Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bellaire, Ohio

After exploring Wheeling for the first time in years, I decided to take a side-trip to nearby Bellaire, Ohio. Bellaire is a small rust-belt city that peaked in population in 1920, at about 15,000 people. Only about 4,000 people live in the town today. It still has the built environment of a real city, with tall buildings and an intact (if eerily empty) business district. Bellaire has the potential to be what it must have been in the not-too-distant past -- a vibrant urban place. However, whether because of population decline, changing tastes, suburbanization, or de-industrialization, this place is a ghost of its former self.  One does not have to have memories of the city to sense its former importance. The architecture tells the story.  The condition of these buildings today also tells something of the place's current economic situation. It looks downtrodden and forlorn, but it speaks to urbanists and historic preservationists who find the beauty in the industrial decay and the substantial old buildings.

A little about Bellaire's history from Wikipedia: "The first big boost for growth came with the construction of the Central Ohio Railway in 1853, later absorbed by the Baltimore and Ohio, and the Stone Viaduct Bridge (opened in 1871) that carried it to Wheeling, Virginia. The B&O reached Wheeling in January 1853, having started construction at Baltimore, Maryland in 1827. It was the means by which the East Coast city, a port on Chesapeake Bay, could connect with western markets and compete with New York City and the Erie Canal. Col. John Sullivan campaigned for the connection from Bellaire. The town was renamed Bellaire by the railroad company."

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Johnstown, Pennsylvania

Johnstown is a rust-belt city of some historical significance, forever associated with the tragic Johnstown Flood of 1889. That flood took over 2,200 lives and was one of the greatest disasters in American history.

Walking around the old city of Johnstown, which has declined in population from 67,000 at its peak in 1920, to just 20,000 people today, one can sense the ghosts of the past. There are countless historic buildings, some of which pre-date the great flood, and are documented with historical plaques indicating their significance. There are five National Historic Districts in the city of Johnstown.  I wandered around the downtown Johnstown Historic District, as well as the Old Conemaugh Borough Historic District, which is a mostly residential neighborhood adjacent to downtown. I also walked around the residential neighborhood directly south of downtown. Here are some of the highlights of my visit to this fascinating place. My favorite was the charming central square park, with fountain, in the heart of the city. 

A historic plaque in Johnstown ;)

Old Conemaugh Borough Historic District

Napoleon Street

Interesting Victorian Era dwellings are scattered around the central business district.

Old Conemaugh Borough Historic District

St. John Qualbert Cathedral - built 1896.

Old Conemaugh Borough Historic District

It would be easy, but not true, to say these historic buildings would have fared better in a more vibrant city than Johnstown.
In Pittsburgh, they replace these with apartments no working person can afford.

Old Conemaugh Borough Historic District

Downtown Johnstown Historic District

Napoleon Street

Johnstown YWCA

Napoleon Street

Fountain at downtown Johnstown's charming Central Park

Monday, April 25, 2016

ENDANGERED: Historic Homes in Spring Garden

On the city of Pittsburgh demolition list are two historic homes in the Spring Garden neighborhood (North Side). The listed properties are 1214 and 1219 Voskamp Street. There may still be some time to save these houses from demolition. They represent important urban vernacular, and their preservation is essential to the historic character of Pittsburgh's working class neighborhoods. Spring Garden is one of the oldest surviving neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, but also one of the more distressed. There are many vacant and deteriorating homes in the district. Homes end up on the demolition list simply because of absentee building owners, unpaid taxes, and neglect. Some of these houses are not beyond repair.

If you are interested in saving one of these houses, please contact the city and persuade them to delay demolition while you attempt to contact the building's owner and purchase the property. If the property's owner cannot be located, you can try to arrange to buy the property with help from the city.
1214 Voskamp Street (on demolition list)

1219 Voskamp Street (on demolition list)

I blogged about the house at 1214 Voskamp Street first in 2012. Conditions were bad then, and the house was in a state of neglect. Sadly, no one stepped forward to purchase or renovate the house, and the owner continued to let the property decline. The taxes have been paid on the house, and hopefully a potential buyer could still contact and negotiate to buy the property from the owner. One should assess the property's condition and viability of restoration before purchasing, however.