Saturday, February 14, 2015


This column first appeared in the December 2014 issue of GreeneSPEAK!

The “Roaring '20s” was a time of economic confidence in Waynesburg and the nation.  During this era, local investors created two monumental Beaux-Arts bank buildings that continue to add grandeur to Waynesburg’s downtown almost 100 years later.   

This article is about First National Bank, originally Citizens National Bank, a building with excellent architectectural credentials.  It was designed in 1922 by the prominent New York City firm of Dennison and Hirons who created many elegant commercial buildings throughout the northeastern United States.  Their other major commission in western Pennsylvania is the 14-story Erie Trust Building, the city’s tallest structure, now known as Renaissance Center.

In a photo dated December 31, 1923, Citizens National Bank nears completion.   Source: Greene County Historical Society & Museum, via

Ethan Allen Dennison and Frederic Charles Hirons met in Paris at Les Ecoles des Beaux Arts, the prestigious international architecture school where America’s best architects gained credentials.  Both had previously studied in the United States, Hirons having graduated from MIT.  Returning to New York City, they began their practice in 1910 with Hirons as primary designer and Dennison as business manager.  Both were leaders of the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects of New York.  Hirons taught architecture at Yale and Columbia and founded the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design.  His portrait hangs in the National Academy of Design.

The Waynesburg men behind Citizens National, Waynesburg’s second oldest bank, founded in 1890, were George Wisecarver, Ezra M. Sayers and Dennis Smith, a Greene Township farmer and stock raiser who moved to Waynesburg in 1903 to become co-owner of Waynesburg Hardware.  Smith was elected bank president in 1908 and served until his death in April, 1921.  It was Smith who negotiated the contract with Dennison and Hirons, and his successor, Carhart Bowlby, who saw the construction through to completion.  When the contract was published in July 1922, for “bank and office building at High & Washington Streets,” the cost was estimated at $275,000.00, almost $4 million today.

About 25 years ago, Andrew Corfont, a bank employee, discovered a photo album documenting the entire construction process from demolition of the early 19th century buildings through steel frame construction.  He placed the photos in the archives of Greene County Historical Society where Candice Buchanan digitized and posted them on her Greene Connections flickr site in the “Waynesburg Series” album.  Two views of this fascinating pictorial record are shown here.

Photographed one month later, this view shows both the office and bank buildings.   In the distance, the Downey House Hotel will be destroyed by fire less than two years later.  Photo source: Greene County Historical Society via

The office building was constructed first, beginning in September 1922.  It has since been demolished but the bank building continues in a good state of preservation.  An excellent example of Hirons’ work, it combines Beaux-Arts principles of symmetry, solidity and monumentality with a modern classicism associated with Art Deco design.  Both the interior and exterior are finished with elegant materials—largely Indiana limestone—detailed in sleek, modern form.  The entrance is framed in brown granite, surrounded by four massive Ionic columns.  Far above the columns, carved griffins add a touch of whimsy to the corners of the frieze.  Appropriately, griffins were believed to guard treasure.  

According to the back of this postcard, the Silveus Dining Room was: “The Elite Dining Parlor of Waynesburg, Pa. where the Elite Meet and Eat and Enjoy the Treat where you always find ‘Good Eats’ and a home-like atmosphere.”   It was located in the bank's office building.  Source: Postcard collection, Teaching with Primary Sources program, Waynesburg University.

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