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Carlisle Historic District

Carlisle Boro, Cumberland County, PA

The historic district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. A re-inventory and additional comment were added two-decades later. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from material that was added to the nomination document in 2000.

The Carlisle Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, is an intact collection of architecturally significant residential, commercial and public buildings constructed primarily between the late 18th and early 20th centuries. Located in the center of Carlisle Borough, the district includes most of the original 1741 town plan. As delineated, the district is roughly bounded on the north by Louther Street, on the east by Letort Spring, on the south by E. South and Walnut Streets, and on the west by College and West Streets. The original National Register nomination was very brief, and does not adequately describe the district's resources and their significance. In particular, the historic district's 20th century resources were treated unevenly. At the time of the survey in 1979, all were buildings. Late Victorian, Classical Revival, Colonial Revival and Art Deco buildings were found to be contributing, while vernacular and several Commercial style buildings were called out as intrusions to the district. Many intact 19th century commercial buildings with 20th century storefronts were also called out as intrusions. In addition, two resources less than 50 years old were found to be contributing in 1979, the ca. 1930 cinema and ca. 1950 county courthouse. Therefore, the purpose of this added information is to reevaluate the district's 20th century resources, explain their role in reflecting the district's history, better justify their eligibility status, and clarify the period of significance to 1950. No additional areas of significance or a boundary change are proposed at this time. As the original historic district map does not match the written boundary description in Section 10, a corrected historic district map is provided at this time to clarify the existing boundary.

In order to evaluate its 20th century resources, the Carlisle Historic District was re-inventoried. As done in 1979, only buildings with addresses were included in the resource count; The typed street inventory from 1979 was compared to existing conditions during a walking survey of the entire district. This fieldwork indicated that many resources had been mis-dated or not identified in 1979. Many 19th century buildings had been identified as dating to the 20th century, usually due to limited 20th century alterations. Many blocks had been missed, including all the alleyways (called avenues). The historic district actually contains many more resources than originally counted. The recent survey identified 1106 buildings, two sites and one object within the Carlisle Historic District, of which 91.3 percent are contributing. The historic district has changed very little in the past three decades. It is remarkably intact with few modern buildings interrupting its historic streetscapes. The district's contributing resources have few if any modern alterations such as vinyl siding, metal porches, or replacement windows. Since 1979, it has lost only 18 contributing resources, all dwellings dating to the late 19th century. Most of these were replaced by modern construction, principally additions to public or religious buildings.

Only 14 percent (160) of the Carlisle Historic District's buildings date from the 20th century. Approximately 213 of these (104) were built between 1900 and 1950, and contribute to the district. Constructed as infill throughout the historic district, they are surrounded by the district's most numerous 19th century buildings. The mostly two to three story brick 20th century buildings sit at the front of their narrow urban lots abutting the sidewalk, similar to earlier buildings in town. Many have a commercial or business use, usually as stores, offices, warehouses, automotive garages or other businesses. Architectural styles represented include Late Victorian, Classical Revival, Commercial, and Art Deco. Many are vernacular buildings with limited Victorian or Colonial Revival detailing and stepped or shaped parapets. These buildings are usually two stories tall and of brick or concrete block construction. Residences from the first half of the 20th century are widely scattered throughout the district, each surrounded by 18th and 19th century buildings. Like earlier dwellings in Carlisle, many are part of a duplex or row. The majority were built between 1900 and 1925 and have Queen Anne, Late Victorian, or Colonial Revival architectural detailing. The remainder include several Craftsmans and a Four-Square. Many of Carlisle's public buildings date to the first half of the 20th century. These include four churches (two Late Gothic Revival, one Romanesque Revival, and one Classical Revival), two Late Gothic Revival education buildings, the Classical Revival county courthouse, and the Colonial Revival borough hall.

The largest concentration of contributing 20th century buildings is found in downtown Carlisle along Hanover and High Streets in the center of the historic district. Most are three story brick mixed use buildings that have first floor stores and house offices or apartments on the upper floors. The majority date between 1900 and 1930. Late Victorian examples, which date to 1915, have elaborately carved and molded details, including heavy roof line and storefront cornices, window hoods, door surrounds, and oriel windows: Also common are Commercial style buildings that date between 1910 and 1940. These buildings have cast stone trim, shaped or stepped parapets, two-story oriel windows, Chicago-style or paired windows, and classical details. Some have differentiated piers and spandrels and Art Deco detailing. Several buildings from the late 1930s and 1940s have Art Moderne influences such as ribbon windows, flat coped parapets, and colored glass facades. Also found in downtown Carlisle are Classical Revival buildings, including three banks, the recently restored Art Deco Carlisle Theater, and the Late Gothic Revival former Odd Fellows Hall, now a commercial block. In addition, there are several Colonial Revival store buildings. This style may have been popular here due to the community's interest in its Colonial history.

Most of the downtown's commercial buildings have been altered or modernized through time. In most cases, the first floor facades or storefronts were modernized throughout the 20th century to attract business and compete with nearby retailers. On many buildings, only the entrance and display windows were modernized, leaving the original storefront cornice and surround intact. Many 18th and 19th century residences were converted to stores in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Original storefronts from this period had large plate glass windows with art glass transoms. Architectural glass storefronts became popular in the 1930s, and by the 1950s brushed steel and plate glass display windows and doors were common. More recent storefronts are Colonial Revival with multi-paned display windows and paneled entrance doors. Limited to the first floor of a two-to-four story building, none of these storefronts negatively effects the contributing status of its building. Those that date prior to 1950 have gained significance due to their age. In addition, they reflect an historical trend in the Carlisle Historic District and other similar small commercial centers. Therefore, the 20th century storefront alterations throughout downtown Carlisle do not detract from the historic district's overall integrity.

Several non-contributing buildings in the Carlisle Historic District are over 50 years old, but have lost their integrity through extensive modern alterations, especially changes to the size and placement of doors and windows. However, the majority of the historic district's non-contributing resources are buildings that are less than 50 years old. These include commercial, educational, public and residential buildings scattered throughout the district. Similar to the district's earlier buildings in material, height, massing and setback, most are traditionally styled. In addition, there is also one non-contributing site, a church plaza built in 1983. Reflective of their era. Almost all of the resources less than 50 years old blend into the streetscape, often complementing the surrounding historic buildings. Although they cannot contribute due to age, many may do so after they become old enough. The historic district has only one concentration of non-contributing buildings, three rows of townhouses in the 100 block of E. South Street and Chapel Avenue. Built ca. 1980, these townhouses replaced a row of seven late 19th century dwellings that contributed to the district. Like the other non-contributing resources, this concentration does not effect the overall integrity of the Carlisle Historic District.

Throughout its history, the Carlisle Historic District has been of local importance as a governmental and commercial center. Listed on the National Register in 1979 under Criteria A and C, the district retains its significance in the areas of commerce, government, and architecture through the first half of the twentieth century. The purpose of this added information is to reevaluate the Carlisle Historic District's 20th century resources, explain their role in reflecting the district's history, and clarify the period of significance. Its period of significance begins in 1751 with Carlisle's founding as the county seat of the newly established Cumberland County, and ends in 1950, the fifty-year guideline for significance in the National Register Program. The Carlisle Historic District contains an intact collection of late-18th through mid-20th century residential, commercial and public buildings. The district's 20th century resources reflect the significance of the district as a commercial and governmental center by the many examples of retail, office, and governmental buildings constructed during that time period. The Carlisle Historic District's sampling of common 20th-century architectural styles also extends its architectural significance through the middle of the century.

During the first half of the 20th century, the Carlisle Historic District was the hub of activity in the agricultural region located west of the Susquehanna River. Carlisle remained the largest town in Cumberland County during this period, with its population of 9,626 persons in 1900 swelling to 16,812 by 1950. It was a market town and legal and service center for surrounding Cumberland Valley throughout the 20th century, as it had been in the past. The town served an agricultural region that extended 9 miles to the east, 15-18 miles to the south and west, and over 25 miles over the mountain into Perry County to the north. Before 1930, two trolley lines and a passenger railroad, and after 1930, an extensive network of public roads connected the Carlisle Historic District with other communities in the region. Throughout the 20th century, the Carlisle Historic District had a diverse economy supported by a variety of businesses, commercial enterprises, public agencies and facilities, schools and churches located inside the district, as well as manufacturers, other industries and an army base located outside the district. Its economic growth continuing through mid-century, people from around the region were also attracted to the community for its well paying jobs, well-stocked stores, good schools, numerous churches, and variety of social activities.

The Carlisle Historic District remained a commercial center for the region throughout the 20th century. The city was rapidly expanding along its geographic boundaries where successful industries and stable public and private institutions were constructed. This immense growth outside the Carlisle Historic District allowed the center city to retain much of its earlier resources and integrity. The development that did occur within the boundaries of the historic district was compatible to the existing building stock and their commercial and residential uses. In the early 1900s, the Carlisle Historic District contained numerous businesses including banks, hotels and taverns, lively stables, professional offices, and numerous specialized stores which sold dry goods, fruits and vegetables, meats, baked goods, drugs and notions, hardware, clothing, shoes, jewelry, furniture, and later, office supplies. In 1930, Carlisle's 350 retailers had sales over $6 million, and by 1948 its 300 retailers sold over $22 million. At mid-century, the Carlisle Historic District was a shopping center for a surrounding region of over 60,000 persons. This growth continued into the late 20th century. Between 1960 and 1975, retail sales increased 160 percent while service sales increased 271 percent. Today, the Carlisle Historic District has numerous specialty shops, professional offices, and services.

As the Carlisle Historic District became the commercial center for its surrounding region, changes were made within the district to continue its success. To attract new customers from outside the town, the Carlisle Chamber of Commerce rallied to extend electric streetlights from the square throughout the center city area (now the Carlisle Historic District) as early as 1938. The district's wide streets allowed for easy parking near the stores and the district was easy to get to from the major thoroughfares. The Art Deco Carlisle Theater, constructed in 1930 on West High Street coupled with the Market House were seen as anchors to the shopping district. As patrons went to the movies or to the market they would stay in the Carlisle Historic District to spend more of their time and money. Carlisle's merchants' were known for having the best-stocked stores in the region. Constantly adapting to the changing needs of the local residents, they remained highly profitable through the mid-20th century.

Carlisle physically expanded outwards and internally changed during the 20th century to house its growing and changing population. By the late 1890s as new residential neighborhoods developed on the outskirts of town, and with growing demand for consumer goods and services, many of the smaller dwelling houses in the Carlisle Historic District were converted to a commercial use. Commercial storefronts of large plate glass windows with bracketed cornices replaced the first floor of fenestration. Professional offices replaced apartments on many upper floors in the downtown area. Beginning in the 1930s, many of the grand older houses in the historic district were subdivided into duplexes or apartments for workers as the middle and upper classes moved to newer neighborhoods on the outskirts of town. Most of the hotels were also converted to apartment houses, although restaurants and taverns were still plentiful. A large market house, once a place where vendors could sell their products, located on the square was demolished in 1950 to make room for the new Cumberland County Courthouse. During the first years of the 20th century, many industries relocated outside of the Carlisle Historic District to the northeast side of town along the Cumberland Valley Railroad freight line. Former industrial buildings in the historic district were reused as retail space and warehouses. Newer modern businesses also located within the historic district, including automobile dealerships and repair garages. This development and change within the boundaries of the Carlisle Historic District during the 20th century show the district was considered an important local center for commerce and government.

The Carlisle Historic District's 20th century resources convey the district's continued role as the center of county government and as a market and service town. Already tightly developed by 1900, the greatest numbers of these are commercial buildings located in the downtown commercial area at the center of the district. Merchants built many new store buildings between 1890 and 1930, replacing smaller 19th century dwellings that had been converted to commercial use. Built in or influenced by architectural styles common to the period, the design and function of these resources are seen from the choice of decorative elements.

Many late 19th century Victorian and Italianate decorative elements are widely present on buildings dating from the first few years of the 20th century, as new innovative styles were slow to reach the Carlisle Historic District. These Late Victorian elements were popular in the new commercial, industrial, public and residential buildings. It was also popular on alterations to 19th century buildings, principally storefronts and facades built when residences were converted to commercial use. Common elements of commercial buildings with Italianate architectural elements include either cast iron or wooden cornices on both the upper cornice and storefront windows. Many windows also have decorative architraves also common to the period. Examples include the Haverstick Building at 10-12 North Hanover Street, the former J. C. Penneys at 19 N. Hanover Street, the former Woolworth's at 14-20 North Hanover Street, and the Farabelli Building at 111-115 South Hanover Street.

Several non-residential buildings constructed during the early 20th century used Romanesque Revival and Late Gothic Revival styles, which were common to both the time and the use of the building. The Romanesque Revival style is represented in the historic district by the Denny Memorial Building, a college classroom building, at 173 W. High Street, and the First Lutheran Church at 100 E. High Street. The Late Gothic Revival style is seen in the former Odd Fellows Hall at 29-33 W. High Street, St. Patrick's Convent and School at 140 E. Pomfret, and St. Paul's Lutheran Church at 201 W. Louther Street.

The Colonial Revival movement of the early 20th century also touched the Carlisle Historic District. These buildings were not historically correct copies of local colonial period buildings, but rather stylized buildings with colonial influenced elements; which blended well with the few remaining local examples. As the movement progressed, commercial, public and residential buildings throughout the Carlisle Historic District were constructed with typical Colonial Revival trappings: pediment gable dormers, double hung sashes with multi-pane glazing over a single large pane, and elaborate porticos and door surrounds. The Carlisle Municipal Building at 53 W. South Street and is a fine example of Georgian Revival, a subset of the Colonial Revival. Classical Revival style buildings in the historic district are non-residential in function, and include commercial, government and religious buildings. Examples include the former YMCA building at 25-27 W. High Street, the Carlisle Deposit Bank and Trust at 3 N. Hanover Street, the Grace United Methodist Church at 175 W. Pomfret Street, and the First United Church of Christ at 30 N. Pitt Street.

The other Eclectic Revival period styles, such as Tudor, French Eclectic, Italian Renaissance, and Spanish Eclectic style are not present in the Carlisle Historic District. Such eclectic styles were usually present in the later suburbs of towns and city and are not commonly present in central downtown areas. Other residential styles of the early 20th century, such as Craftsman and the American Foursquare are present, although minimally within the Carlisle Historic District. The craftsman styled dwelling at 166 S. College Street and apartment building at 65 W. Louther Street are the finest examples in the district. These common residential styles were brought to the district through the use of pattern books and popular magazines. The limited number of these widely popular 20th century styles within the district can be explained by the lack of available land for widespread new construction.

By far the most common 20th century resource in the Carlisle Historic District are Commercial style buildings, many of which are vernacular adaptations of the style. These commercial resources were designed using more modern building forms and materials in keeping with the newer trends in construction. Elements including stepped or shaped parapets topped with cast stone or terra cotta coping, storefronts with art glass transoms, cast stone trim and detailing, and differentiated piers and/or spandrels are found on buildings in the district. Fenestration includes the expansive Chicago-style windows or ribbons of windows to allow natural light to penetrate into the retail and warehouse space. The best examples include: the Kronenburg Building at 4-8 South Hanover Street, 164 North Hanover street (a former department store), and 203 South Hanover Street (a former automotive dealership). Vernacular examples have the same form and parapeted roof, but lack the fenestration and decoration of the styled buildings. Many of these are automotive garages or commercial/warehouse buildings located on one of the district's side streets or alleys. Although there are two Art Deco buildings in the Carlisle Historic District, the Carlisle Theater at 38-42 W. High Street and the Empire Hook and Ladder Company at 38 W. Pomfret Street, modern styles, including Art Deco and Art Moderne, are found principally as storefronts on period Commercial style or vernacular buildings or on earlier Late Victorian buildings. Common to these two styles are distinctive architectural features including geometric and low relief details and the use of cast stone Camera Glass, brushed steel and plate glass, and enameled panels. Most commercial buildings in downtown Carlisle have newer storefronts dating between the 1930s and 1980s. These storefronts are reflective of the ever present need of the merchants to modernize in their effort to attract customers. These alterations had little impact on the integrity of these resources and in fact display how the district's focus as a commercial center is shown architecturally. The prevalence of Commercial style buildings and mid-20th century storefronts within the Carlisle Historic District only reiterates the importance of commerce within the district and as seen in its architecture.


Street Names
Alexander Avenue • Bedford Street North • Bedford Street South • Chapel Avenue East • Chapel Avenue West • Chestnut Avenue • Church Avenue West • College Street • Dickinson Avenue • East South Street • Faller Avenue • Graham Street • Hanover Street • High Street East • High Street West • Irvine Row • Liberty Avenue • Locust Avenue East • Locust Avenue West • Louther Street West • Mulberry Avenue East • North Street West • Penn Street West • Pitt Street North • Pitt Street South • Plum Avenue • Pomfret Street East • Pomfret Street West • Poplar Avenue • Route 34 • Route 74 • School Avenue • South Street West • Walnut Street • West Street South