The Ridgway name in question belonged to Jacob Ridgway, a Philadelphia shipping merchant. Ridgway never visited the town - in fact, he didn’t spend much time in Philadelphia. He spent large chunks of his time in the early 19th century abroad in London, sending back heaping quantities of money to be invested in real estate. The records are a bit murky, but it is generally accepted that Ridgway owned in excess of 100,000 acres of Western Pennsylvania woods. Into that wilderness in 1821 rode James L. Gillis, nephew of Jacob Ridgway by marriage, was appointed the land agent for Mr. Ridgway’s holdings. Gillis, his wife and their three children arrived by packhorse and ox-team.
Ridgway was plotted as an unincorporated village in 1833 in Jefferson County and a decade later when Elk County formed it became the county seat. Ridgway quickly became an important local political hub and regional manufacturing center, home to large tanneries and, most importantly, lumber fortunes.
The most important of Ridgway’s lumber businesses was the Hyde-Murphy Company, an internationally recognized producer of architectural millwork and art glass. Joseph Hyde was an early town pioneer and lumberman and Walter Murphy was a carpenter, contractor and mill owner before joining forces with Hyde in 1884. The company was responsible for to countless projects in the north-central Pennsylvania region, including the vast majority of substantial buildings erected in the Ridgway historic district. Its long list of clients include the Pentagon, embassies in Washington, D. C., and the Tripoli Hospital in Honolulu, among many other prestigious buildings. The Hyde-Murphy operation occupied a fifteen-building campus just north of the historic district along Race Street. The company ceased operation in 1961 and In 1974 the remaining buildings of the large complex were demolished to make way for the Ridgway Community Park.
Enough trees were felled and floated down the Clarion River that by the end of the 1800s it was said that there were more millionaires per capita living in Ridgway than any other place in America. Their legacy in the “Lily of the Valley” was designated a National Historic Register by the National Park Service in 2002. Our walking tour will start in front of the seat of justice for Elk County and see the handiwork of some of Pennsylvania’s biggest lumber barons..
Elk County Courthouse
250 Main Street
Two acres of land for the first Courthouse had been reserved during the Survey of 1833 as a town public square. The first courthouse was of wood frame construction and was completed in May 1845, most likely near the present courthouse. The Courthouse served as Elk County’s seat of justice for thirty-four years, by which time it was severely overburdened by the region’s growth. In early 1879, Commissioners Michael Weidert of Jones Township, W.H. Osterhout of Ridgway, and George Reuscher of St. Mary’s inspected the courthouses at Clarion, Warren, Tionesta, and Franklin, and decided the recently built courthouse at Warren, PA would suit their needs. They hired its architect and builder, J.P. Marston, to guide Elk County’s new Victorian courthouse. It was finished in 1880. In April 1879, the old courthouse was sold at an auction to Hugh McGeehin who moved it down Main Street and it became a part of the Bogert House, a hotel owned by McGeehin and P.F. Bogert. When a new Bogert House was built in 1906, the dining room was part of the former courtroom. Tragically the Bogert House was consumed by fire on January 28, 1990.
WALK EAST ON MAIN STREET ACROSS BROAD STREET. TURN RIGHT ON EAST AVENUE.
William H. Hyde Residence
344 Main Street at southwest corner of East Avenue
Joseph Smith Hyde and his son W. H. Hyde opened a department store reputed to be the largest in Western Pennsylvania. The third floor of this building contained the Opera House, the first opera house in Ridgway. The department store was later known as the Hall, Kaul & Hyde Company Store. This building was located at the southeast corner of the Main Street and Broad Street intersection. The story goes that when J. S. Hyde arrived in frontier Ridgway in 1838 he walked into a store hoping to buy an axe on credit. After he was refused and told to come back when he could buy the axe, he replied that he would come back when he could buy the store. Joseph Hyde would go on to make a fortune in the cutting of rough timber and the production f fine woodwork at the head of the Hyde-Murphy and Company. This massive Richardsonian Romanesque mansion was built in 1907, a few years after William Hyde’s death. The interior of the house is stuffed with examples of fine cherry, oak, curly birch and maple woodwork produced by the family business.
John G. Whitmore House
12 East Avenue
John Whitmore was counsel to the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad when he was appointed to the bench of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 1930. His Queen Anne house was constructed in 1898 and it is resplendent with carved lion heads, curling acanthus leaves, and cross panels finished with French-styled cartouches. The accompanying carriage house features an original carriage lift that hoisted a buggy to the second floor in order to make room for the horses.
TURN LEFT ON HYDE AVENUE.
Frederick Clawson House
522 Hyde Avenue
Frederick Clawson made his fortune selling chemicals to tanneries to turn animal hides into leather. The Clawson Chemical Company in Hallton eventually faced financial reversals in the 1920s and the plant in Hallton was sold. Clawson built this enormous Georgian Revival house on the hill when he was still flush in 1907. the double set of leaded and beveled front doors are original.
William Moore House
524 Hyde Avenue
This Shingle-Style house was built in 1909 as a wedding present for the original owner and his bride by the groom’s father, a lumber baron. The four reception rooms each display a different wood, carved and decorated in the famous Hyde-Murphy style. The reception hall is feudal oak, the living and dining rooms mirror each other in cherry, and the study/den is white oak. The three-story octagonal tower provided Taylor Moore and his wife Penelope a commanding view of the historic neighborhood.
Charles A. Kline House
522 Hyde Avenue
Charles A. Kline’s was an iconic American rags-to-riches story. A Crenshaw native, Kline came to Ridgway for a minor job with the Hyde-Murphy Company. His work ethic was quickly realized and he rose to a position of great responsibility while still a young man. He hired architect Henry C. Park to build Ridgway’s finest example of English Tudor architecture in 1907 but before he was able to move in, Kline died from appendicitis at the age of 32.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO SOUTH STREET AND TURN LEFT.
Jerome Powell House
330 South Street
Jerome Powell was born in the borough and county of Warren in 1827, the son of a blacksmith. In 1850 he moved to Ridgway, where he established the Elk County Advocate, continuing its publication until 1855. He then embarked in mercantile pursuits for decades with Robert V. Kime, and later also in the manufacture of lumber, both of which created his fortune. He built this striking Italian villa in 1865, updating it steadily through the 1890s. Inside, soaring first floor ceilings are crowned with oak and cherry beams finished with egg and dart moldings and the grand staircase is flanked by imposing oak Ionic columns.
Edgar Powell House
324 South Street
North-central Pennsylvania’s most prominent architect of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century was Henry C. Park, who made his home in Ridgway from the early 1890s until his death nearly thirty years later and was responsible for many buildings in the district. Born in the village of Waverly, on the New York-Pennsylvania line in south-central New York State, Park arrived in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, about fifty miles south of Ridgway, in 1891. He moved to Ridgway in 1894, and became the resident architect for the Hyde-Murphy Company, the prolific millwork producer and builder which had been established in the community ten years earlier. As their architect, Park was at the center of a frenzy of activity throughout this part of Pennsylvania, while his own practice flourished and his reputation spread. On July 19, 1900, the Ridgway Advocate re-ported that he had become a “noted and busy architect.” He designed homes, commercial buildings, churches, and theaters, equally at ease with Queen Anne residential design and more formal Georgian Revival institutional work. Park designed this eclectic house for Powell, next to his father’s house, in 1903. Edgar served as Mayor of Ridgway for three years before leaving with his brother Robert for California where they lost much of the family fortune.
TURN RIGHT ON BAKER ALLEY. TURN RIGHT ON CENTER STREET.
Ridgway Free Library
329 Center Street
This Colonial Revival building with a two-side Ionic portico was constructed in 1905 as a residence for Madison S. Kline, a local banker and sales manager for Russell Car and Snow Plow Company. Kline was forced to sell his showcase house in 1910 to the Hall family, one of Elk County’s most prominent clans. J.K.P. Hall was a state senator and two-term United States Congressman and was married to Kate Hyde, daughter of lumber baron Joseph S. Hyde. Their son James became president of the Stackpole Carbon Company and founded the Stackpole-Hall Foundation. Kate Hyde Hall was instrumental in founding the Ridgway Public Library in 1899 and when its home was marked for demolition in 1921 donated this building to the library association with the stipulation that it be used for a library for at least 25 years and it assume the $10,000 mortgage for the house. It has the home to the library for more than 75 years.
TURN AND WALK EAST ON CENTER STREET.
Henry S. Thayer
330 Center Street
Henry S. Thayer operated the Laurel Mill, whose lumbering operations accounted for between twelve and fifteen million board feet annually; his spacious home at 330 Center Street was described in 1893 as being “one of the handsomest in the state.” Thayer was the grandson of David Thayer, an early settler of Ridgway. The carriage house was part of the first homestead built in 1861 by Justus C. Chapin, one of the first District Attorneys in Elk County.
TURN RIGHT ON BROAD STREET.
Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church
21 South Broad Street
J. C. Fulton, of Uniontown designed this Gothic-style church of rough-faced stone and terra cotta.
RETURN TO CENTER STREET AND TURN RIGHT, HEADING WEST.
Burr Cartwright House
244 Center Street at southwest corner of Broad Street
Burr E. Cartwright was born in 1850 in Buffalo, New York where he first engaged in the lumber business. He came to Ridgway 1879 as purchasing agent, in the lumber trade for the firm of Scatchard & Son, in whose employ he remained until 1881. In that year he and W. W. Mattison formed a partnership in the lumber business, which organization resolved itself, in 1883, into the Ridgway Lumber Company. the several members thereof being Burr E. Cartwright, D. C. Oyster, Alfred Short and W. W. Mattison. In short order he owned the largest lumber operation in Pennsylvania and his empire included coal, brick and railroad operations. It all ended when the Panic of 1893 left him bankrupt and eventually Cartwright returned to Buffalo where he rebuilt some of his fortune in gold mines. Before he left he built this three-story eclectic house in the center of town that featured some of the finest cherry, maple and oak woodwork seen in these parts. The third floor featured the largest ballroom in Ridgway and retains its original gas chandelier.
Byron F. Ely House
200 Center Street
Byron Ely was one of the first arrivals in Ridgway, arriving in 1836 at the age of 16 with his father, Lafayette. He went into lumbering and became involved in several successful ventures, the last being on Elk Creek. He was one of the town’s most prominent business men when he had this grand Queen Anne home built in 1888. Ely didn’t enjoy his new home long, he died within months of moving in.
Perry R. Smith Residence
136 Center Street
Now a funeral home, this was the 1896 residence of Perry R. Smith. Smith made his way to Ridgway from Liberty, New York a quarter-century earlier and went to work as a tanner, eventually becoming vice-president at Elk Tanning Company. In 1898, with his brothers Flavius and Charles, he founded the Smith Brothers Department Store and moved into the Grand Central Building on Main Street in 1907. It would become one of the largest retail chains in Western Pennsylvania, lasting until 1958.
Beverly P. Mercer House
122 Center Street
This original core of this house was built in 1896 for meat market owner B.P. Mercer. The second owner, Madison J. Beach, President of the Elk Tanning Company, one of the largest corporations in Pennsylvania, added the fashionable cut stone porch and updated the interior. One thing he couldn’t do was soundproof the house and with the growing popularity of automobiles on Ridgway streets, the Beaches abandoned this buff brick Victorian for a quieter abode on South street in 1920.
Elder Campbell House
121 Center Street
This Queen Anne from 1886 was first built as a clapboard home with a barn on the site of a planing mill in the 1870s. Campbell was the owner of the Eagle Valley Store and also owned a sawmill. Later Flavius C. Smith of the Smith Brothers Department Store chain moved here.
George Dixon House
118 Center Street
This American style originated in cottages along the trendy, wealthy Northeastern coastal towns of Cape Cod, Long Island, and Newport in the late 19th century. Architectural publishers publicized it, but the style was never as popular around the country as the Queen Anne. Shingle homes borrow wide porches, shingles, and asymmetrical forms from the Queen Anne. They’re also characterized by unadorned doors, windows, porches, and cornices; continuous wood shingles; a steeply pitched roof line; and large porches. The style hints at towers, but they’re usually just extensions of the roof line. This one features a sleeping porch atop the turret. George Dixon, a businessman and educator, had this home built in 1888. He was also admitted to the Bar in 1878 and served four terms as a Pennsylvania Assemblyman. The home retains its original carriage stone where horse-drawn buggies would pull up to the front stoop.
Homer B. Norton House
114 Center Street
Homer Norton was an engineer most noted for designing the H.B. Norton Dam as the main water supply for the town that helped squelch an outbreak of typhoid fever. Norton applied his engineering talents to his home, which was constructed in 1916 around an older 1874 structure. On the third floor the entire weight of the roof is cantilevered to the exterior walls making one large room with no visible supporting structures.
TURN RIGHT ON ELK AVENUE. TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET.
150 Main Street
When Hugh McGeehin constructed his new hotel in 1879 he incorporated a section of the original county courthouse into his brick structure. P.F. Bogert was in the hotel business for a dozen years in his native Sullivan County, New York before coming to Ridgway at the age of 36 in 1880 to establish the Bogert House. In its prime, the hotel featured a restraurant, bar, 31 rooms and 11 apartments. The building was ravaged by fire in 1990.
241 Main Street
All the buildings on Main Street, save one, between Mill and Broad streets were destroyed by a fire that ignited on September 29, 1882. The buildings destroyed were of wood, unsightly in appearance and haphazardly placed. Scarcely had the ground cooled before the monied merchants of Ridgway set about creating a new block of substantial brick buildings in the popular Italianate commercial style of the day. There would be the Grand Central block, the Rhines Building and a new Ridgway bank. Here Fred Schoening and James McGinnis constructed the $20,000 Union Hall as a meeting lodge and commercial space. Today, Two Scoops offers an interior of an early 20th century soda fountain.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN FRONT OF THE ELK COUNTY COURTHOUSE.