Walking Tour of Old Westmont - Side Trip#2
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. Houses on Side Trip #2 reflect the day-to-day living of people in Westmont, from laborers to affluent citizens.
The Walking Tour - Side Trip #2
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. William Oakley House - 27 Clarion Street
Built between 1904 and 1905. This property was originally purchased from the Iron Company for $700 in 1904. Oakley bought it that year and built a house on it. He sold the house a year later for $2,400. There is a recessed lancet arch with windows in the middle of the front gable roof.
8. Evan Lloyd House II - 60 Clarion Street
Built in 1906 by Evan Lloyd, a Westmont contractor. The gable-fronted roof includes both gables and pedimented dormers.
9. Cambria Steel/Patrick J. Coll House - 114 Clarion Street
Built before 1907 by the Iron Company, this house was probably used as a rental property before it was sold to Coll, who had moved up from clerk to foreman. It was converted to add an apartment during the Depression years. More recently it has been returned to a single-family residence. Note the fine leaded glass in several window transoms, and the Palladian style windows in each gable end.
10. Evan Lloyd House I - 926 Bucknell Avenue
Built between 1907 and 1913. Lloyd, a local contractor who originally lived on Greene Street, purchased this double lot from the estate of an earlier owner. It features a projecting second story bay with pedimented gable.
Wyoming and Lehigh Street
In addition to the lots that were sold by the Cambria Iron Company to its management and skilled workers, the organization built a series of "tenement" houses for its laborers. These ten buildings cost $955.62 apiece when built around 1891, and rented for $6 a month. According to 1911 records, the Iron Company owned nine properties along Lehigh Street that rented for $7 a month for five rooms and offered water and an indoor toilet. On the same street, there were also the seven properties that rented for $8 a month for six rooms with water, gas and indoor toilet.
11. Cambria Iron/Wm. H. Wagner House - 216-218 Wyoming Street
Built in 1891, this is one of seven Cambria Iron double houses used as rental properties. John Wagner, a laborer moved here with his family in 1905 from East Conemaugh. He rented the housed until 1915, when William Wagner, a laborer and presumably a relative of John, bought the house. The original kitchens in these homes were one story shed-roofed structures attached to the back. Later additions and porches on the back concealed these original rooms.
12. Cambria Iron/Wm. and Lottie Grubb House - 144 Wyoming Street
One of the Cambria Iron tenements. Rental records aren't available on this house, but William Grubb, a mill hand who originally lived on Clarion Street, became a crane operator and moved into the house in 1922 with his wife.
13. Cambria Iron/Ira L. Potter House - 132 Wyoming Street
Once of the Cambria Iron tenements. Ira Potter, a laborers, bought the home in 1916 for $1,800 and sold it to a machinist in 1927 for $2,400. Most of these wood framed iron company houses were of tall, narrow proportions.
14. Cambria Iron/Robson House - 117-119 Wyoming Street
Built in 1891, this is one of seven double houses the Iron Company built as rental units. These rented for $8 per side. Most were eventually purchased by tenants as this one was: it was bought from the Iron Company by Hannah Robson in 1920 for $925. This is wood-framed and wood shingled like the other Iron Company homes.
15. Cambria Iron/James Woods House - 18 Wyoming Street
One of the Cambria Iron tenements. According tot he 1889 city directory, the first occupant was L.T. Reed, a mill hand. Other mill hands and day laborers occupied the house over the years. One was Woods, a machinist who began renting in 1910 and eventually bought the house.
16. Cambria Iron/Wise House - 42 Lehigh Street
Another of the Cambria Iron tenements, built between 1889 and 1891. The first tenement was Joseph Locker, a coal miner of German descent. In 1932 it was bought from the Cambria Steel Co. by Louis Wise, a machinist.
17. Cambria Iron/R.S. Jordan House - 59 Lehigh Street
One of the Cambria Iron tenements. R.S. Jordan, a laborers bought the house in 1921 from Cambria Steel Co. for $2,000, but it had been rented by various laborers in the Iron Company since it was first built ca. 1890.
18. John H. Allendorfer House - 834-836 Edgehill Drive
Built in 1901. Allendorfer was a foreman for the Cambria Iron Company. Little has been altered in this home's exterior. It looks much like it did when built. It features a hipped roof with many gables: one of them has a lunette window while another has a highly ornamented Palladian style window.