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Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Additional Johnstown Sites

Johnstown's Inclined Plane

Walking Tours 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.

Walking Tours of Old Westmont

Student Walking Tour (approx. time: 30 minutes)

     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.


The walking tours below are offered as additional resources to the student walking tour. 

Old Westmont Walking Tour (Main) (approx. time: 1.5-2 hours)

     This walking tour includes 34 structures in both the original section and the World War I era section.   Structures are located on Edgehill Drive , Fayette Street, Luzerne Street, Bucknell Avenue. Tioga Street, and Greene Street.

Side Trip #1 (approx. time: 45 minutes)

     This walking tour only includes seven structures, however, these are some of the older and more unusual houses.  Grandview Cemetery is included in this tour as it passes along Montour Street, Blair Street, Bucknell Avenue, Wayne Street, and Colgate Avenue.

Side Trip #2 (approx. time: 1 hour)

     This walking tour reflects the day-to-day living of people in Westmont, from laborers to affluent citizens, and includes 18 structures.  Mifflin Street, Erie Street, Clarion Street, Wyoming Street, and Lehigh Street are all included in this tour.

These three tours were written by Margie Fusco. 

Sources:

     Building Summaries: Westmont; Historic American Buildings Survey; Natalie Gillespie, Cheryl Powell;

             National Park Service, 1988.

     AIHP Historic Resources Study-Cambria Iron Company; Sharon Brown, National Park Service, 1987.

The houses on these tours are a representative sampling of Westmont homes that grew from the Cambria Iron Company plans.  Collectively, they trace the history of the community's development.  These walking tours were compiled by the Johnstown Area Heritage Association with funding from the U.S. Dept. of the Interior, National Park Service, 1989.

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