Uniontown is unusual for Western Pennsylvania towns in that it did not grow on a navigable river and it is also unique for having not one boom, but two. The first great growth spurt took place from 1811 to the 1850s with the construction of the National Road from Cumberland, Maryland to Wheeling, West Virginia and eventually into Illinois. Uniontown became an important stop on the road, with stagecoach factories, stage and wagon yards, stables and blacksmith shops and at least a dozen taverns to serve weary travelers. After the railroad reached Wheeling in 1852 the National Road gradually diminished in importance and devolved into a local market road. How quiet did it become in Uniontown? Only eight building extant in the historic district were built between 1860 and 1880.
Then came the coal and coke boom and Uniontown bubbled with activity for the next 50 years, until the Great Depression. The existence of soft, bituminous coal in the region had been known since Henry Beeson settled here and built a mill on Redstone Creek in 1768. But when the hungry mills in Pittsburgh demanded coke distilled from coal to make steel they turned to the cola fields in their back yard, which just happened to possess immense deposits of the best metallurgical coal in the world. Uniontown had three major mines and tens of thousands of beehive coke ovens nearby but its principal contribution was as the operational and financial center of the coal and coke industry. These new coal barons liked to build - in 1912 Uniontown counted in its downtown nine banks, 13 theaters and 14 hotels.
That’s not the Uniontown you will experience today. Our walking tour of the quieter streets of the 21st century will begin at the site of the boyhood home of one of the 20th century’s most accomplished men, a place that has been transformed into Uniontown’s Gateway...
George C. Marshall Memorial Plaza
Fayette Street, Mt. Vernon Avenue, and Main Street
The George C. Marshall Memorial Plaza is located in the birthplace and boyhood home of the General of the Army, Secretary of State and 1953 Nobel Peace Prize winner as architect of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe following World War II. George Catlett Marshall was born the son of a a prosperous coke and coal merchant in 1880 and lived here until leaving for the Virginia Military Institute. Marshall, who was twice named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year,” returned to Uniontown three times, the last in 1954, five years before his death, to dedicate the restoration of George Washington’s Fort Necessity. The plaza, sited at the locally known “Five Corners,” includes narrative plaques, rare historical photographs, a statue of the General, the Flags of Nations and an arched bridge over Coal Lick Run where Marshall played as a boy. It also contains statues of everyday soldiers - a World War I “doughboy” and a World War II “GI.”
WALK EAST ON MAIN STREET.
White Swan Apartments
117 West Main Street
There has been a White Swan on this site since 1805 when a tavern of that name operated here. A six-story brick building was constructed in 1925 as the White Swan Hotel. There is a projecting circular ballroom in the rear. The White Swan of the 21st century is an apartment house for the elderly.
92 West Main Street
George Flavius Titlow bought the Frost House, built in 1890, in 1905 and acquired its first liquor license for the enterprise. He solicited some of the town’s millionaires to invest in the Titlow Hotel. George also bought the Lingo Block adjacent to the Frost House on the west side. He extended the building upward four floors and back to Peter Street. His grand opening on May 16, 1906 brought 1500 guests. It was the most luxurious hotel in the region. Titlow sold the hotel in 1923 during Prohibition saying that he could not run a hotel without spirits.
Knights of Pythius Building
84 West Main Street
This three-story brick Victorian Gothic building was constructed as a meeting hall for the Knights of Pythius in 1885. Next door the Strickler-Hess Renaissance Revival commercial building dates to 1903.
southwest corner of Main Street and Morgantown Street
The most ornate building in downtown Uniontown, with a distinctive rounded corner and topped by a gilded dome, the Renaissance Revival building as constructed as a bank in 1900 by J.V. Thompson and J.D. Ruby. It is built of the finest materials of the day - brick, stone and terra cotta.
Fayette Bank Building
50 West Main Street, at northwest corner of Pittsburgh Street
This was the First National Bank Building when it was built in 1902 for coal baron Josiah Van Kirk Thompson. J.V. Thompson’s fortune was second to none in the late 1800s but he did not own coal mines nor manufacture any products from coal - he was a speculator buying and selling coal lands. Thompson hired renowned skyscraper architect Daniel Burnham of Chicago to create his 11-story monument to his success. In 1915 the First National Bank failed triggering a downward spiral in Thompson’s life that included a public and expensive divorce and a collapse in the coal industry. He died bankrupt in 1933. Noted for its rounded corner overlooking Main and Morgantown streets, the renamed Fayette Bank Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. It now houses professional offices and apartments with a panoramic view of the surrounding city. The ornate main bank lobby remains intact, featuring a rounded corner of windows, a service counter, floors of terrazzo marble, and the original crown moldings.
TURN LEFT ON PITTSBURGH STREET AND WALK ONE BLOCK.
northwest corner of Pittsburgh Street and Peter Street
Now operating as a federal government office building, this was a high-style, low-slung Neoclassical post office from 1930, when it was constructed, until 1966. An unusual feature of this building is the row of gargoyles projecting from the facade above the Romanesque arched windows.
TURN AROUND AND WALK BACK TO MAIN STREET. TURN LEFT AND CONTINUE TRAVELING EAST.
northeast corner of Pittsburgh Street and Main Street
Another tribute to favorite son, George C. Marshall, here located at the junction of the roadways that unite Uniontown to both Pittsburgh and Morgantown. General Marshall is portrayed in a bronze statue sitting atop his horse named “Apple Jack” with dog “Fleet” by his side.
Gallatin National Bank
northwest corner of Main Street and Beeson Boulevard
The Gallatin National Bank was the only Uniontown bank to survive the Depression, perhaps aided by the imposing appearance of it headquarters with three-story tall Ionic columns across its front and fluted pilasters marching down its side. The eight-story granite building was built in 1924.
5-9 East Main Street
The Penn Theatre was Uniontown’s largest theater, built in 1913. It screened movies and hosted touring Vaudeville shows. The theater closed in 1952 to accommodate a retail expansion on the block.
11 East Main Street
Named in honor of local historian and journalist, Walter “Buzz” Storey, the square received a makeover in 2005. It features a canopied stage, a hand-painted 1,500 square foot mural on its east wall and hosts a variety of events throughout the year.
State Theatre Center for the Arts
27 East Main Street
The State Theatre was hailed as “…the largest, finest and most beautiful playhouse in Western Pennsylvania” when it opened in 1922. The State Theatre was designed by one of America’s foremost theatre architects, Thomas Lamb, celebrated for his fine acoustical planning in classically designed Federal-style buildings. Seating 1,605 patrons, the interior was created by Ingstrip-Burke Company of Chicago, also in the Federal style of Robert Adam. On the bill were the finest Vaudeville acts of the day and the latest silent movies. The State Symphony Orchestra held forth in the pit with a $40,000 Pleubet Master Organ. As music trends shifted and the Big Band sound emerged the State hosted many of the country’s greatest musical attractions including Paul Whiteman, Glen Gray and the Dorsey Brothers. When ”talkies” arrived, the State was the third theater in the nation to employ projected sound films. But even the The State Theatre was not exempt to the suburban flight of the 1960s and 1970s that led to the mass extinction of America’s downtown movie palaces. It closed in June of 1973. A reincarnation as The State Music Hall didn’t take but in 1988 the Greater Uniontown Heritage Consortium purchased the theatre, restored its name and, in 1989, began presenting a series of professional programs ranging from Broadway musicals to big bands, symphonies to country music superstars. Today, the Grand Old Lady of Main Street continues as a vibrant performing arts center.
Alonzo Hagan Building
30 East Main Street
Alonzo Hagan, a Uniontown lawyer, built this elegant Renaissance Revival building in 1906. The ground floor formerly housed a theater, and once a jewelry store and currently a restaurant.
Union Trust Building
37-39 East Main Street at northwest corner of Gallatin Street
This five-story Renaissance Revival building was fitted into a narrow lot in 1905 as the Gallatin Hotel. Later it did duty as a bank.
41 East Main Street
This sleek eight-story brick building was designed in the Moderne style in 1929 for a furniture store. It has since been converted into apartments for the elderly.
50 East Main Street
This three-story stone building was constructed as law offices in 1897. With its arched doors and windows it was meant to complement the Richardsonian Romanesque styling of the courthouse nearby.
Dawson Law Building
57 East Main Street
This wonderfully preserved Federal-style, two-story brick building has remained remarkably unaltered since its construction in 1832. It was built for use as law offices and has been used for that purpose for its entire history.
Fayette County Courthouse
61 East Main Street
Built in 1847, Fayette County purchased the property where the courthouse stands from Uniontown’s founder Henry Beeson for six pence which is the equivalent of about six cents today. The Richardson Romanesque structure was built out of local materials and features a clock tower along with a statue of the county’s namesake Marquis de Lafayette in its lobby. The eight-foot wooden statue was carved in 1847 by David Blythe, who became one of the outstanding native-scenes artists of his century. Larger than life, the polar planks are pinned together and his high hat is fashioned from tin. The statue periodically goes traveling to museums and art exhibits.
TURN LEFT DOWN COURT STREET IN FRONT OF THE COURTHOUSE (ON THE WEST SIDE).
Fayette County Prison
northeast corner of Court Street and Peter Street
The county prison was constructed in the same Richardsonian Romanesque style with the same sandstone face as the adjoining courthouse, to which it is joined by a “Bridge of Sighs.”
RETURN TO MAIN STREET AND TURN LEFT, CONTINUING TO TRAVEL EAST.
61 East Main Street
The County Building was added to the government complex in 1927, built in a Spanish Colonial style. It is connected to its older siblings.
97 East Main Street
This beautifully symmetrical Georgian Revival mansion was erected in 1900 for coal baron James R. Barnes. Born in July, 1860, Barnes attended public school at Uniontown and then followed his father into the mines. he was able to transition into management and became one of the area’s largest operators. The mansion has since been converted into law offices, as well as two carriage houses to the rear.
TURN RIGHT ON CHURCH STREET.
23 East Church Street
This large brick school building was constructed in the Collegiate Gothic style in 1916. The Central School was once called the Ella Peach School after a one-time educator. It was an elementary school for many years and is now used for administrative offices.
TURN LEFT ON BEESON STREET AND CROSS FAYETTE STREET.
Asbury United Methodist Church
20 Dunbar Street at Beeson Street
Dedicated in 1919, built of Hummelstown brownstone, the church features Tiffany stained glass windows. It is the fourth building in town for this congregation that descends from the first Methodist church in Uniontown, founded in 1785.
RETURN TO BEESON STREET AND TURN LEFT.
Great Bethel Baptist Church
47 West Fayette Street
Built in 1902, the entire complex is a uniform example of Gothic Revival architecture. This congregation descends from the first organized church of any denomination west of the Allegheny Mountains, founded in 1770. It succeeds a small log church and a simple, steepled building.
Trinity United Presbyterian Church
79 West Fayette Street at southwest corner of Morgantown Street
This traffic-stopping church was built in 1896 on designs by Pittsburgh architect William Kauffman in the French Gothic style, closely resembling Henry Hobson Richardson’s landmark Trinity Church in Boston’s Copley Square. It is built of Peninsula blue sandstone and roofed with deep red corrugated tile. The massive square lantern tower, soars 150 feet above the ground, dominating the downtown skyline. This is the congregation’s third church; the first was erected in 1827 after Uniontown had been a stop on the Presbyterian church preaching circuit since 1799.
TURN LEFT ON MORGANTOWN STREET.
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
60 Morgantown Street
Built in 1884 in the 14th Century English Gothic, the church features a Norman tower without a spire, an intricate patterned slate roof, and one Tiffany window. This was the home church of General George C. Marshall.
TURN AND WALK NORTH ON MORGANTOWN STREET, ACROSS FAYETTE STREET.
26 Morgantown Street at South Street
This Queen Anne building was constructed in 1899, actually pre-dating the rounded corners that would distinguish its more illustrious neighbors on the next intersection at Main Street.
43 Morgantown Street
This much-altered building began life as a Methodist church in 1878. The church moved to a new location in 1919. The steeple was removed and the building converted into a ground-level storeroom and apartments above.
TURN LEFT ON SOUTH STREET.
Old West School
75 West South Street
Enos West purchased a lot on South Street around 1820 on which stood a log building. He tore away the logs and erected several frames, one of which he made his home. He also built this log school house, perhaps crafted from the logs taken from the original house. It stands today as an example of a frontier one-room school.
CONTINUE TO FAYETTE STREET AND TURN RIGHT TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.