Ligonier Historic District, Ligonier Borough, Westmoreland County, Ligonier PA 15658

Ligonier Historic District

Ligonier Boro, Westmoreland County, PA

Home | Contact | Site Index | Whats New | Search

The Ligonier Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. []


The Ligonier Historic District is located in the Borough of Ligonier, a town in Westmoreland County of about 1,900, located 50 miles east of Pittsburgh in western Pennsylvania. Ligonier is the leading community in the Ligonier Valley, a dairy farming area as well as resort and vacation home to upper- and middle-class Pittsburghers since the late 19th century. The town is served by two main roads: U.S. Rt. 30, once known as the Lincoln Highway that runs east-west, and PA Rt. 711 that runs north-south. Ligonier developed around an early 19th century gridiron plan with a diamond or central square formed by the intersection of its two main roads. The Ligonier Historic District contains a commercial retail area located principally along its Main Street (old Rt. 30), several working and middle-class residential neighborhoods located to the north and south of Main Street, the town square with its civic buildings, and the reconstructed site of Ft. Ligonier, a French and Indian War frontier outpost. The district contains 519 properties, 81 percent of which are contributing, and encompasses 60 percent of the borough which occupies nearly 300 acres. Architecturally, the district spans a range of about 155 years between c.1790 and 1944.

The mountainous ridges surrounding the borough belong to the western Alleghenies range, part of Pennsylvania's Ridge and Valley region within the Appalachian system. The local watershed drains into the Loyalhanna Creek, a stream with a broad flood plain in which most of the town lies. The borough is surrounded by Loyalhanna Creek to the south, Mill Creek to the west and north and beyond it Chestnut Ridge, and Laurel Ridge to the east. Most of the site is relatively flat although the northeast quadrant rises up to an elevation of 1,400 feet along one of many lesser ridges that characterize portions of Ligonier Valley. Many of the hills surrounding Ligonier have been farmed or grazed since the 19th century, producing now historic viewsheds still intact within the district. Only a partial viewshed to the north has been lost to newer housing on the hilltop. Unlike many older Pennsylvania communities, which have gradually lost their once rural landscape, Ligonier has managed to preserve much of its contextual setting through large private estate holdings and several working dairy farms.

Like many small towns in western and central Pennsylvania, Ligonier is primarily residential. About 72 percent of the properties are single-family dwellings. About 16 percent are commercial, professional and retail uses; these are found primarily along Main and Market Streets, the commercial arteries. Nearly 70 percent of the houses are wood-frame construction with brick accounting for nearly 27 percent; the remainder are stone, concrete block or cinder block. Actually, only two molded concrete block houses exist; the earliest of this type, the E.T. Weller House at 218 N. St. Clair Street (and Summit), dates from 1907.

Between 1900 and 1920 concrete block, which was generally molded to look like rock-face ashlar, became nationally popular as an inexpensive, low-maintenance alternative to real stone, brick or wood. While this trend was true in Ligonier, molded concrete's local popularity rarely extended beyond foundation blocks. Stone foundations predominated in the district from the late 18th century through the 1910s. Starting in the early 1910s, foundations were increasingly being laid in molded concrete block, especially between 1920 and 1930. Through the 1930s and beyond, though, cinder block and poured steel reinforced concrete became the preferred foundation material.

About 68 percent of the buildings in the district are two-story while about 16 percent are 2.5 stories; these numbers correspond with percentages for building materials to underscore that the two-story, wood-frame, single-family dwelling is the single most common building category (50 percent) in the district. The majority of the district's 19th and early 20th century houses also boast wraparound or full-length front porches, many of which remain intact. Original roof materials were generally slate or tin (raised seam or pressed pattern). While a good number of slate roofs survive, many others have been replaced for economy or convenience with modern shingle. These trends in building materials appear to be consistent with the larger regional trends in construction techniques through western and central Pennsylvania.

The district experienced its largest amount of construction between 1870 and the end of World War I. Sixty-four percent of Ligonier's extant building stock was constructed between 1870 and 1920, a range coinciding with Ligonier's boom days as a railroad town. Much of that was built between 1878 and 1900 when Ligonier's population nearly quadrupled over approximately the same period. These figures correspond well with the distribution of architectural styles or types. The largest single block from this group is the Gable Front building (17.6 percent) and its variant, the Gable Front & Wing (8.5 percent), which together account for 26 percent of the district's architecture. The second most common is the I-House (16 percent), followed by the Queen Anne (9.8 percent), the Foursquare (7 percent), the Gothic Revival (6.2 percent), various Commercial varieties (5 percent), the double-pile Georgian types (4.6 percent), and the Bungalow (4 percent). Colonial Revival types account for 3.3 percent while various vernacular types that generally defy easy classification add a final 4 percent.

The great majority of the Gable Front types (both varieties) were built between 1880 and 1900; the next largest block between 1900 and 1910. Most of the I-House types were also concentrated within the 1880 to 1920 period, however, they tended to be an older type in general: 44 percent of their numbers were built between 1870 and 1890 suggesting their popularity as railroad worker housing. This pattern held true as well for Gothic Revival styles: about 56 percent were built between 1870 and 1890, the rest being created in the 1900-10s. The instances of Queen Anne styles correspond with the national trend: 74 percent of those found in the district were built in the 1880s to 1890s, although a significant 26 percent were built in the 1900s indicating the longevity of older building styles in small Pennsylvania towns like Ligonier.

The instances of Four Square types also fits the characteristic pattern of national popularity: all 36 of those in the district were built between 1900 and 1930. Not surprisingly, the largest percentage of that group was constructed between 1900 and 1910. In Ligonier both the Queen Anne and the Four Square tended to be larger suburban style houses. Their prevalence within the 1880 to 1920 range, combined with the sheer numbers of single-family houses in the district, supports the fact that Ligonier grew increasingly middle class and residential in character during this period of its greatest prosperity. The various Georgian plan types (two to five bays, double-pile) actually covered a wide range of time between the 1830s and the 1920s. Many of the extant Federal style dwellings date, of course, from the 1830s to the 1850s, but as a floor-plan type this kind of house enjoyed some longevity in Ligonier. Bungalows accounted, surprisingly, for very little of the district's housing stock given the town's prosperity in the 1910-20s, however their range of construction does correspond favorably to the national trend: 80 percent were built between 1910 and 1930.

Ligonier was laid out as an orthogonal grid with a central "diamond" or town square, a typical central Pennsylvanian town plan which likely evolved from the 1682 Holmes Plan for Philadelphia. Unlike Philadelphia's plan, where William Penn had intended a governmental building for the square, most diamond plans in Pennsylvania historically contained a farmers market and space for hitching wagons during market day. Later, these places became either park space, as in Ligonier, or large open intersections for vehicles as in Hollidaysburg, Blair County. Before Ligonier's diamond was landscaped as a park in 1894, it served much of the 19th century as a corral and parking area for wagon horses and cattle. Its present design, including a noncontributing bandstand, was created in 1971. The district's only contributing object, a cast iron water fountain installed in 1894 with separate drinking positions for man, dog and horse, retains its historic position on the square's north side.

Typically, the grids of Central Pennsylvanian towns consisted of large blocks bounded by principal streets, each block being subdivided equally by one common service alley. The plan for Ligonier provided generous individual lots of one quarter acre along the larger streets, enough room for a single-family house with a deep backyard, or fifth-acre lots on secondary streets. Characteristic of many planned towns in the region, the rear of most lots in Ligonier contains an auto garage, perhaps converted from a carriage house, or a smaller wood-frame utility building.

Building site locations are typical of the region as well. The older buildings in the district, dating between the 1790s and 1850s, generally have zero front yard setback, especially along Main Street. This traditional urban model is true whether the building was a simple tradesman's dwelling or prominent merchant's townhouse. Most buildings constructed from the 1880s onward, especially larger single-family dwellings, are set back at least six to 10 feet. In general, the larger the house, the deeper the setback. This was truer in the residential areas that developed north of Main Street after the 1870s.

Between the late 1870s and the 1910s, the Ligonier Valley Railroad company transformed Ligonier from a former stagecoach stop into an important regional origin point for sawn timber, finished wood products, quarried stone, and summer tourist excursions. Local coal mines, which opened in the 1900s, brought additional growth to the town until the national decline of coal after the Second World War forced the closing of the railroad. Unfortunately, most of the railroad buildings and infrastructure were dismantled after 1952 when the line closed. Only two principal structures survive intact: the original wood-frame 1878 passenger station and the white terra-cotta station built in 1909 to replace it. The 1909 building serves as the Southwest Regional headquarters of the Pennsylvania Game Commission while the older station is a storage building. A former car repair shop discussed below, has lost most of its architectural integrity through substantial alterations.

The district contains six churches built between 1876 and 1924. The oldest is the United Presbyterian (Pioneer) Church on W. Main Street (1876). The two most architecturally prominent are the Covenant Presbyterian Church (1902) at N. Market and E. Church Streets, and the Heritage United Methodist Church (1903) built of native bluestone (limestone) on the southwest corner of the diamond.

Next to the Covenant Church is one of two sites in the district: the Presbyterian burying ground dating back to c.1798. Many of the town's founding families are buried here. The other site is Ft. Ligonier currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The fort's site was excavated from the late 1950s to 1960s, and determined to contain an exceptionally significant collection of historic military artifacts from the French and Indian war period. Many of these artifacts are maintained and interpreted by the full-time professional staff, while many others are believed to remain unexcavated on site. In the 1960s, a partial reconstruction of the fort was completed based on historical research and archaeological evidence; a museum building was also constructed just off site that fronts on South Market Street and the Rt. 30 bypass. The present site, which contains four contributing and three noncontributing resources, includes the following reconstructed features: the officers' barracks, two storehouses, the armory, the magazine, the forge, the officers mess, the Gen. John Forbes headquarters cabin, the inner defensive log wall, three entrance gates, and two gun battery emplacements.

Two Depression-era buildings worthy of note: the first is the former Municipal Building (now police station) on Fairfield Street at Bank Alley designed by J.F. McWilliams in 1937 and financed by the Works Progress Administration. This is a random ashlar stone-veneer building with hipped roof designed in the Colonial Revival fashion that Ligonier has favored through the latter half of this century. The second is the National Guard Armory at 358 W. Main Street (and Walnut Street) which was built in 1938 on property belonging to the Ligonier Valley Railroad (LVRR). This one-story, brick building, which is currently listed on the National Register as one contributing resource, is utilitarian in all aspects except for its front facade (south side) which was given a simple yet refined Art Moderne finish.

Architecturally, the district's integrity is largely intact. As is common to most frame structures in the region, many wood-frame buildings have been covered with synthetic siding — primarily vinyl or aluminum. Most houses retain a variety of significant distinguishing features such as original window frames and sash, doors, porches, chimneys, roof lines, and foundations. Overall, the alterations sustained in the district are relatively superficial and reversible if desired. In some instances, additions or remodelings, especially of porches, occur with the period of significance.

On the other hand, approximately 20 percent of the district is noncontributing. Over 78 percent of this figure consists of buildings constructed after 1944, and the remainder are buildings from the period of significance that have lost their architectural integrity through substantial alteration. These alterations are not superficial or easily reversible, and generally consist of major character-altering changes in fenestration, roof line, or facade. Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church is one example: converted in 1958 from the engine repair shop of the LVRR into a school and church at 327 W. Vincent Street, it retains few if any outward signs that it once functioned in an industrial service capacity. Examples of altered residential buildings within the period of significance are generally random and depended upon individual property owner's tastes. In general, a slightly higher percentage of inappropriate alterations may be found in lower income residential areas where issues of economy may well have been paramount to owners, especially where a rental property was concerned. The noncontributing resources postdating 1944 generally consist of scattered infill housing in a variety of post-war suburban builder styles, and a lesser number of commercial buildings located primarily along Main and Market Streets.

The pattern of alterations to historic commercial buildings in the district is more easily explainable. Periodic facade changes in commercial buildings reflect a historical trend among Main Street merchants in many small American towns like Ligonier to periodically update their storefronts for a more contemporary image. Examples of this include several older commercial buildings in the 100-200 blocks of West Main Street, and along the north side of the diamond between the Town Hall and Market Street. These portions of Ligonier's downtown experienced "colonialization" in the late 1960s to early 1970s, part of a general face-lifting campaign promoted by the local Chamber of Commerce. This campaign coincided with, and was influenced by, the first master plan for the borough completed in 1962 by the Pittsburgh Regional Planning Association. Among other suggestions, it recommended a more coherent design theme for buildings around the diamond. This drive was aided substantially by the patronage of Richard King Mellon whose foundation underwrote the construction or alteration of several prominent buildings on the diamond, principally on the north side. Those that were lost, such as the Brenister Hotel (1900) and the Ligonier House (c.1830-1890s), were replaced by buildings, such as the Town Hall (1967) and the Ligonier Valley Public Library (1967), with a Colonial Revival look.

This urban renewal approach around the diamond created the district's one significant concentration of noncontributing buildings. With the exception of the southwest corner, the properties around the diamond have all been built or substantially face-lifted within the last 26 years. The southwest corner is anchored by the contributing Methodist Church (1903), the second church building on the site. Beside it, to the west, stands the Kline Building dating from the 1880s; while it retains its historic commercial function, its fenestration has been radically altered and is classified noncontributing. Other noncontributing buildings on the square include the "Neo-Italianate" Mellon Bank (c.1985-88) at the southeast corner and the vernacular G.C. Murphy Store (c.1950s), built upon an older foundation; the Ligonier Town Hall at the northeast corner; and the town library and arcaded shops along the northern edge of the square. The row of shops just west of Town Hall are late 19th to early 20th century commercial buildings face-lifted in 1970-71. Two turnpike period houses (c.1830-1850) survive at 125 and 133 W. Main Street, both now converted to retail use. They stand like bookends around the Weaver Building, a three-story commercial/apartment building (1924) built during the Lincoln Highway era. Although both have sustained alterations through fenestration changes or roof-line additions, their original 5-bay, center-door Federal facades and Flemish bond brickwork are still visually readable. Along West Main Street, west of Fairfield Street, a number of noncontributing commercial buildings have been added or renovated in the last 20 years. While their Colonial Revival mode contributes little to the town's actual 19th and early 20th century character, they are not jarring in style or appearance.

Despite the presence of these noncontributing resources, the overall fabric of Main Street remains legible. Moreover, the historic function of the diamond as a regional crossroads, a public gathering place, and a cultural expression of civic pride remains intact.


The Ligonier Historic District is locally significant in the areas of Transportation and Commerce for its association with a succession of transportation systems that served the community commercially between the late 18th and early 20th centuries. These included a colonial period military road, a federal period state road, an early 19th century turnpike, a late 19th century railroad, and an early 20th century transcontinental highway. The district also possesses local significance in Architecture for its excellent collection of historic resources that date between c.1790 and 1944, and represent its successive periods of history. Before the creation of the town in 1817, Ligonier functioned as a military outpost on the Forbes Road during the French and Indian War. Later, it served as a small teamster and stagecoach stop on the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia Turnpike through the first half of the 19th century. The town grew rapidly, however, between 1878 and 1920 as the terminus for a logging and coal railroad. After the Civil War, in response to its decline as a wagon town, Ligonier also began to assume the role of summer resort for city dwellers seeking escape from the heat of Pittsburgh via the railroad and later the Lincoln Highway.

The borough takes its name (and existence in some measure) from Fort Ligonier, built as a temporary wooden fortification by the English in 1758 during the French and Indian War.[1] As a name place, the fort lent notoriety to the area and I attracted late 18th century settlers whose descendants helped establish the present town in the 1810s. The present Fort Ligonier, whose above-ground structures are reconstructions from the 1960s, contains extensive on-site artifacts from the mid-18th century that document the life and times of the average soldier and family member in this period.

The earliest road access to Ligonier was provided by Forbes Road created by the British army for the military campaign of 1758. The campaign ultimately took control of western Pennsylvania and the Ohio Valley from the French and their Indian tribal allies. However, the crudeness of the road, which was little more than a rough cart path, the ongoing threat of Indian attack and the political instability of the region resulted in little real settlement of Ligonier Valley until the 1790s. In 1791, a state road was built that followed the general route of Forbes Road and offered improved access to the valley. Still the area remained relatively isolated. Real impetus for town settlement would not occur until 1817 when the state-financed Philadelphia-Pittsburgh Turnpike was built. With its heavy stone foundation and packed gravel surface, the turnpike offered a dependable, hard-surfaced road for overland travel between Pittsburgh and the Philadelphia area. Like the State Road, the turnpike generally traced the route over the Allegheny Mountains established by Gen. Forbes's military road.

At the opening of the turnpike, Ligonier was little more than a rural hamlet when it was laid out in 1817 by Col. John Ramsey. A local landowner turned real estate promoter, Ramsey anticipated that an improved highway would bring commerce through his property which fronted on the new pike. Ramsey intended the development to be called Wellington, but the little crossroads dubbed itself Ramseytown until formal incorporation as the Borough of Ligonier in 1834. The town plan was based on the diamond (or civic square) and gridiron pattern then common to central and western Pennsylvania. In those days, the diamond acted as overnight parking corral for horse teams, wagons and coaches. It was not until 1894 that Ligonier joined the trend of the City Beautiful Movement which promoted beautified civic spaces. The town re-cast the diamond square as a public park with lamps, sidewalks, landscaping and a bandstand.

During this early turnpike period, growth confined itself to the turnpike corridor since Ligonier functioned largely as a wagon and stagecoach stop. Blacksmith, wagonwrights, shopkeepers, livery stables, and taverns located their operations directly along the turnpike (Main Street) where they catered to teamsters, drovers, stagecoaches passengers, traders, and westward-bound pioneers. The amount of wagon-borne commerce and migrant traffic between the frontier of the Ohio Valley and the eastern seaboard was apparently so intense at times that contemporary accounts recall wagon trains lining the turnpike for 10 miles without interruption.

Most of Ligonier's architecture from this period was log construction. While no log buildings survive in the district, a few contemporaries, such as the William Ashcom House (c.1790) at 230 E. Main Street, were of frame construction. In either case, Ligonier's residential and commercial architecture generally came in two forms during this era: the one-room deep I-House plan, such as the Ashcom House, and the two-room deep Georgian type, such as the Noah Marker House across the street. This three-bay, federal period brick house was built about 1840 for a prominent merchant and state legislator at 205 E. Main Street.

The Ashcom House would have been more typical (and common) than the Marker House as a solid yet architecturally unremarkable building of its era. It serves as a good example of a pre-industrial mixed-use structure once commonly found along this Main Street and of most towns in this region. The building originally served as a dwelling and cobbler's shop — only a second doorway to an early addition at the east end (right side) signaled a commercial use inside — yet outwardly, it is wholly residential in appearance, a characteristic of pre-industrial American architecture. The age of the structure and its construction method presumably attests to the existence of a nearby sawmill since building materials rarely were imported great distances before the advent of the railroad.

Both the Ashcom and Marker houses front directly on the sidewalk like an urban rowhouse, albeit on a slight rise above the street. This typical site location, traditional for early buildings along main streets in this region, illustrates how maximum space was sought for backyards that were used intensively for gardens, orchards, drying yards, summer kitchens, barns, and other outbuildings. A number of houses on Main Street from this period still retain two-story kitchen wings with second-level sleeping porches.

Another more upscale example from the early turnpike era "is the Bates McColly House (c. 1826) at 204 E. Main Street. A five-bay, center-door I-House, this brick, two-story dwelling was constructed for a harness maker whose workshop once stood next door on Main Street. While only one-room deep, marking it as a less expensive house, its federal-period facade with Flemish bond brickwork aspired to a more refined image than the Ashcom House to the east. The McColly House also features a corbelled brick cornice with diagonally laid brickwork that simulates classical dentils, a typical ornamental convention found during this late Federal period in western Pennsylvania houses of the modestly affluent. Its hand-made brick, produced by a local brickworks just south of town on today's Rt. 711, perhaps best represents the district's (and nation's) pre-railroad era when building materials tended to be hand-crafted, not machine-made, and produced locally rather than rail shipped from factories in regions or states beyond the locale. Since Flemish bond was more difficult, and therefore more expensive to build, its application was usually limited to the front facade as is true of the McColly House and several other buildings of the period including 125 and 133 W. Main Street. By contrast, the side walls of all these buildings are laid up with less expensive common bond.

During its turnpike era, Ligonier's growth was slow but steady. In 1840, the population stood at 294; 10 years later, it had grown just 28 percent to 378 despite the thousands of travellers who stayed overnight each year. The extent of settlement was limited principally to Ramsey's 1817 subdivision, which consisted of Main and Market Streets intersecting at the diamond, and the four quadrants formed by this intersection, each of which contained two square blocks of building lots. The explanation probably lies in the fact that Ligonier was not considered a destination in these days. Rather, it served primarily as a rest and repair stop on the road to eastern markets like Philadelphia and to the Ohio River Valley via Pittsburgh. In a real sense, Ligonier functioned largely like a pre-railroad-era Breezewood, the well-known "town of motels," gas stations and truck stops in central Pennsylvania along Rt. 30 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

The growth that the town did experience at this time probably resulted in good measure from immigrants diverting from their western destination and settling as shopkeepers or workers of various types. The principal local industries at this time were farming and iron making. About 11 charcoal-fired iron furnaces operated in Ligonier Valley during the first half of the 19th century. Both of these occupations were largely self-sufficient and designed around labor-intensive plantation-based operations. Ligonier's physical appearance was also fairly crude at the time given the rough-cut clientele it catered to. Notwithstanding the periodic trade from area farmers and iron masters, and the upscale stagecoach trade that patronized its shops and taverns, the vast majority of its daily commerce came from teamsters, drovers, peddlers, migrant settlers, and Conestoga drivers. While some were regular visitors, many others were only transients passing through.

Ligonier's stagecoach and commercial wagon traffic began dropping off significantly after 1852 when the Pennsylvania Railroad Company completed its Main Line between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The established stage stops, like Ligonier and Laughlintown just to the east, were bypassed for other places like Latrobe, 10-miles distant, where the new railroad now stopped. Relegated to a backwater location by the new transportation system, Ligonier's population declined to around 350 people in 1860 and 317 in 1870. By 1876, on the eave of Ligonier's admittance to the railroad age, it is remarkable to note that the town had hardly expanded beyond the original town subdivision except for some "out of town" highway development along the old turnpike.

Two years later all that would change with the opening of the Ligonier Valley Railroad (LVRR), a 10-mile feeder line from Ligonier to Latrobe. The town now found itself with rail access to national markets via the Pennsylvania Railroad's trunk line at Latrobe. The LVRR was the province of the Mellon family of Pittsburgh. In 1877, Judge Thomas Mellon, founder of T. Mellon & Sons' Bank, had been persuaded by two of his sons, Thomas and Richard B. Mellon, to purchase an uncompleted narrow-gauge railroad at sheriff's sale. Construction of the LVRR had ceased just outside of Latrobe following the Panic of 1872, but with Mellon's new infusion of capital, the railroad was completed to Ligonier by 1878. The LVRR would remain under Mellon control until 1952 when the line was reluctantly closed, no longer able to turn a profit.

The completion of the LVRR transformed Ligonier into an active shipping point for sawn lumber, finished wood products, and quarried limestone and sandstone, especially after converting to standard gauge track in 1882. Reflecting that commercial transformation, the town's population doubled between 1870 and 1880 as people were drawn by work with the railroad, the local lumber and planing mills, and a variety of other area industries like stone quarries, a leather tannery, and small logging railroads. The two surviving transportation-related resources from this railroad period are the original station building constructed in 1878, and the second station built in 1909. The older structure, which serves as a storage facility, is located on Railroad Street just southeast of the 1909 station. The old depot originally stood on the site of the 1909 station. A third resource, the former LVRR engine repair shop built in the 1930-40s, was converted into Holy Trinity Church and School in 1958 and lost the architectural integrity of its original function in the process.

From the late 1870s through the 1890s the principal commodities shipped out of Ligonier were iron ore, stone paving and building blocks, railroad ties, turned posts, raw and sawn logs, and bark for tanning. The Byers and Allen Company, which built and operated Ligonier's principal lumber mill from 1899 to 1909, briefly ran its own rail line to bring timber off Laurel Ridge. Known as the Pennsylvania, Westmoreland and Somerset Railroad, it provided another regional link to Ligonier via Somerset where connections were available to Maryland over the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. By virtue of its rail connections west and south, and its strategic crossroads (Rtes. 30 and 711) location in the middle of Ligonier Valley, Ligonier became the leading commercial town in the valley. Area farmers and townspeople from smaller communities came here to shop, pickup rail shipments, and transact business along Main and Market Streets, and to ride the train taking them beyond the valley.

Through this period of prosperity, Ligonier's building stock multiplied rapidly. The town's population growth flattened out somewhat between 1880 and 1890, expanding by 23 percent, but took off again the following decade, growing 61 percent by 1900 presumably due to the economic spin-off of area coal mining. The original town plan filled in with houses, stores, workshops, schools and churches. Many of the early log buildings were replaced with brick and frame structures of greater refinement. Machine-cut and finished lumber was now commonly available. Mass-produced building components and decorative features allowed local builders to erect larger houses for comparatively less money then several generations before.

This effect, combined with the growth of a larger middle class population — a beneficiary of railroad-induced prosperity — produced Ligonier's first all residential neighborhoods. These were areas set apart from the arterial streets (Market and Main), such as around Fairfield and Church or St. Clair and Church, that were largely middle-class in house size and character (single-family), and exclusively residential. In contrast, Ligonier also produced its first worker-class neighborhoods about the same time as the town expanded to the north, west and east. New extensions of the existing grid were laid out off Market and Main Streets. In the 1880s to 1890s, a railroad workers' neighborhood sprang up in the areas north and west of the railroad station on streets such as Walnut, Chestnut, Indian, and Vincent west of College Street. In the 1890s to 1900s, another area for worker homes developed along Church and Summit Streets east of St. Clair Street. These houses were almost all wood-frame, two-story, I-House types or modest Gable Front types. While situated on smaller lots than their middle-class counterparts, they still aspired to a purely residential ideal. Few if any shops existed within these areas, unlike, say, a city neighborhood where a corner store might have provided some convenience within the neighborhood.

Before the railroad, Ligonier had retained a pre-industrial pattern of land use common to most central Pennsylvania towns until at least the Civil War. This pattern, which existed well before the concept of zoning, produced land and building uses in which commercial, residential, retail, and industrial activity occurred in the same district without segregation, and sometimes within the same building. The benign version of this mixed-use pattern was the typical storefront/walk-up apartment combination still commonly found along Ligonier's Main Street. Three good examples postdating the railroad's introduction are the buildings erected in the 1870s-1880s at 235-239 W. Main Street. These illustrate the changes that commercial architecture underwent on Main Street after the 1870s, primarily through the advent of large display windows and the prominent wall area given to sign boards and advertising. The upper floors of these buildings would have generally served as storage, living space for the shopkeeper, or a rental apartment.

The more unpleasant version of mixed usage, however, was the often ubiquitous 19th century leather tannery set in the middle of town, an operation that Ligonier experienced in the 1870s on the present site of Ft. Ligonier's parking lot. After the railroad, with its transforming economic and social effects, many newly affluent merchants and other residents wished to set themselves apart from the noise and activity of the commercial streets while remaining in town. These newly extended areas allowed that domestic retreat while still permitting a convenient walking distance to work.

Historically, Ligonier's building stock was constructed by local carpenter-builders, likely following patterns books in the early 19th century for homes of the affluent like Noah Marker, or following vernacular building traditions for structures of the less affluent like the Ashcom House. After the Civil War, especially after the railroad's completion, local builders more likely took advantage of mail-order design services or builders journals for tips on new styles and construction techniques. The industrial revolution of the late 19th century produced all sorts of machine-made building components that earlier carpenters would have made by hand. The railroad offered access through trade catalogs where local carpenters could order finished parts, even entire houses, through the mail. Milled pieces, such as doors, windows, turned porch posts, various moldings and interior fixtures were even made by local planing mills. At the turn of the century, for example, Ligonier contained a large saw mill, one planing mill and a wood lathing mill that turned out porch and fence posts.

As a reflection of the nationally popular designs promoted in builders' catalogs and other sources, most of Ligonier's architecture after 1878 is vernacular adaptations of late Victorian and early 20th century revival styles. Through the 1880s, the Victorian period produced mostly Gable Front and Gable Front & Wing, I-Houses and double-pile Georgian types, often embellished with Carpenter Gothic trim. By the 1890s and 1900s, higher style Queen Annes were introduced, often built in brick for the more affluent. Foursquare types followed in the 1910s, sometimes modestly detailed with Craftsman or neoclassical trim, while a smaller amount of Bungalows and Colonial Revivals appeared in the 1920s. Worker housing mostly ignored stylistic trends and retained traditional vernacular forms. This produced I-House construction well into the early 1900s, such the row of I-Houses and Gable Fronts probably built for railroad or mill workers along East Summit Street in the 1900-10s. More substantial Foursquares and modified Gable Fronts built within the same period stand along Washington Street and Fairfield Street at Vincent.

This variety of worker and middle-class housing created after the arrival of the railroad demonstrates how Ligonier entered the American mainstream of builders' homes once the railroad gave it accessibility to national markets. The western Pennsylvania building types that dated from the pre-industrial period, and which had belonged to a larger mid-Atlantic building tradition, were even now considered antique regional products. While Ligonier found itself out of the region's commercial mainstream between the decline of the turnpike in the 1850s and the opening of the railroad in 1878, it had begun building a reputation as a resort town as early as the late 1860s. Even before the railroad arrived, the town had become somewhat popular as a summer resort for middle-class Pittsburghers. In the 1880s, with rail service available to large urban centers like Pittsburgh, the LVRR soon began doing a substantial summer excursion trade out of places like Pittsburgh, Latrobe and Greensburg. In the 1890s, day-trip excursions increased dramatically with the opening of Idlewild Park, a picnicking park with bandstand built by the Mellons just west of Ligonier on the LVRR right-of-way.

This regional popularity may be credited in part to its familiarity as a stage stop earlier in the century and to the beauty of the Ligonier Valley. Indeed, residents from surrounding communities were known to make Sunday drives into Ligonier by horse buggy in the 1860s, a practice which continues today in the automobile. By the early 1900s, however, large touring parties of well-heeled motorists from the Pittsburgh area were already making overnight trips in the spring and summer. The Main Street and diamond area, once the corral for Conestoga wagons, now parked weekend caravans of large open touring cars. Two large hotels with restaurants then stood on the diamond at the turn of the century: the Hotel Brenister, a popular inn and restaurant built in 1900 before being demolished for the Town Hall in 1967; and the Ligonier House, first built as a stage coach inn in 1839 and enlarged several times until being cleared for the public library in 1967.

At least four other historic hotel/inns survive, however, from this resort period, although none currently retains its historic use: the National Hotel at 149 E. Main Street, now the VFW Post; the Grove Hotel at 243 W. Main Street, now a private residence; the Jacob Frank House at 201 S. Fairfield Street, now a restaurant, and 209-11 E. Main Street, which currently serves as a boarding house. The oldest of this group is the National Hotel which has been extensively rebuilt several times, but whose core probably dates between 1820 and 1840. It once likely resembled the Noah Marker House across the street at 205 E. Main Street.

By the 1880s, Ligonier's most prominent summer place was Frank's Hotel and Cottages operated by Jacob Frank and his son, John H. Frank. The younger Frank (b.1850), founded the town's first bank and is credited, along with his sometime partner Thomas B. Mellon, as an early promoter of Ligonier as a resort. The Frank House at 111 S. Fairfield Street, which was built in 1830 as a Federal style dwelling, was remodelled and substantially enlarged by John Frank in 1886. Typical of the cultural lag often evident in western Pennsylvania communities, the house was not remade in the Queen Anne style, then fashionably current in eastern cities, but cast in a Gothic Revival mode.

By contrast, his father's house, now a restaurant at 201 S. Fairfield, is a five-bay Georgian type characteristic of Ligonier's many smaller inns and boarding houses in that period. Like the former Grove Hotel at 243 W. Main Street, it is little more than a large single-family house. In that sense, these seasonal establishments were similar to contemporary bed-and-breakfasts in their domestic design, except that a common dining room was usually provided for meals.

In the 1900s to 1910s, as local timber tracts were logged out through the Laurel Mountains, the Ligonier Valley Railroad picked up slack in its business through the shipment of coal and coke. Coal had been mined for local use prior to its commercial extraction, but the railroad provided the means to reach major markets at a profitable scale. During this period, local operators like the Shenango Furnace Company established company towns to the north of Ligonier. By 1910 nine deep mines were extracting local bituminous coal for Pittsburgh's steel industry. Unfortunately, their heyday came and went with the First World War. The Second World War reinvigorated the industry briefly, but after the war the steel industry found newer and cheaper coal sources in the western states.

With the demise of the timber industry by the 1910, and by the slow continuous decline in local coal shipments after the 1920s despite the temporary World War II rebound, demand for the LVRR's services declined as well. The opening of the Lincoln Highway (Rt. 30) in 1915, and the new popularity of automobiles, also contributed significantly to the railroad's eroding business. Even before 1952, when the LVRR finally closed, automobile and truck traffic had been cutting dramatically into its excursion and freight service. The Pennsylvania Turnpike, which opened in 1940 with an interchange at Donegal several miles south of Ligonier, also drew potential commerce away from the LVRR's trains.

During this period between the two world wars, Ligonier grew relatively little. New construction was limited mostly to scattered infill within existing residential neighborhoods, and to some replacement of older commercial buildings along Main Street. Examples of the newer commercial construction include the Weaver Building (1924), a three-story, dark brick structure at 127 W. Main Street, and 136-38 E. Main Street built in the same style in 1928. These buildings were clearly larger than any commercial architecture that had been built along Main Street to this point, a development largely due to the wider availability and lower price of structural materials like concrete and steel. In residential architecture during this period, Ligonier produced occasional late examples of earlier house types, such as the Bungalow at 232 Washington Street (1934), and the Gable Front house at 234 E. Church (1936). Other than these scattered examples, built for workers and businessmen in town, Ligonier would not begin to grow significantly again until after the Second World War when the undeveloped area within the northeast quadrant of town above East Church and Franklin Streets became developed into suburban style housing. Note that the area in the northwest quadrant above Hunger Street on the district map is largely a paper subdivision and contains very little if any real development.

As a small town in Westmoreland County that developed in the early 1800s, Ligonier can be compared regionally with Laughlintown and Greensburg. Like Ligonier early in its history, Laughlintown, several miles east on Rt. 30, began its existence as a "pike town" along the road to Pittsburgh. Greensburg, which was laid out in 1782, shared much of the same early functional and architectural character. However, while Ligonier and Greensburg eventually grew beyond that linear pattern into the grid-iron formality of a planned town, Laughlintown remained a "shoestring" or linear village type whose hostelry trade with stages and teamsters came and went with the old turnpike. Ironically, when Ligonier's first housing lots were being advertised for sale in 1817, Laughlintown had already been established for two decades as the valley's premier rest and refueling stop on the wagon road. During the early decades of the 19th century, Ligonier and Laughlintown looked and functioned very much the same. But three principal factors eventually distinguished the two rivals: (1) location — Ligonier's location along the Loyalhanna Creek provided it motive power for mill wheels, and its more advantageous location at a major crossroad (Rt. 711: Market Street) provided access to other towns up and down the valley; (2) the active promotion of an organized town by Col. Ramsey and others; (3) and the all-important railroad connection late in the century.

Greensburg, by contrast, was slightly older than Laughlintown. Although all three towns largely functioned and looked the same in their early years (service stops and market towns for commerce between Pittsburgh and points east), Greensburg distinguished itself earliest. It became the seat of Westmoreland County government in 1787 when Pittsburgh was no more than a surveyor's dream and Allegheny County still a part of Westmoreland. By mid-century, as the turnpike era was ending, Greensburg was able to leap ahead of Ligonier and Laughlintown because the new railroad line between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia ran through its borders. This combination of government center and early railroad depot gave Greensburg distinct advantages in transportation that translated into commercial advantages affecting its community growth and architectural character. This basic principle of shifting trends in transportation, beyond the control of local places like Ligonier and Laughlintown, illustrates how commercial and community development can vary so dramatically because of factors like location.

Ligonier, because of its bad location relative to the PRR's Main Line, had to endure over 25 years of economic doldrums between 1852 and 1878 until the LVRR railroad provided something of the market access that Greensburg had known since 1852. Laughlintown, by contrast, never got the second break that Ligonier did. By the turn of the century, Westmoreland County had become the leading coke producer in the nation. The large fortunes made by this industry, which depended upon Pittsburgh steel making, further raised Greensburg's fortunes. Ligonier, despite its proximity to local coal mines, again did not experience the same level of economic growth because it lacked the county seat's level of infrastructure in transportation, commerce and government. Greensburg grew into a small city while Ligonier remained a small but prosperous town. As a result, the range and sophistication of Greensburg's architecture from the turn of the century became richer and far more fashionable than Ligonier's.

Ligonier can also be compared with Latrobe where the LVRR connected with the Pennsylvania Main Line. Unlike Ligonier, whose 19th century history builds upon several eras of transportation, Latrobe owes its entire existence to the railroad. The town was not laid out until 1851 when the proposed route of the Pennsylvania Railroad had been determined. As a result of that direct rail connection and its greater proximity to Pittsburgh's steel industry, Latrobe's commercial and architectural sophistication and development continued to outpace Ligonier through the rest of their respective histories.

However, compared with other towns in the region, Ligonier has historically employed a relatively higher proportion of its population in retail, service and professional occupations. Despite the past presence of some local industry, like quarrying, coal mining, logging and railroading, Ligonier remained primarily a home to skilled tradesmen, merchants, shopkeepers, innkeepers, and professionals. This produced a larger middle-class population by the late 19th century, a factor reflected by the town's single-family neighborhood character. This lower scale but more diverse service-based economy sheltered Ligonier during severe economic downturns. By contrast, a local coal mining town like Wilpen, founded in 1906-07 about three miles north of Ligonier, was little more than a one-employer town whose community development and commercial life dried up once its mines shut down in the 1940s.

In summary, the Ligonier Historic District is an excellent example of a small western Pennsylvania town that owes its commercial activity and architectural character to the succession of transportation systems that served the town between the late 18th and early 20th centuries. The contributing resources within the district represents four periods of local history: the State Road period (1791-1817) when this early public works project (1791) succeeded the outmoded Forbes Road (1758) as a primary east-west route through central Pennsylvania; the turnpike period (1817-1852) when the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh Turnpike made Ligonier a prominent stage stop for commerce and migration between Philadelphia and the western frontier; the post-turnpike period (1852-1877) when commerce abandoned the turnpike for the new railroad; and the railroad era (1878-1952) when the town flourished again as the center of Ligonier Valley for commercial trade and tourism. Under Criteria A and C and the themes of Transportation, Commerce, and Architecture, Ligonier stands as an good example of a locally significant historic community.


Albert, George Dallas. Editor. History of the County of Westmoreland, PA. Philadelphia: L.H. Everts & Co., 1882.

Boucher, John N. History of Westmoreland County, PA. Vol I. New York: The Lewis Publishing Co., 1906.

________, Old and New Westmoreland. Vol. II. New York: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1918.

Bulletin of the Association for Preservation Technology. "The 'Miracle' and the 'Wizard': Preliminary Notes on Concrete Building Block Machines." Vol. V, No. 2, 1973.

Gresham. John M. Editor. Biographical and Historical Cyclopedia of Westmoreland County, PA. Philadelphia: John M. Gresham, 1890.

Fort Ligonier Association. War for Empire in Western Pennsylvania: Fort Ligonier Guidebook. The Fort Ligonier Association: 1991.

Ligonier Bicentennial Association. Ligonier Bicentennial 1758-1958. Privately published: 1958.

Ligonier Borough Public Library. Clippings file on the history of Ligonier.

Ligonier League of Women Voters. Living in Ligonier Valley. Privately published. 1986.

Ligonier Valley Historical Society. Photos and Records Collection.

Mellon Bank Corporation. Mellon Bank: A Century of Service. Pittsburgh: privately published as corporate pamphlet: 1982.

Mulrooney, Margaret M. A Legacy of Coal: The Coal Company Towns of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Washington, D.C.: Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service, 1990.

Pittsburgh Regional Planning Association for the Ligonier Planning Commission. A Master Plan - Ligonier Borough, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. November 1962.

Pittsburgh Regional Planning Association for the Ligonier Township Planning Commission. A Comprehensive Plan for Ligonier Township, Westmoreland County, PA. 1969.

Sanborn Map Company. Borough of Ligonier. New York: Sanborn Map Company. 1900, 1905, 1910, 1928. [Collection of the Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA.]

Stevenson, Katherine Cole and H. Ward Jandl. Houses by Mail: A Guide to Houses from Sears, Roebuck and Company. Washington. D.C.: The Preservation Press, 1986.

Stotz, Charles M. The Architectural Heritage of Early Western Pennsylvania: A Record of Buildings to 1860. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1966.

Richard C. Sutter & Associates, Inc., Ligonier Regional Study and Plans: An Update and Integration of Plan. 1989.

The Woman's Club of Ligonier. Our Heritage in Ligonier Valley. Privately published. 1965.


[1] The outpost was named for Field Marshall John Louis Ligonier, supreme commander of the British Army at the time of the French and Indian War. Gen. John Forbes, who built the fort and first road through Ligonier, was assigned the task of retaking Fort Duquesne at Pittsburgh from the French, and had served under Ligonier in Europe.

Richards, Frederick L, Preservation Planner, Ligonier Historic District, Lignoier Boro PA, nomination document, 1994, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
Main Street • Market Street

Home | Contact | Site Index | Whats New | Search

Privacy | Disclaimer | © 1997-2024, The Gombach Group