed eatery.
CONTINUE WALKING TWO BLOCKS TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN DIAMOND PARK.