Wellsboro was founded in 1806 by Quaker settlers from Delaware, Maryland and Philadelphia, it was incorporated in 1830. Tradition has long held that the little settlement was named in honor of Mary Wells, wife of one of the original settlers, Benjamin Wister Morris. It is her life-size bronze statue that stands at the Tioga County Historical Society but some historians have argued that the credit may belong to William Wells, Mary’s brother.
This section of the state was part of the Connecticut Grant that extended the north and south boundaries of the colony of Connecticut all the way to the Great Lakes; consequently it was settled by many of the early New England colonists. The large houses set well back from the streets on spacious well-kept lawns are truly indicative of the planning of New England towns. Noted for beautiful elms, maple trees and wide boulevards with gas lights, Wellsboro has long been a favorite of travelers. The 50-mile long Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania is a scant ten miles from town.
Wellsboro’s earliest period of growth, between the 1830s and the turn of the twentieth century, was at first of an agricultural character and was later associated with the lumber industry. Commercial development in the downtown occurred in the wake of two major fires in the 1870s which destroyed much of the downtown. As rebuilding occurred, brick became the favored construction material and the extant character of the commercial portion of the historic district reflects this era of reconstruction. In 1872 the Lawrenceville and Wellsboro Railroad laid the first line into the community, followed in 1881 by the Jersey Shore, Pine Creek, & Buffalo. As the lumber industry waned it was followed by coal extraction and, most importantly, in the early 1900s, by the glass industry - light bulbs and then Christmas lights.
The Wellsboro Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. The architecture of the district reflects the level of maturity in Wellsboro at the turn of the twentieth century, by which time many of the resources in the district were in place. High-style houses were built for civic and industrial leaders, primarily along Main Street and West Avenue. A feature which adds considerably to the visual character of the district is found along portions of both Main Street and Central Avenue, which have boulevards with trees, grass, and Wellsboro’s signature gas street lights mounted on cast iron poles.
Our walking tour will begin in the center of town around the New England-style Green and explore first the residential area along Main Street to the west and then come back and see the business district to the east...
Main Street, west side of Central Avenue to Charles Street
Wellsboro’s community park occupies a serene square in the heart of the community, dissected by walkways and sprinkled with mature trees. The centerpiece fountain is a bronze of children’s literature characters Wynken, Blynken and Nod from Eugene Field’s The Dutch Lullaby, penned in 1889. It was erected in the center fountain in 1938 and was dedicated to the memory of Elizabeth Bailey, the wife of community leader Fred Bailey. Of the other memorials and markers, the earliestis the soldiers and sailors memorial which was dedicated on November 18,1886 and honors Tioga County’s Civil War veterans. Among the other objects on the Green are a statue of a sailor honoring veterans of all wars, a commemorative stone remembering long-time newspaper editor and publisher Edwin Van Valkenberg and the 1886 John Magee statue which honors the founder of the locally-prominent Fall Brook Coal Company.
CROSS OVER TO THE NORTH SIDE OF MAIN STREET AND TURN LEFT, WALKING WEST.
Sheriff’s House and Jail /Wellsboro Chamber of Commerce
114 Main Street
This sturdy Italianate red brick structure was built in 1860 to serve as the Sheriff’s House and Jail, which it did all the way until 1985 - a fine return on its $10,000 construction price tag. Of equal interest is the historic elm tree in the front yard that has been growing for over 200 years. In July, 2009 it lost a massive limb and the health of the tree that was pre-dates the town is in question going forward.
Tioga County Courthouse
118 Main Street
Tioga County was formed on March 26, 1804 from parts of Lycoming County. The name, derived from an Indian word meaning “the forks of a stream”, honors the Tioga River. The county seat got this Colonial Courthouse, with cupola, in 1835. It is constructed of native sandstone and conglomerate, which was hauled on ox sleds for several miles over poor roads; high on the southwest wall is carved the outline of an eagle, insignia of one of the stonecutters from the neighboring Welsh settlement.
120 Main Street
This building was originally a tavern and the proprietor was the first Sheriff of Tioga County, Alpherus Cheney. In the 1830s four rooms, two upstairs and two downstairs, were added by Samuel Dickinson. It was later purchased by John L. Robinson, a founder of the First National Bank of Wellsborough. Unlike some wealthy homeowners who might make expensive additions or renovations, banker Robinson took a different tack - he built a replica of his bank in t he back yard. The house today is the home of the Tioga County Historical Society.
126 Main Street
This brick house with Stick Style woodworking in the gables, lintels and porch supports was built in 1885 for Henry W. Williams, then President Judge of Tioga County. Two years later he was appointed to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
First Presbyterian Church
130 Main Street
When this Presbyterian church appeared on the Wellsboro streetscape in 1894 it was hailed as “the finest church of its size in Northern Pennsylvania.”
Green Free Library
134 Main Street
The borough of Wellsboro was already more than 100 years old when the first effort was made to establish a free public library. In 1911, a local philanthropist, Charles Green of Roaring Branch, left a $50,000 trust with instructions to create the Green Free Library. Several years passed until Mary B. Robinson bequeathed Chester Place, the family home built in 1855 by her father, Chester Robinson. After extensive renovations to Chester Place, swapping its Victorian original for Colonial Revival, the new Green Free Library officially opened on January 26, 1917.
“Lincoln Door House”
140 Main Street
This 1850 Italianate-style residence is locally known as the “Lincoln Door House,” since when Dr. and Mrs. J. H. Shearer purchased the house in 1858, the front door was given to Mrs. Shearer by Mary Todd Lincoln, a close friend from the time that they both lived in Springfield, Illinois. The door had come from an unidentified Springfield home.
West End Market
152 Main Street
This is the oldest grocery store in Wellsboro; it opened its doors in 1902. For more than 100 years it has operated as a convenience market, a fish market and a bulk food store.
KEEP WALKING PAST MAIN STREET AND TAKE THE BEND IN THE ROAD AS IT BECOMES WEST AVENUE, TO THE RIGHT.
Harrison House/Carleton Nursing Home
10 West Avenue
This substantial Italian Villa style, capped with a belvedere, was the home of banker and philanthropist Leonard Harrison. He owned and developed 121 acres of land bordering Pine Creek, then known as “The Lookout” that he operated as public picnic ground. He donated the land to the Commonwealth in 1922 that became Leonard Harrison State Park.
TURN AND WALK THE SHORT DISTANCE BACK TO MAIN STREET AND CROSS TO THE SOUTH SIDE OF THE STREET.
Jesse Robinson House
141 Main Street
Wellsboro’s outstanding example of Queen Anne architecture was designed by Joseph Pierce and Otis Dockstader, a leading firm in south-central New York and northern Pennsylvania. The client was Jesse Robinson, a son of banker John L. Robinson. After beginning his own career as a cashier in 1876, Jesse took the reins of the bank after his father’s death in 1893. He died suddenly three years later and in his will stated that his wife Hattie could live in the house until her death but if she chose to re-marry or move from Wellsboro, all would transfer to their children. Hattie successfully broke the will and sold the house two years later. The 1888 mansion features asymmetrical massing over three stories under a steeply pitched roof with a beautiful wrap-around, lattice- trimmed porch. The exterior is primarily of red brick with specially cut wood shingle siding in the dormer areas. No major alterations have taken place since the house was built in the midst of Wellsboro’s flourishing lumber years.
Waldo Miller House
139 Main Street
Comparable is size and style to the Robinson House across King Street, the Miller house actually predates it by almost a decade. This early Queen Anne-style house was built in 1879. It stands today as a funeral home.
TURN RIGHT ON CHARLES STREET.
Old Lutheran Church
2 Charles Street
This 1860 former Lutheran Church is of Greek Revival design; after being a house of worship it served as the home of the Wellsboro School District until 2008.
TURN LEFT ON PEARL STREET.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
south side of The Green at the corner of Charles and Pearl streets
Benjamin Morris, a Quaker who built a meetinghouse for fellow worshippers, founded Wellsboro in 1806. After the Quaker group disbanded, James Lowery and Joshua Sweet headed a group interested in forming a new church. In 1838, the church leaders hired an Episcopal priest, Charles Breck, for $250 to minister to the town’s first organized church. After services at the courthouse and, later, in an old school building on the corner of Charles and Walnut Streets, the present Romanesque structure was completed at a cost of just over $30,000 with regular services beginning on Easter Sunday, April 2, 1899.
33 Pearl Street
This Second Empire building with mansard roof was erected prior to the Civil War as the office of the Bingham Estate, a land company. It was moved from its original site in 1897 when St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was built.
TURN LEFT ON CENTRAL AVENUE.
Central Avenue between Main and Pearl streets
Towns designated as county seats often developed a row of law offices near the County courthouse. In Wellsboro this block of brick offices housed law firms and insurance companies. Many have living quarters upstairs. The Queen Anne-style residence at 19 Central Avenue was built by judge Mortimer F. Elliot, who served as congressman-at-large in the 48th Congress.
TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET AND WALK DOWN THE SOUTH SIDE OF THE BUSINESS DISTRICT.
Garrisons Mens Store
85 Main Street
This red brick storefront is typical of the Italianate-style commercial buildings that populated Wellsboro’s business district in the latter half of the 19th century. Garrisons has been in business since 1955.
Dunham’s Department Store
45 Main Street
Roy and Fannie Dunham opened their first store in downtown Wellsboro in 1905. After it was severely damaged by fire in 1913 the emporium was rebuilt and expanded in the same location. During the Depression, when a lot of rural residents had no way of getting to town, the Dunham’s created the “Rolling Store,” a modified truck that carried dry goods, hardware and candy to residents in outlying areas. The truck traveled around the county until World War II when gasoline and tire rationing put the brakes on the rolling store. The current three-story Art Deco style building of Dunham’s, still family-owned after 100 years, dates to 1932 and is of poured concrete.
19 Main Street
The Moderne style Wellsboro Diner opened in 1939 and has been in continuous operation as a diner ever since, still in its original location.
CROSS OVER TO THE NORTH SIDE OF THE STREET AND TURN LEFT, WALKING WEST ON MAIN STREET.
United Methodist Church
northwest corner of Main Street and Queen Street
Methodism in Tioga County can be traced back to the circuit riding preachers of the Genesee Conference, organized in 1810. The nascent village of Wellsboro landed on the circuit in 1822. The first church building was located at 7 Main Street and was a simple, neat church finished very plainly inside. It was dedicated on May 21, 1842 being the second church building in the borough at the time. By 1867 the church needed repairs and improvements, which were completed in November. The evening of the first Sunday service held after the work was done, the church was discovered in flames and it burned to the ground. The people worshiped in the Courthouse for the next two years while a new brick church was built until a substantial Gothic structure was dedicated on this site on November 17, 1869, exactly two years to the day after the fire. Due to construction defects the church was determined to be unsafe for use in 1900. It was torn down in 1904 and a new Gothic Revival church of yellow brick and Hummelstown sandstone was begun. The present church building, now into its second century, was dedicated on October 1, 1905.
50 Main Street
Irvin Focht and Leon Klock opened the Arcadia Theatre on December 12, 1921, showing The Old Nest to patrons paying 15 and 25 cents. The theater housed one screen and seated 900 people. To accompany the silent movies, the theater was equipped with an organ, piano, and room for an orchestra. In 1926, William Woodin, the owner of the Towanda theatre, along with W.H. Seigel, purchased the Arcadia and three years later some of the first “talkies” in Pennsylvania were screened here. In 1949, the Arcadia held its first premiere, Top O’ the Morning starring Bing Crosby. The theater remained a vital part of Wellsboro’s downtown through the 1970s but it gasped through the 1980s and early 1990s until it was completely renovated in 1996. In celebration of its 75th year, the Arcadia Theatre reopened on March 21, 1997 as a state-of-the-art 4 screen facility, yet preserving the classic look of an old-time movie house.
62 Main Street
Wellsboro’s first tavern/inn was built in 1816 on this site, and the site has always been occupied by a tavern, inn or hotel. In 1869 A.P. Cone erected a four-story brick hotel. The building was purchased in1885 by J.S. Coles and renamed the “Cole House.” A fire in 1906 damaged the fourth floor so badly that it had to removed. The largest building in the historic district and a significant anchor within the central business district was purchased by a group of local residents in 1925 when it was closed for extensive remodeling and the addition of a fourth floor. At that time, the entire hotel was fire protected by a sprinkler system. It re-opened in 1926 as the Penn-Wells Hotel.
First National Bank
90-92 Main Street
The First National Bank of Wellsboro was organized February 27,1864, chartered March 21,1864, and commenced business May 17,1864. William Bache was chosen president in order to enable John L. Robinson, the founder, to act as cashier and get the bank well under way. After a service of about two years, Mr. Bache retired and Mr. Robinson was elected president. The building first occupied by the bank was an old two-story frame erected as a store by Samuel Dickinson, and purchased by Robinson back in 1834. It stood near what is the Robinson homestead and the county record office. It was used until 1876 when it was removed to the northeast corner of Crafton and Pearl streets. But before it moved it was involved in one of the notorious incidents in Wellsboro’s history. On the night of September 16,1874 the bank was robbed by band of skilled burglars in one of the most boldly-planned and successfully-executed robberies in the history of Pennsylvania. The old-fashioned frame store building with wooden shutters and doors could be entered easily by any expert burglar but the vault was a very strong one fitted with the best combination locks. So instead the seven men captured First National’s president Robinson and his family at their house and ordered his son to accompany a few of them to the bank and open the vault. News of the robbery along the local telegraph line was delayed, and the bandits fled with more than $30,000 in cash. Eventually, two of the robbers were captured, but the rest escaped and criminals supposedly tied to the heist were being arrested as far away as San Francisco in the coming years. The new two-story brick bank building was built on this site in 1876 and replaced with the Neoclassical vault now on Main Street in the early 1900s. Today the bank is owned by the Citizens and Northern Bank.
WALK ONE MORE BLOCK TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT THE GREEN.