Wednesday, February 11, 2015

HAYS-HAMILTON-MESSENGER BUILDING

This article was originally published in August 2014 edition of GreeneSPEAK!


The newly named Messenger Building was featured in a full page illustration in Caldwell’s Historical Atlas of Greene County, 1876. Of particular interest is the basement Barber Shop at the corner of High and Washington, and its proprietor, Ermin Cain, Waynesburg’s Underground Railroad Station Master. (Source: Caldwell's Atlas of Greene County, Pennsylvania, 1876)

The History

Best known today as Mickey’s or the former Army-Navy Store, the Hays-Hamilton-Messenger Building is the most significant of Waynesburg’s remaining pre-Civil War buildings, second only to the Court House and located in the same block. As early as 1804, the first Post Office in the town and county was on this site in the home of John Wilson. It is probable that Wilson’s small brick house is part of the building that exists today.

In September 1849, it hosted the first classes of Waynesburg College while the school’s first building, Hanna Hall, was erected. In the same decade before the Civil War, a barber shop in the basement was headquarters of Waynesburg’s Underground Railroad. According to oral tradition, a tunnel running under the building was used by escaping slaves.

During the Civil War, military recruits reported to the second floor of the building to begin their service. At war’s end, on July 4, 1865, the building hosted a gala banquet for 400 returning veterans and their families. At that time, it was known as Hamilton House.

In 1875, William Thompson Hays Pauley, owner and editor of Greene County’s oldest newspaper, The Waynesburg Messenger, attached a large frame addition for his office and printing plant. It was called the “Messenger Building,” a name that soon spread to the rest of the building. The following year (1876), both exterior and interior views were included in Caldwell’s Historical Atlas of Greene County. The frame addition was demolished in 1987.

In the 1920s, the building changed again with the addition of a leaded glass frieze and marble wainscoting in the Art Deco style. Since 1887, prominent retailers who have occupied the corner storefront have included E. L. Denny Hardware, Barney Grossman (“the king clothier”), Harrison & Cohen and the Army and Navy Store beginning in 1937.


In this undated photo, the Waynesburg College Class of 1929 gathers on North Washington Street to dedicated a plaque stating, “On the second floor of a building occupying this site the first classes of Waynesburg College were held in September 1849 pending the erection of the first college building.” The whereabouts of the plaque today are unknown.

The Architecture

The Hays-Hamilton-Messenger Building is significant as a remaining—and increasingly rare—example of early 19th century architecture in Western Pennsylvania. There were at least four major phases of construction before 1876. It started out as a small, 2-story, 3-bay house, built at the same time as the first brick court house, ca. 1800. Brick has always been the prevalent building material on High Street. As early as 1799, a potter was living and working on High Street, making bricks for the new town.

In the 1820-30s, as the town’s economy grew, key buildings surrounding the court house were expanded to accommodate court and retail business or to provide shelter and meals for those who could not travel to and from the county seat in one day. This first wave of growth included the John Wilson house when it was inherited by his daughter Sarah and her husband, William Thompson Hays. They added 5-bays and an extra story to create a monumental Federal design adorned with characteristic triple windows in the center of the upper facade and gable curtains at either end of the roof connecting pairs of chimneys.

The town’s next major building boom happened in 1850-51 when the current Court House and Hanna Hall were constructed at the same time by the same craftsmen. These skilled bricklayers and carpenters also erected a major hotel addition for the Hays Building that included brick walls visible today along North Washington Street and a distinctive cross-gable on the High Street fa├žade.

In summary, the Hays-Hamilton-Messenger Building has been an important anchor structure in Waynesburg for more than 200 years. It’s witnessed a lot of local history.
Published in 1843, this is the earliest known sketch of Waynesburg.  It shows the first brick

Court House (built 1800) on the left and on the right, private dwellings that housed taverns and shops. While the majority of the buildings are 2-stories dating back to ca. 1800-1810,  the Hays Building had already been expanded to a 3-story Federal design.

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