Monday, May 6, 2019


This column first appeared in the May 2019 issue of GreeneSPEAK!

The first Greene County Courthouse, built of logs in 1796.  Centennial souvenir medal of 1896 illustrated in "Westward of ye Laurall Hills," Helen Vagt, 1976.

The U. S. Direct Tax of 1798 provides interesting clues to the early inhabitants of Waynesburg and their dwellings. Popularly known as “the Window Tax”, it assessed size, building material and panes of glass. This was the first federal tax on citizens, but according to the newly adopted Constitution it had to be apportioned, not per capita, but by state.

Pursuant to this, each Pennsylvania township created an alphabetical census of its inhabitants and the real property they owned on October 1, 1798. Newly surveyed, Waynesburg was a part of Franklin Township with two lists: (1) dwellings valued over $100 and (2) all real property including dwellings valued at $100 or less.  These were simply “Land,” with no information about windows or building material.

When what later officially became Waynesburg Borough in 1816 was laid out in a grid of uniform streets and alleys in 1796, 201 town lots were created, each 10,800 square feet. Although quickly sold, many were purchased by land speculators who did not construct houses.

According to the Direct Tax Survey of 1798, there were 19 occupied dwellings in “Waynesburgh”, as it was described, with another eight under construction. The dwellings ranged from a tiny cabin of 160 square feet to a large tavern of 2,400 square feet, and values ranged from $24 to $600.

One-Room House near Higbee, Aleppo Township, Greene County, photographed in 1973, similar to Waynesburg's earliest  log cabins and houses. Courtesy Prof. Henry Glassie of Indiana University.

The data in these surveys remind us that houses were much smaller in 1798 with the fireplace and hearth taking a disproportionate amount of space. Dark and cramped, these dwellings afforded little or no privacy.

Plan of One-Room House near Higbee, drawn for study of early log structures in Greene County, PA. 1973.

The first series of columns on the Direct Tax ($100 and under), lists three “cabins” and three “houses” with both occupant and owner named. The smallest “cabin” was owned and lived in by tanner Andrew Dodd. Located at the NW corner of Franklin and Findley Alley, it was valued at $30 including a tan yard and stable. The other five dwellings were rented.

Two cabins of 240 square feet were listed as “occupied”. One, a rustic cabin owned by David Owens, sheltered Richard Phelan, the town’s mason, who constructed some of the massive sandstone foundations that support Waynesburg’s historic buildings today. 

Christian Tarr of Fayette County, an early pottery entrepreneur, built a cabin on the SE corner of High and Whiskey Alley where potter Nicholas Hager lived and worked, selling to Hager in 1803. Meanwhile, Jacob Hager, brother of Nicholas, opened a second pottery shop across the alley. Early potters made bricks as well as housewares so it is likely that the Hagers contributed to some of Waynesburg’s first brick buildings.

Survey shows Nathaniel Jennings renting from Patrick Martin.

Among the three occupied “houses” valued at $100 or less, one was owned by Patrick Martin, a Revolutionary War hero who had served under Col. Anthony Wayne. It was occupied by Nathaniel Jennings, a carpenter, who with his brother Benjamin, also a carpenter, is credited with building many of the first buildings in Waynesburg including the Eclipse Theatre that I wrote about last month.

Ananias Conkling (Conklin) occupied a house owned by Jacob Airhart while David Crawford was the tenant of William Inghram, Esq. The survey does not specify building material nor number of stories for these houses but they were similar in size to the cabins.

Next month I’ll write about the larger log and frame houses valued over $100.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019


This column first appeared in the April 2019 GreeneSPEAK!

The Wilson Building today.

Viewed from West High Street, the former Eclipse Theatre, now Wilson Building, looks like an average office building of the 1930s. But, there’s a lot of history behind its façade of patterned bricks and stepped parapet. From 1912-1954, it was one of two movie theatres in downtown Waynesburg, located side-by-side across Fruit Alley.

This 1929 construction for Charles Silveus was supervised by local architect Thomas S. Knox.
The photo above shows the current façade in construction, ca. 1929. The addition created a wide theatre lobby and ticket office. Later, the openings were enclosed when the building was converted to offices and apartments after the theatre closed in 1954. Inside, nothing of the theatre remains today.

The Eclipse Theatre between 1925-1929 before the facade renovation. The sawtooth brick cornice is a stylistic detail that  appears on other early 19th century buildings in Waynesburg.

Cinematic history began here in 1912 when Charles Silveus opened the “Eclipse Moving Picture Theatre” showing silent movies exclusively. It was a “Nickelodeon,” so called because the price of admission was one nickel. At that time, the Opera House on the other side of Fruit Alley featured mostly live acts, both traveling and local. 

Early view of the Eclipse Theatre entrance. The building next door was replaced in 1925. Site of the C. A. Black house, far left, is now the PNC Bank parking lot.
The Eclipse Theatre, December 22, 1914.  On left, William Gray, assistant picture operator.  In the middle, Ocie Long and on the right, Ellie Tharp, ticket sellers.  Reprinted in "Cornerstone Clues," November 2012.

In 1915, the Eclipse Theatre was extended to include all of the first floor. Six years later, a large brick addition was attached to the rear. It extended to Strawberry Alley, increasing seating to 600. Both projects were supervised by local architect Thomas S. Knox who, interestingly, had a second career as the printer of “The Waynesburg Republican” newspaper, owned by his brother.

Theatre card for the Eclipse, December 1917.

Back of same theatre card for the week of Dec. 3, 1917.  Admission-Adults, 15¢; Children, 5¢.

Charlie Silveus continued to run the Eclipse, and later also the Opera House, throughout the silent film era. When “talkies” arrived in 1929, he retired from the industry, selling to Larry Puglia and Rose Pishionery, a brother-sister team. They updated equipment in both theatres, changed the Eclipse façade, renamed it “The Wayne,” and continued to show movies there until 1954. 

Advertisement reprinted in "Cornerstone Clues" November 2012.

Today, Charlie Silveus is considered a pioneer of cinema history. Unusual for his time, he was both theatre operator and filmmaker. With a hand-cranked, 35-mm camera, he captured both important events and every-day life in Waynesburg from 1914 until 1929, showing his films alongside commercial releases at The Eclipse. Miraculously, about an hour and a half of his footage survives, now owned by the Waynesburg Fire Department. With new technology, it’s hoped they can be enhanced and enjoyed by the community.

The R. H. Goldberg Building next door was constructed in 1925.

Returning to the photos, they tell a story far older than the theatre. The building behind the 1929 addition dates to before 1808 when a house on the lot was described in a deed. Its colonial style and gable roof are consistent with the date, as are the handmade bricks. The Jennings brothers were early owners until 1834. One of them, Benjamin, was a carpenter credited with building many of the first houses in Waynesburg. 

Behind the 1929 facade is a remnant of the early 19th century.

Today, you can still see a section of the historic house along Fruit Alley. Like many buildings in Waynesburg, the old Eclipse is full of surprises and tells multiple stories. 

Monday, March 4, 2019


The Sayers Building, Church Street

Prominent Pittsburgh architects T. C. McKee and W. A. Thomas designed two projects for Waynesburg attorney Lewis Wetzel Sayers between 1908 and 1910: a three-story office building and a 10-room addition to his home. While the office building still stands on Church Street, the residence—long known as “Sayers Manor”—is only a memory. Its site is now a parking lot on the Waynesburg University campus.  

Sayers Manor, Wayne & Morris Streets, demolished..  TPS_@_WU.

The office building site on Church Street presented design challenges for the architects because it was surrounded by buildings on three sides. Only the west elevation facing Church Street accommodated windows. With techniques that would today be called “green building,” they maximized the amount of natural light brought into the building with skylights and prism windows. 

The 3-story Sayers Building is in the right corner behind the portico of the Courthouse. " Sayers Corner" is the 2-story building in front. Read about it in my February 2019 blog.  Postcard by W. T. Hays, ca. 1915.
The architects placed a large skylight in the ceiling of the third floor with large glass floor tiles below to direct natural light further into the building. Similarly, they placed glass tiles in the sidewalk above the basement. 

On the first floor, they used ribbed glass panels in transoms above the large shop windows. These panels of rough patterned glass contained angled prisms. As natural light hit the prisms, it was straightened to reach directly into the building, a technique known as “skylighting.” PPG (Pittsburgh Plate Glass) was one of the producers of such panels. 

All of the transoms are ribbed glass with prisms

In typical early 20th-century fashion, the building’s roof is flat and sloped toward the back. The front cornice is decorated with dentils. 

Lewis Wetzel Sayers, son of B. F. Sayers.

Handsome stone lintels adorn the upper windows, carved in the shape of keystones, symbol of the 28th Infantry, Pennsylvania National Guard. One wonders if they honor Sayer’s service in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War when he was the regimental Sergeant Major of Company K.

The A. B. Miller House faced Morris Street. This photo appeared in Fred High's "Waynesburg Prosperous & Beautiful,"  1907.

The home L.W. Sayers enlarged at the corner of Morris and Wayne Streets was built by Waynesburg College President A. B. Miller and his wife Margaret Bell Miller shortly after the Civil War in the Gothic Revival style. The exterior was made of bricks fired from clay dug across the street in the Commons.  This created an excavation that later became “Lake Winetta.”  

Sayers Manor viewed from the Commons along Wayne Street looking west.  Steps and pathway on right lead to Lake Winnetta. Photo by William E. S. Fletcher, ca. 1930. Cornerstone Genealogical Society,

Sayers and his wife Sallie acquired the house from her father, A. I. Cooke, who had purchased it from Miller in 1896. Their addition of 1910 added ten rooms to the original nine, creating a palatial mansion that fronted on Wayne Street. The style was Colonial Revival with an exterior of press brick and stone while the interior was richly finished with hardwood paneling, mantels and floors. Waynesburg College acquired the house in the 1940s and used it for many years as a girls’ dormitory, during which time it became known as Sayers Manor. 

Sayers Manor.  Source: TPS_@_WU

Friday, February 1, 2019


Sayers Corner with its red tin roof is prominently located next to the Court House.  The street sign reads: Danger, Run, Slow. Ca. 1915 postcard printed by W. T. Hays.

Long known as “Sayers Corner,” the building at the corner of High and Church Streets dates back to the very beginning of Waynesburg. Much of it is more than 200 years old.  

The two-story building is named for the Sayers family who owned it almost 150 years, beginning in 1840. Long a retail hub, it is one of two early 19th century buildings that have miraculously survived in downtown Waynesburg. The other is the Messenger Building located a block away at the corner of High and Washington. 

Sayers & Hoskinson sold dry goods across the street from the Court House which is being renovated in this ca. 1876 photo.  Greene County Historical Society, gift of Miss Catherine Sayers.

Sayers Corner is best appreciated from across High Street near First Federal where one can observe that the front and side wings, although both brick, are not the same height. The shorter wing along Church Street is older, dating to 1808-1812. From its front room, innkeeper Robert Cathers enlisted men to go to Baltimore to fight in the War of 1812.  

 By 1825, Sayers Corner had gained its current appearance when innkeeper Thomas Hoskinson erected the main wing facing High Street. His establishment was described as a “Tavern Stand” in an early advertisement. In the days before paved roads, this was one of many inns in Waynesburg that accommodated residents of outlying townships who were conducting business at the county seat.

In his landmark book, “Early Architecture of Western Pennsylvania” (1936), author Charles Morse Stotz described colonial structures like Sayers Corner as “buildings without traditional style”. He wrote:   “These must be counted among the most interesting architectural remains of the district. Their quiet lines and excellent mass are wholly satisfying.”  

Sayers Corner before 1931. Waynesburg scrapbook at Cornerstone Genealogical Society.

 Today, Sayers Corner maintains its colonial look despite having had its bricks painted, windows replaced and storefront entrances expanded. 

William Wood (W.W.) Sayers was the first of his family to own the building beginning in 1840. He lived on the second floor with his wife and seven children while operating the inn plus his primary business, a stone and marble yard next door on Church Street. His partner was Simon Rinehart. Known in later years as “Uncle Billy”, he owned other real estate with his brother Ezra M. Sayers, an attorney. According to his 1886 obituary, W. W. owned three-fourths of the town at one time or another.

Early photo of Court House (ca. 1860) shows Sayers & Rinehart marble yard to the right on Cider Alley (today Church Street).

 By 1866, if not earlier, the corner room had become “Sayers & Hoskinson,” a dry goods store. Partner George Hoskinson’s father had built this wing fronting High Street 40 years earlier. George Hoskinson and W. W. Sayers were cousins, grandsons of Robert Adams, one of the first settlers of Waynesburg.

Sayers Corner looking west, some time after 1926. Patterson & Milliken and J. R. Cross Groceries/Confectionary are advertised. Photo by William E. S. Fletcher,

Moving ahead to 1896, the corner storefront was “Morris & Sayers” advertising that they clothed head and foot.  While the shoe department was managed by Lewis Wetzel Sayers, a grandson of W.W., Mrs. Henrietta Morris supervised millinery. She was one of the first women engaged in business in Greene County. At the same time, the other large storefront on High Street was the Silveus & Sayers bicycle shop. Years later, it was Joe Riggs Sporting Goods Store, site of my first job during high school selling Pendleton wool. 

Next month, I’ll write about the innovative 3-story office building that in 1908 rose from the site of the old Sayers & Rinehart marble yard, and the architect who designed it.

Here's another one-time occupant of Sayers Corner:

The painted letters on the right (corner) window mark the first location of Peoples Bank-- from its founding in 1897 until it completed in 1907 its own office building across High Street.

The interior of People Bank in its Sayers Corner location. "Waynesburg Prosperous and Beautiful," Fred High, 1907.


Wednesday, December 5, 2018


South Washington Street ca. 1922 with Helphenstine Building on the left. Courthouse dome is in the background.

From 19th century tin shop to 21st century law office, diverse businesses have occupied the southeast corner of Washington Street and Cherry Alley, long known as the Helphenstine Building. 

The building’s history began in 1834 when William A. Helphenstine, an accomplished tin- and coppersmith, came to Waynesburg and set up shop to handcraft housewares and construction materials. He married a local girl, Elizabeth Piatt, and together they reared eight children in a frame house next door that in 1865 was described as a “dwelling and front room occupied as tin shop.”

Some experts believe this photo shows the Greene County Courthouse in construction, 1850-51. Source: Greene County Historical Society,
Detail from previous photo shows man working on the statue of General Greene. Could it be W. A. Helphenstine?

Among his more significant local projects was the new (1850-1851) Courthouse where William roofed the copper dome and lined the hat in General Greene’s hand. An 1868 ad in the  “Waynesburg Republican” promoted his sale of cooking, heating and parlor stoves, tin, copper and sheet iron wares, and spouting and roofing at “the old stand south of the Sheriff’s House.” Four sons joined him in the trade. 

In 1882 eldest son Amon Piatt Helphenstine erected the present building on the stone foundation of the earlier frame house.

The new Helphenstine Building had a large storefront on the left next to Cherry Alley with the family residence on the right.  The whiskey sign predates a strong local prohibition movement. Source:Waynesburg Borough, 

The 1882 building was Italianate in style, featuring a low pitched roof with elaborate brick corbelling under the cornice and recessed bricks in a cross pattern. Ornately carved stone lintels topped the windows and doors and on the second floor there was a wrought iron balcony that survived until 1967. 

View from High Street shows on left: Sheriff's House, Helphenstine Building and spire of the United Methodist Church, long gone. Source: Greene County Historical Society,
Sanburn fire insurance maps from 1886-1925 identify a variety of rental uses in the new storefront: “Liquors” in 1886, the “Waynesburg Independent” newspaper printing plant in 1891, and the store of W. T. Hays in 1901. He sold books, wallpaper, stationery, postcards, children’s toys and rotary sewing machines. By 1908 a frame building had been added in the rear for printing plus a bicycle repair shop run by his son James Hays. 

One of many postcards printed and sold by W. T. Hays at his shop in the Helphenstine Building.
The onset of the automobile era brought with it the opening in 1919 of a battery shop that sold Willard products, but recharged all brands. 

In 1922, car dealer Charles P. Meighen purchased the site from the Helphenstines and used it to showcase now long forgotten models such as Scripps-Booth, Durant-Dort and ReoSpeedWagon. 

A ReoSpeedWagon from 1917 advertisement. wikimedia

During his brief ownership Meighen added two garage doors on the alley and a ramp from Washington Street. Today, the garage doors are once again windows but the basement garage remains a large open space. The “Fresh Ground Coffee” sign above the ramp remains from another former tenant, a wholesale food business. 

Former garage doors are now windows.  Front ramp was added in 1976.

When Harry Cummings bought the building in 1925, he replaced the rear frame addition with brick and remodeled the apartments. His estate sold the property in 1976 when it became the “Jury Box,” a popular bar/restaurant. More recently, it has been a gymnasium/rehab center and office space for State Representative Bill DeWeese, Jacobs Petroleum and now Pollock Morris Law Firm. 

The Helphenstine Building today.

 Dave Pollock has owned the building since 1982 and generously helped with this article.