Education

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Additional Johnstown Sites

Johnstown's Inclined Plane

Student Walking Tour of Old Westmont

 

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.  This walking tour is designed for student groups that are visiting the Inclined Plane.  Students will see a combination of both laborer homes and affluent homes all within a reasonable walking distance from the top of the Inclined Plane.

Student Walking Tour of Old Westmont

Edgehill Drive

The most exclusive homes in Westmont were built, creating a dramatic fringe for the border of the borough.

1.  T. Hamilton House - 528 Edgehill Drive

          Built between 1892 and 1895, this is one of the largest homes in Westmont.  Thomas F. Hamilton, a superintendent at Cambria Steel Company, bought property from the Cambria Iron Company in 189.  By 1895, its assessed value had risen to $3,400 because of the immense home Hamilton had built.  The stone first floor features a wrap-around porch with hipped roof and a port-cochere on the west side.  The second floor is stucco with Tudor-style halt-timbers.

Greene Street

Visiting here in the mid-1890s, one might have seen a street bustling with construction.  This street was given over to large single-family dwellings, many of them built for professionals.  Several of the houses still look as they did when originally built.

2.  J. Zimmerman House - 131 Greene Street

          Built around 1900, this house is one of several works of local architect Walter Myton that appear on this tour.  Myton is credited with designing the Johnstown City Hall, about 40 residences, and numerous businesses and churches around the region.  His work does not represent a single style, but rather is a reflection of his client's tastes and preferences and the popular architectural styles of the day.  This home is in the Queen Anne style, with its unusual curvilinear, turreted cupola.  In was built in 1902.  The property, a double lot, also included a stable.

         

3.  Hay House - 143 Greene Street

          Built between 1892-95 for Harry M. Hay, a merchant.  The assessed value of the home in 1895 was $2,000.  The extensive ornamentation is typical of the period, from the gabled roof to the ornate entrance.  The pediment over the front door features a fentiled cornice and fluted Ionic columns.

                             

4.  Keedy House - 202 Greene Street

          Built between 1893-95.  Thomas P. Keedy was assistant supervisor for Cambria Iron Company.  This single lot cost Keedy $750 in 1893.  Behind the main house is a two-story addition that was apparently built later.  Note the extensive use of wooden shingles, from the dormers on the roof to the wrap-around porch.

         

5.  Gardner House - 203-209 Greene Street

           Built in 1909.  Jonathan Gardner, a lumberman and merchant originally built two houses on the double lot here.  Leaded glass helps to entrance this house.  The property, originally a single-family dwelling, has been subdivided into apartments and an office.  The original porch features Ionic fluted columns; the south porch was a later addition.

         

6.  Morris House - 202 Mifflin Street

          Built around 1907, this property was first purchased in 1897 for $800 by William H. Morris, then a superintendent.  He built the house in 1904.  By 1905, he was president of Cambria Coal Co. and general manager of the Stonycreek Coal and Coke Co.  He later became general superintendent of the Merchants Coal Co., Boswell.  It was recently converted to a multiple family residence.

7.  Peter Mulvehill House - 212 Mifflin Street

          Built between 1893 and 1895, this is one of the oldest houses in Westmont.  Mulvehill, a day laborers who'd been born in Ireland, bought the property from the Cambria Iron Company in 1893 for $900 and built his home here.  It is unusual that Mulvehill chose to build a house when many others at his income level were renting.

8. The Mound

          This plot of land was deeded to Westmont Borough by the Cambria Iron Company for use solely as a recreation area.  It has remained so since the founding of Westmont.

 

Bucknell Avenue

Bucknell Avenue, originally names Second Avenue, featured the homes of professionals.  The land was originally part of a farm, as witnessed by the early farmhouse at the far end of the street (44-45 Bucknell), near the Grandview Cemetery gates

9.  T.E. Reynolds House - 728 Bucknell Avenue

          Built in 1907, this home was designed by prominent local architect Walter Myton.  Reynolds was treasurer of Woolf & Reynolds, a store located in the city.  He lived there with his family, who retained the house until 1945.

10.  Cooper/Coolidge House - 204-206 Erie Street

          Built in 1895, it was originally a single family house.  In 1892, Mary Cooper, a teacher, acquired this lot from Westmont Land and Improvement Company and built a house that has an assessed value of $2,000 in 1895.  In 1910 the lot and the house were sold to Daniel Coolidge, president of the Lorain Steel Company and a nephew of President Calvin Coolidge.  Coolidge and his wife had no children but loved to entertain.  Around 1913, they built an addition to the western side of the house that included a ballroom.  Note the elaborate ornamental detailing in the narrow pediments over the porch and second floor.

         

11.  Fisher House - 120 Erie Street

          Built in 1906.  Rose Fisher bought the property for $950 in 1903 and moved into a home she built here in 1906.  By 1907, she had turned the home into a rental unit.  Elongated Doric columns support the hipped roof over the front porch.

 

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