Physical Description of the Ridgway Historic District
The Ridgway Historic District is a mixed-use (residential, commercial and institutional) historic district of 252 acres which encompasses the traditional core of the downtown and surrounding residential neighborhoods within the Borough of Ridgway, the county seat of Elk County, which is located in north-central Pennsylvania. The Historic District contains a total of 803 resources. 730 (or 91%) contribute to the character of the district while only 73 (or 9%) are non-contributing. In addition to the historic buildings, the district’s resources include two Civil War-era cannons installed on the Court House lawn in the 1890s), and a bridge.
Age Distribution of Contributing Resources
In addition to the domestic and commercial architecture of the district, the institutional growth and maturity of the community is represented by several large churches, schools, and secular institutional buildings. One railroad station, the Pennsylvania Railroad Passenger Depot of 1907, represents the transportation-related growth of the district and of the community. The architecture of the Ridgway Historic District varies from modest vernacular residences and commercial buildings to spacious and highly detailed homes and business blocks, and a diverse collection of churches, governmental buildings, and schools. Most domestic architecture is of wood, while the district’s commercial and institutional architecture is executed primarily in brick; a small number of stone buildings exist in the district as well. Many of the homes retain spacious verandas and historic dependencies. Larger dependencies (carriage houses, barns, etc.) are included in the resource count, while smaller outbuildings (sheds, small automobile garages, etc.) are treated as small-scale features and are not represented in the count. Two large barns on Hyde Avenue Extension, at the south east corner of the district were associated with the significant holdings of the Hyde family.
The Ridgway Historic District is a concentrated district, in that, unlike many other county seats and larger communities, this district it is principally defined by resources which exist without significant development outside its perimeters. In addition to its stylistic definition, the district is defined by its topography, which includes steep valleys necessitating the later growth of the community to occur in areas removed from the district which was essentially built out by the 1930s. The district retains integrity in each of the seven qualities critical to national register status: location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.
The Ridgway Historic District is located on either side of Main Street, which is the community’s principal historic commercial thoroughfare and runs in a southwest-to-northeast direction not far from the district’s northern boundary. The community’s other historic commercial street, Broad Street, intersects Main Street and leads northward out of the district. The Elk County Court House with its attached jail is a dominant visual feature on a portion of Main Street between Court Street and Broad Street. A large residential neighborhood is located south of Main Street and a considerably smaller residential area lies north of the downtown.
Most alleys in the district are unnamed; Long Alley is an exception. In addition to the traditional street names (Main, Broad, Mill, etc.) within the district, several streets were named for early settlers in the community. Some historic brick sidewalks are extant and enhance the overall historic character of the district. Sidewalks are found on both sides of most streets and parking is permitted in nearly all areas of the district.
Among the significant natural features of the district are Elk Creek, which forms a portion of the district’s northern boundary, and Gallagher Creek. The Clarion Rive, very small in scale in Ridgway compared to its eventual size farther south, lies immediately outside the district on the west. One bridge is found in the district; it is a single span masonry structure which carries North Broad Street across Elk Creek, immediately south of the Pennsylvania Railroad Depot, at the northeast corner of the district.
The buildings in the district are of a conventional rectilinear form; some churches and private residences exhibit rounded bays. Frontages of the individual buildings range upward from approximately twenty feet. The commercial buildings are generally flat-roofed or have shed roofs which slope gently from front to back. Some historic chimneys have been retained, but most have been removed in the course of retrofitting heating systems and replacing roofs. Most of the buildings in the district rest on substantial foundations of ashlar sandstone; a smaller proportion of foundations are of brick. Rock-faced and smooth-dressed concrete block and structural tile were employed for the foundations of some buildings built after the beginning of the twentieth century. Most residential buildings in the district are gabled-, pyramidal-, hipped-, and gambrel-roofed; the few French Second Empire-style buildings in the district exhibit the Mansard roof which is characteristic of the style. Institutional architecture employs flat, shed, hipped, and gabled roofs, and in the case of the Court House, a Mansard roof. Due to the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century character of much of the district, most buildings are punctuated by tall and narrow patterns of fenestration. Art glass, both religious and secular, is found throughout the district; many examples of this decorative feature were produced locally by the Hyde-Murphy Company.
The term, “vernacular,” when used in this context, conforms to the definition which appears in Ward Bucher’s Dictionary of Building Preservation: a building built without being designed by an architect or someone with similar formal training; often based on traditional or regional forms.”
Horace Little, the town surveyor, named several of the streets, including Kearsarge, referring to a mountain near his own original home in Boscawen County, New Hampshire and Little Street, which he named in his own honor; Earley Avenue honors Dr. Charles Earley, a pioneer doctor and school superintendent, and Spring Garden Street leads from Jacob Ridgway’s private spring which was the community’s first public water supply.
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