Historic Structures

History of the Bank Troutman Building - First National Bank, Connellsville Pennsylvania

Connellsville developed as a small cross roads town at the point where the Youghiogheny River pierces Chestnut Ridge, the western most ridge of the Alleghenies. It was an early focal point of Quaker farming settlements as well as home to several Revolutionary War heroes. While experimentation with coke processing can be traced to circa 1817, the industry did not develop any permanency until the 1840s when several coal mine operators turned to the coking process to overcome transportation difficulties in the Y oughiogheny River valley. The Y oughiogheny River was shallow and prone to flooding, making it difficult to navigate or canalize. The rocky river valley roads often caused the raw coal being transported to crumble, coking the coal eliminated this problem.

Early coke companies in the Connellsville region supplied markets in Cincinnati and other Ohio River ports. The Pittsburgh and Connellsville Railroad Company was formed to provide a route up the Youghiogheny River valley reaching Connellsville in 1855. The rail strengthened the link between the Connellsville and Pittsburgh regions. Conversion of iron furnaces in the Pittsburgh area from coal to coke fuel began in 1859 with the Clinton Furnace, and resulted in increased demand for coke. One of the greatest impulses for coke production came in circa 1873, when the Edgar Thompson Works was built. This lead to the conversion of the industrial base of Pittsburgh from iron production to Bessemer Steel, which required coke. As demand for coke grew in the Connellsville area, individual mine owners developed beehive coking plants along the Youghiogheny River Valley. They also developed plants along the railroad at tlie foot of Chestnut Ridge, with Connellsville as the focal point.

The coke industry, and the other prominent coking centers such as Uniontown and Brownsville, experienced a sudden boom in 1901, the year Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick sold interests (Carnegie Steel) to J.P. Morgan, resulting in the formation of United States Steel. During this same period, Connellsville coal was recognized as producing the best coke available for steel making, however it was rapidly being depleted. New mines were being started west of Connellsville to produce a coal of similar quality for mixing with Connellsville coal in the coking process. It was during this period of wealth, derived from coal and coke, that the directors of the First National Bank (FNB) in Connellsville had a new elaborate building designed by architects Mowbray and Uffinger. The bank, according to The Daily Courier of 8 June 1900, was following the lead of another bank, the Title and Trust Company. Title and Trust had just completed a new five story brick building at North Pittsburgh Street and Crawford Avenue.

The FNB of Connellsville was organized in March of 1876 with capital stock of $50,000. The board of directors consisted of many locally prominent businessmen including John M. Cochran, Porter S. Newmyer, J.R. Laughrey, and Joseph R. Stauffer. The first space for business was rented for several years at $400 per year in A.B. Morton's jewelry store. In September of 1894, after much success and realizing the need to expand, the bank purchased a brick building and adjoining vacant lot on West Crawford Avenue for $23,000. In the last years of the nineteenth century, the directors considered improving the bank property with a more modem building. According to the Connellsville Centennial History of 1906, the bank retained Louis M. Mowbray and Justin M. Uffinger in May of 1900, to prepare drawings for a new building on this site. Construction started in May of 1901 and was complete in February of 1903.

According to The Daily Courier of Connellsville, the bank-sponsored reception on the 26 February 1903 was " ... the biggest reception held by any business institution in the history of Connellsville." Male guests at the open house received cigars while women received flowers. Refreshments were provided on the second, fourth, and sixth floors. In the evening, the twenty piece symphony orchestra played in the large sixth floor hall. In addition to the FNB, other original occupants of the offices in the building included insurance agents, architects, construction companies, civil engineers, coal and coke companies, dentists, lawyers, and the Douglas Business College.

In the middle to late nineteen twenties, Polk's City Directories of Connellsville indicate that the third through the sixth floors of the building continued to be occupied by doctors, dentists, insurance companies, lumber companies, construction companies, tailors, lawyers, notaries, accountants, and numerous coal companies as they had been when the building first opened. In 1925, the Wright-Metzler Department Store was taken over by Adam E. Troutman's interests of Greensburg, however the City Directory did not indicate a name change until 1928, when the store became Troutman's. By 1931, the FNB closed, victim to both the depression ano the decline in the coal and coke industry. Most of the coal companies had also disappeared, likely a combination of the depression and a switch on the part of industry to other fuel sources. The 1934 directory indicates that the banking hall had been taken over by the American Stores Company.

During the 1940s the first vacancies appeared, however the department store remained strong and slowly took over spaces on the upper office floors. In 1942, a Christian Scientist Reading Room was located on the first floor and the former banking space was taken over by Hagan's Dairy Store. In 1947, Troutman's had taken over the banking hall as an annex. In the 1949 directory the building is referred to for the first time as the Troutman Building. Also during this period the Franklin Commercial College was operating on the sixth floor. In 1950, a portion of the first floor was used by the Connellsville Broadcasters and WCVI Broadcasting Station. By 1953, the Commercial College moved out of the sixth floor. In 1954, the store underwent a major renovation which included the removal of offices on the third floor of the building to provide space for training and retail space as well as a hair salon. During this remodeling new departments were added and others were relocated. The present first floor facade of the building with aluminum doors and plate glass windows also dates to this period. In 1963 the department store took over the sixth floor as storage.

In the early 1970s both the fourth and fifth floors of the building were gradually vacated, with only three offices on the fifth floor and four offices on the fourth floor in 1979. In 1985, Troutman's Department store dosed, as did the few remaining offices on the upper floors. For the next eleven years, the building stood vacant. During this time numerous plans to revitalize it were planned and never executed.

The multiple-use, multiple-story, FNBB of Connellsville was typical of the commercial buildings built in the early part of the twentieth century. It was during this period that the multiple story mixed use building was on the rise in American Architecture. Beginning in the cities of New York and Chicago in the late nineteenth century, technology allowed more than five floors to be built and served by elevators, this meant that buildings could be more than sixty feet in height. Along with this advance in technology came increases in downtown land values. Multiple-story buildings also meant a certain amount of prestige for the builder or tenant, serving as self advertisement. The first floors of many of these buildings housed some anchor business such as a bank or department store, the upper floors being used for housing professional and service oriented offices such as doctors, lawyers, dentists, tailors, and small businesses. In the case of the FNBB, the upper floors were designed with individual offices and suites, each opening to a main hall. To take advantage of natural light and air circulation, many of the offices often had interior windows, doors, and transoms facing the hall. Most of these buildings were constructed of either structural masonry or, in some cases, concrete and steel, resulting in many of the buildings being regarded as fireproof.

The architects and contractors of FNBB utilized technology of the age by erection of a six story building with elevators, gas and electric lighting, and followed the trend of combining bank, department store, and offices into one building. The load bearing masonry building had one of the most ornate facades in Connellsville with a number of colonial, classical, and eclectic details such as keystones, friezes, columns, belt courses, swags, cartouches, an elaborate entablature with dentils, lion heads, brackets, and acroterion. Much of the detailing was made of marble, sandstone, and copper.