Historic Influences of the Ridgway Historic Districts
The Ridgway Historic District is significant under National Register Criterion A for its association with industry and politics/government. The district contains the Elk County Court House and jail, and served as the seat of county government throughout the period of significance of the district (c. 1850-1952). The district's links to the patterns on industrial development are clearly represented in its close association with the Hyde-Murphy Company, evident in the presence of the Hyde-Murphy Office Building, homes of the Hydes and Murphys, and many homes, institutional buildings, and commercial architecture erected by this prolific firm. The district contains the work of regionally-prominent architects and builders such as the Hyde-Murphy Company, manufacturers of building materials and building contractors in their own right. Ridgway's significance is inextricably tied to the heritage of Hyde-Murphy, since this single firm was responsible for so much of the distinguished architecture which characterizes this community. Their work is seen in entire buildings as well as porches, window sash, and exterior trim, along with a full complement of interior finishes. In addition, Hyde-Murphy's in-house architect, H. C. Park, was a leading regional designer for more than a quarter-century and is well represented in the district. Along with formally-designed homes are vernacular adaptations of many individual design modes as well as examples of purely vernacular architecture, which, although executed without reference to formal design tenets, are nonetheless the significant manifestations of local building tradition in Elk County.
Settlement of Ridgway
In the mid-1820's, James W. Gallagher entered the area that was to become Ridgway; Gallagher Run, within the district, bears his name. Ridgway was plotted as an unincorporated village in 1833 and was named for Philadelphia Quaker Jacob Ridgway. While Jacob Ridgway's early biography is disputed by local historians, it is known that he owned in excess of 100,000 acres in McKean County and in the region which eventually became Elk County. At the time of his death, he bequeathed his Ridgway-area holdings to his son, John Jacob.
The pioneer settlement of Ridgway lay in Jefferson County until 1843 when a new county was erected from portions of Jefferson, McKean, and Clearfield counties. The new political subdivision was christened Elk County, in recognition of the animals which frequented the area. The village of Ridgway was named the new county's seat of government. The community remained unincorporated until February 15, 1881, when it was formally organized as a borough. Elk County was long known as a major producer of lumber, oil, gas, and fire clay. The county seat developed both as an important local political hub and as a regional manufacturing center. The historic cultural landscape of the community was dotted with large tanneries, factories producing machine tools, bedding, cigars, axes, wagons, and sleighs, a producer of railroad cars and railroad snowplows, an electric motor manufacturer, and the Hyde-Murphy Company, internationally-recognized producers of architectural millwork and art glass, and leading building contractors in their own right.
Influence of the Lumber Industry
The success of the lumber industry in the region was most directly responsible for the growth of the community of Ridgway during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and this prosperity was a significant factor in shaping the character of the Ridgway Historic District. In addition to the operations of Hyde-Murphy and several large tanneries (no longer extant), many of the commercial and residential properties in the district were built from the fortunes of lumber:
Influence of Other Industrialist
Not all of the homes in the district were erected for lumber magnates. Industrialists with other specialties along with lumber industry laborers and operators of a lesser stature populated the district as well.
One of the more ambitious examples of entrepreneurial activity in the growing community was Frank McGloin's record in the real estate investment. In 1898, the local newspaper reported that McGloin had lived in Ridgway for the past twenty-six years, and "he can with just pride to the fact that he owns and has paid for a house every year he has been in town." The article continued that he had just acquired building lots on Center Street and "Mr. McGloin's twenty-seven years' residence in Ridgway will not be reached until next March, and, in order that his record for one house for every year may not be broken, it is his intention to build on one of the new lots before that time."
As the stands of timber were exhausted in the last years of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century, Ridgway's growth and building activity continued due to the significant growth of a broad industrial base within the community. Industries in Ridgway during that time included the J. H. McEwen Manufacturing Company, the Elk Tanning Company (which operated two large tanneries), the Ridgway Press Brick Standard Ax and Tool Works, and the lumber mills of B. F. Ely and Sons. None of these industrial operations was located in the district, but the homes of the managers and the workers are found throughout.
The Ridgway Historic District achieved ethnic diversity following the Civil War. This settlement pattern continued into the late nineteenth century, as Swedish, Irish, and Italian immigrants arrived in the growing community. At one time, Ridgway was forty percent Swedish, evidenced by the fact that two thriving religious congregations, the Evangelical Covenant and the Bethlehem Lutheran, were of Swedish derivation. Irish and Italian immigrants, too, populated Ridgway; the defunct Parish of the Sacred Heart of Mary has its church, rectory/convent, and school in adjacent buildings located at 443, 449, and 439 East Main Street, respectively.
The industrial prosperity of the community contributed significantly to the growth of the Borough's commercial district. Ridgway's earliest commercial buildings were primarily of wood construction; nearly all of these were replaced by more substantial brick buildings, reflecting the growth of the fortunes of the community late in the nineteenth century. Of the more then seven hundred contributing resources in the district, nearly one hundred are commercial buildings whose mercantile use dates from the period of significance; Main and Broad Streets are lined with commercial architecture, nearly all of which date from within the period of significance. This architecture includes buildings which housed a diversity of shops and businesses, hotels, banks, and offices which were directly linked to the district's position as a local and regional commercial and industrial center as well as one transportation-related resource, the 1907 Pennsylvania Railroad Station, located north of the central business district and immediately north of Elk Creek on North Broad Street.