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Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Additional Johnstown Sites

Johnstown's Inclined Plane

Walking Tour of Old Westmont - Side Trip#1

 

Introduction

From its early years, Johnstown's Cambria Iron Company recognized the relationship between plentiful, low-cst housing and a satisfied work force.  As early as 1856, just four years after the company's founding, the Cambria Iron Company owned 200 houses in Johnstown, which it rented or sold to workers.

Over the years, the company built approximately 2,000 residential buildings.  These ranged from wooden shanties with no modern conveniences, erected hastily to handle the influx of workers for the Gautier Mill, to wood and brick structures with modern services (sometimes at no cost) that were rented to skilled workers.

But the apogee of Cambria Iron Company's years as a landlord came shortly after the 1889 Flood, when Yoder's Hill, overlooking the city from the west, was turned into a residential development, served by the Inclined Plane.  There, 600 acres of pastureland the iron company had used for the horses and mules that worked in the company mines became a housing development.  The project was given to landscape architect Charles R. Miller, who had designed the Philadelphia Centennial Grounds in 1876 and Grandview Cemetery a few years earlier.

Westmont, which became a borough in 1892, is commonly though today to have been a wealthy community, but the first houses the iron company erected, pre-dating the Incline, were a series of tenement houses rented to day laborers.  From the beginning, Westmont was intended to be a mixed development.  The reputation may have arisen because many of the homes closest to the Incline were built for management personnel, and the later Elm Grove development along Luzerne Street was intended for those of upper income.  However, throughout the rest of Westmont, the houses of superintendents and foremen were mingled with those of skilled and unskilled workers to create a community.

Housing built by the iron company served as rental units, but was intended to be sold off to employees at low cost, with mortgages available through the Westmont Land and Development Co., Ltd., a company formed by Cambria Iron.  The company's slogan was that good housing, made available by the company, would help keep employees living in the area and loyal to their employers.

Westmont was developed in two sections with the main growth from 1892-1905 in the older district and around World War I in the newer district.  In addition to the main tour of Westmont, there are many other buildings and sites of historical interests.  To view some of the older and more unusual houses in Westmont and see Grandview Cemetery, take Bucknell Avenue beyond Luzerne Street.

The Walking Tour - Side Trip #1

 

1.  Cambria Steel/Cohoe House - 116 Montour Street

          Built around 1913, this building is known in the neighborhood as the former site of Cambria Steel Company's Manager's Club, although no documentation has been uncovered to verify this.  The house was originally built by the Cambria Iron Company but was purchasede by David Cohoe, an accountant for Imperial Coal Company, and rented out.  It later belonged to the Stackhouse family, after whom a nearby park is named.  The glass panels on the porch were a later addition.

2.  F.J. Varner House - 120 Blair Street

          Built before 1889, this is one of only two known houses that predate the Cambria Iron Company's development of Westmont.  The farmhouse was purchased by Varner from the Iron Company in 1889 for $495.  In 1892, a deed returns the mineral rights for the land back to the Cambia Iron Company, a transaction that occured with several Westmont properties when the Iron Company realized it had improperly sold away important rights..  The cement porch is a recent addition.

3.  Palmer/Hager House - 44-46 Bucknell Avenue

          The exact date of this home's construction is unknown.  According to local stories, it was the farmhouse of the Clark family before Westmont was created.  The house was shown on the 892 borough plan for Westmont.  It was bought from the Iron Company by George Palmer, who sold it to Harry Hager.  In 1916, the property sold to Benjamin Benshoff for $535.  Benshoff was apparently a real estate speculator, as there are over 100 property transactions, on modest residential houses in his name in Cambria County records.

4. Grandview Cemetery

          In 1885, a 100-acre plot of the pasture land owned by the Cambria Iron Company was given over to the Citizen's Cemetery Association, for $74 an acre, to establish the Grandview Cemetery.  Here the Plot of the Unknown Flood Dead is located, as well as the gravesites of many famous Johnstowners.

5., 6.  Wayne Street

          The house at 444 Wayne Street was built for William Krieger, a cashier.  It was designed by local architect Henry Rogers and built at a cost of $6,000.

          The home at 534 Wayne Street was built for the Berkebile family in 1926.  It has remained in the family ever since.

7., 8.  Colgate Avenue

          Some of the plots laid out on Yoder's Hill by the Cambria Iron Company were sold to individuals constructing their own hoes.  Other plots were filled with houses erected by the company, using local contractors.  But in 1911, the Cambria Steel Company took a different route.  Four homes on Third Avenue (Colgate Avenue) were "kit" homes, ordered by the Iron Company from Sears, Roebuck and Company.  Each was built at a cost of $3,575.82.  The wood-sided houses were models No. 137 and 164 from the Sears "Modern Homes" catalogue.  Details on their construction were kept in company records.  Examples of Sears homes can be seen at 146 and 140 Colgate Avenue.

    

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