Apollo’s Historic Business Buildings
Those of you who’ve been following the Truby Farmhouse Blog know we’ve occasionally taken a sidetracked look at the local historic structures described in the 1980-81 Armstrong County Historic Sites Survey. To date we’ve looked primarily at the residential buildings highlighted in the survey. But it turns out, several commercial buildings were also deemed noteworthy by the architectural historians who came to town, including 2 businesses built on lots that were once part of Simon Truby’s farmland in Apollo, Pennsylvania.
Some of the featured buildings might make you go “Huh?” They may seem unremarkable … even a bit of an eyesore. Still, more than 35 years ago, architectural historians found them noteworthy for various reasons. If you take the time for a closer look, you can find plenty of things in and around the Alle-Kiski Valley that have a story to tell—even seemingly modest or run-down buildings.
During the early 1980s, the visiting historians made a valiant effort to be accurate in their assessments. They consulted old books, maps, and government documents, and they interviewed local historians before writing up their 1- or 2-page reports on each structure. Nevertheless, these visiting experts were sometimes inaccurate in their assessments. We all make mistakes!
If you can add any insights about the buildings below—or about other historic commercial buildings in Apollo or North Apollo—please chime in and add your comments at the end of the article.
And if you want to read about additional historic places & buildings in Apollo and North Apollo (e.g., Griftlo Park and Apollo Schools), visit Places & Buildings and Business & Industry on the Apollo Area Historical Society’s website. It’s kind of amazing that for only $10 a year, you can become a member of the historical society and support their important work. Plus, you’ll receive their quarterly newsletter, which has interesting tidbits and insights you won’t find anywhere else.
Perhaps the town’s most iconic commercial building, the Chambers Hotel at 223 First Street has been known by different names since it was built by James H Chambers in 1888-89. At that time, Apollo’s population was booming as the railroad and steel industry had stretched northward into the borough.
According to the 1980-81 historic sites survey, the hotel’s original name was the Chambers House, and the founding owners were WG and JH Chambers, General SM Jackson, Dr. William McBryar, Major TA Cochran, and SM Nelson. The building was later known as the Weikert house (E.L. Weikert, owner) and the Hartman House (H.C. Hartman, owner). In the late 1940s, the name then returned to its roots as the Chambers Hotel. This throwback name was in recognition of the first Apollo citizen killed in World War II, according to the historic sites survey report. Read more about the hotel’s history at the Apollo Area Historical Society’s Chambers Hotel page.
Architecturally, the Chambers Hotel started off as a 4-story structure, as shown in the photo above left, circa 1900. The top floor was removed after it was gutted by fire in 1948, the survey report notes: “Old photography shows that this 4th story had a deep mansard roof with numerous dormer windows.” The hotel also originally had a drugstore—Pauley’s Drugs—in the lower right corner (covered by an awning in the black-and-white photo above). By the early 1980s, that drugstore had been converted to an apartment and covered in aluminum siding (painted brown today) .
In 1980, the historians were impressed by several architectural adornments, including the bracketed cornice at the roofline that still exists today. The window heads capped with segmental brick arches on the 3rd story were also of note, along with the shouldered stone lintels on the 2nd story—all of can still be seen.
The historians noted that “a two-tiered veranda dominates the façade,” with original woodwork, balustrade, and turned wood posts on the top tier. Since the 1980s, though, the wooden balustrade (the fence-like railing around the edge of the balcony) has been replaced by a solid edging that might be wood or siding. The historians were also excited by the veranda eaves that were—and still are—ornamented with modillions and brackets, shown below.
In 1980, when the historic site survey was conducted, the experts concluded that the Chambers Hotel appeared eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. They noted: “Despite major alterations to this Commercial style structure, it could be restored.” The report further noted that the owners in 1980 still possessed a copy of the original building specifications.
On Simon Truby’s Farm: Block Building & Wallace Lumber
After Simon Truby’s death in 1886, the remaining 84 acres of his farmland were divided into hundreds of lots in Apollo and North Apollo, PA. By 1892, all of those unsold lots were owned and being sold by a newly created business known as the Apollo Improvement Company—an early type of real estate development company (more about them in a future blog post).
Although several businesses have popped up on Simon Truby’s former farmland over the years, especially along the northern end of Warren Avenue (aka Route 66, parallel to the river), only 2 of these commercial buildings were deemed worthy of mention in Armstrong County’s 1980-81 historic sites survey: the Block Building and Wallace Lumber Company.
Block Building. The Block Building at 735-9 N Warren Ave in Apollo is a grand old brick building that generated a lot of interest and discussion on a Facebook group called I Just Want To Remember…..Apollo….. . The structure was built in 1895 on Lot 30 of the Apollo Improvement Company’s Plan for Apollo. Its outer ornamentation was rather whimsical. In earlier times, it housed 2 separate businesses—such as Myers General Store and a drug store, according to the historic sites survey. The 2 storefronts on the first floor are separated by a central door and stairway that leads to upstairs apartments.
The historians noted that in the 1890s, this part of Apollo was a thriving commercial area, and the building’s features were typical of turn-of-the-century mercantile buildings. For instance, the Block Building has corner finials (distinctive ornaments at the top of a building), and the roofline still has an ornate cornice (the “crown molding” of a building), painted an ivory color in the modern photo above.
When the county historians surveyed the building in the early 1980s, the metal balcony still existed, and the 2nd floor apartments were in use, but the 2 first-floor storefronts were vacant. That remains the case today, in May 2017, although some first-floor businesses have come and gone in the intervening years. Discussions on Facebook noted that the Apollo News Record was temporarily housed in the Block Building in the 1950s. And in the 1920s and 30s, H.E. Shoemaker owned a grocery store there.
Previous owners of the Block Building have included Blair & Laura Mosbaugher, who owned the property at the time of the 1980-81 site survey. The Mosbaughers of Creighton Borough purchased the property from Louis and Eleanor Corcetti of Apollo in 1956. Corcetti had purchased from Ernest & Goldie Camagna of California in 1953, who purchased from Joseph Forno of New York in 1936. Owners before that included W W Fiscus, who purchased from William E Orr in 1925, who purchased from Colin Cameron et al. in 1920.
Before 1910, the building’s owner was Jonathan Q Cochrane of Apollo, one of the principals of the Apollo Improvement Company. Cochrane had declared bankruptcy around 1908, and he was sued by the Apollo Trust Company, which took possession of Lot 30 and the Block Building in November 1920. Look for more about Jno Q Cochrane and the Apollo Improvement Company in a future blog post.
Still not certain why this building is known as the “Block Building,” despite interesting discussions and detective work by Apollo history-lovers on Facebook. More to come.
Read the 1980-81 history site survey form for the Block Building.
Wallace Lumber Company. The 1980-81 site survey report noted that the Wallace Lumber Company property at 1007 North Warren Avenue (at the corner of Warren and North 11th Street) contained several historically significant structures. At that time, the building was the lumber company’s retail store.
The report stated that this two-story vernacular commercial building had a wood-frame construction covered by weather board. In addition, in 1980:
The gabled roof has a semi-circular false front with small modillions under the projecting eaves. The 5-bay facade has 1/1 sash windows and 2 entranceways. One door is centrally located on the 2nd story, and the store entrance is recessed between the first-story windows. Wood panels and bulls-eye blocks decorate the display window supports. …. A second-floor balcony may have been removed.
The report further stated “this vernacular commercial structure could be restored.”
Now, however, 35 years later, the features described above are barely discernible. You can still see hints of the 5-bays (windows or doors) on the 2nd floor, including the middle door that must have led to a balcony. The semi-circular false front—which gave the rooftop a rounded, barrel-like appearance back in the 1980s—is long gone.
The 1980-81 report further noted:
The large frame building located behind the store was originally the Superior Rolling Mills. It was built by W H Carnahan from Cochrans Mills, Burrell Township. …. Several other wood structures located at the rear of the lot also appear on the  Fowler map. The map notation indicates these served as a planing mill and lumber yard owned by Cochrane and McMullen. All of these associated buildings are in a state of decay and threatened by demolition and development.
Indeed, the old associated wooden buildings no longer exist on the property. Read the Wallace Lumber Survey Form from 1980-81.
The property described above was sold to W H Carnahan by farmer Simon Truby in the late 1800s.
Daugherty’s Beauty Salon
This 2-story vernacular commercial building at 324 N 4th Street in Apollo was likely constructed between 1876 and 1896, according to evidence from a 1896 panoramic map. In 1980-81, the building was home to Daugherty’s Beauty Salon. Today it is the office of dentist Mark Nigra.
The 1980-81 historic site report notes:
The map published in 1896 shows several commercial building on this block. This building housed a music store at this time. It appears on the map with a decorative cornice across the facade roofline. Two supporting corner brackets remain but the cornice has been removed and would require reconstruction.
Removal of the added veranda, which detracts from the building’s integrity, would also be necessary for restoration.
The report further describes the following decorative elements that still existed in 1980s, but it appears many of these are no longer present in 2017: wood trim over the windows and door openings, wood panels beside the main entranceway, wood frieze board between the first and second story facades, and wood corner brackets (these brackets are still visible at the corner roofline).
Read the 1980-81 historic site survey form for Daugherty’s Beauty Salon.
Directly across the street from the former Daugherty’s Beauty Salon, the Apollo Municipal building at N 4th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue was built in 1925 as the borough’s first professionally designed structure built specifically for use as a municipal building. Over the years, the site report notes, the building has housed municipal offices, a jail, fire-fighting equipment, a bowling alley, and an auditorium. In the 1970s, it housed the Apollo Area Community Center and rockin’ dances that were sometimes hosted by actual DJs from Pittsburgh radio stations.
The report notes that this commercial building is typical of popular mercantile and public buildings from the 1920s. By the 1980s, the original side windows had all been removed or replaced with smaller 1/1 sash windows, and the rounded front windows on the 2nd story had been replaced by rectangular versions. Decorative features that still exist include keystones, sills, pilaster capitals, and entablatures.
Back on First Street: Hilty’s Store and Lew’s Restaurant
The final 2 commercial buildings cited in the 1980-81 historic sites survey are both located on First Street, the street you land on once you’ve crossed the bridge into Apollo. Both buildings are just down the street from the Chambers Hotel. In the early 1980s, these historic brick buildings were known as Hilty’s Store and Lew’s Restaurant.
Hilty’s Store. Built in 1907, this brick building at 217 First Street today houses the Guthrie Agency. The 1980-81 historic sites report notes: “The building represents an early 20th century commercial style. Originally owned by the Devers family, the building has maintained its original commercial use. … The structure was constructed one year after the Leechburg and Apollo Electric Railway began operation.”
Noteworthy architectural features that remain today include two 3-part arched windows on the 2nd floor with central stained glass transoms; segmented brick arches top these windows. A decorative wood cornice and balustrade display the date “1907.”
This brick building, built in 1907, was preceded by a similar-looking wood-construction building in this same spot, as shown in the black & white photo below.
The Sanborn Fire Insurance maps below confirm that in 1904, the building in this location was made of wood (yellow), but by 1925 (and also 1910, not shown), the “Hilty’s Store” building was made of brick (pink).
Read more about this building in the 1980-81 site report form for Hilty’s Store.
Lew’s Restaurant. Today home to the Subway sandwich shop, Andring Law Office, and more, the brick building at 213 First Street was likely built around 1880. The Apollo Area Historical Society’s website is expected to post more information about this building in the near future, so stay tuned for updates!
Visit the interactive map of homes and other buildings that were described in the 1980-81 Armstrong County Historic Sites Survey. The interactive map is still a work in progress. Not all the commercial buildings have yet been added.
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Please help to preserve Apollo’s history by making a donation to the Apollo Area Historical Society at https://apollopahistory.wordpress.com/donate/ . Stop by their museum on N. 2nd Street to see their displays, rare old photos and maps, & Apollo items for sale.
– by Vicki Contie