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.


Friday, November 2, 2018


Aerial view (1971) of the church and rectory, on left.

The site of St. Ann Church is even more historic than its 1871 building. From 1799 until today, the Roman Catholic diocese has owned the corner of High and Cumberland Streets.    

While some historians described a simple log chapel on the site ca. 1800, others said there was no early building and the few Catholics in Waynesburg worshipped in private homes. The truth is lost in time.  What is known is that in 1817 a traveling priest wrote to the Bishop of Baltimore: “There is scarcely a Catholic in Waynesburg and very few in the neighboring county. Of course there is scarcely any prospect of building a church there for several years.”

We do know that a chapel of hand-made bricks, begun in 1832 and completed in 1839, was dedicated to St. Ann. It, however, became unstable and within 20 years, in the 1850’s, services resumed in private homes. 

The church in 1903.The large log house on the left was replaced in 1924 by the Reed/Clendenning House, today the Rectory. Photo by Gilbert Hays. Source:greene

In 1870-71, a period of prosperity after the Civil War, the present sanctuary was erected at the same time as the Downey House, Opera House and Hook/Morgan Building (which the author recently renovated).

The church today.
The style of St. Ann Church is Victorian Gothic Revival. Tall lancet windows inside pointed arches are on the side elevations, separated by brick pilasters that function as faux columns, repeating a design device used twenty years earlier at the Courthouse and Hanna Hall.

Transom over entrance doors is today hidden by a porch roof.  In this early view, one wonders if it is awaiting stained glass. Pilasters adorn the front and sides of the building. Source: St. Ann Church Centennial brochure, 1971.

The sole window in front is a large rosette of decorative stained glass with pairs of pilasters on either side. Brick corbels project under the cornice to support roof beams. An octagonal belfry tops the steeply pitched gable roof, crowned by a pyramidal spire and cross. Inside, an antique bell rings regularly with beautiful tone. 

An early 20th century postcard view of the interior. Source:

During its nearly 150-year history, as might be expected, the church building has been expanded and remodeled several times. On the exterior, double entrance doors, a covered porch and ornamental iron trim are newer additions. The 20th century also brought more stained glass windows. 

The interior today.

Contemporary view of side wing added to the sanctuary in the 20th century.

In 1897, the congregation erected a rectory along Cherry Alley after the arrival of its first resident priest. Major additions in 1934 and 1967 added two wings to the sanctuary, a rear parish hall and classrooms. 

First rectory, built 1897. View from Cumberland Street.
Today’s rectory is the former home/office of Dr. William Clendenning which the church purchased in 1975. It was built in 1925-26 by William K. Reed, a local contractor and Waynesburg Borough engineer, for his wife Jane (Ross) Reed. At the same time, Reed’s company was excavating foundations for the new Ft. Jackson Hotel and Silveus Buildings following the tragic Downey House fire.   

The Rectory, formerly Reed/Clendenning House.

Typical of the 1920s, the house plan is irregular with wide overhanging eaves, strong horizontal lines, and limited ornamentation in the Prairie style of architecture developed by Frank Lloyd Wright. This example of early “modern” design features a low slate roof and squat dormers with many windows grouped in twos and threes. The entrance is covered with a bay porch.

Both the church and rectory are important contributors to the architectural integrity of downtown Waynesburg. I commend the congregation for their continuing care.

Saturday, October 6, 2018


This column first appeared in the October 2018 issue of "GreeneSPEAK!"

The Waynesburg Semi-Weekly Messenger published this view of St. Ann Church in 1903.

Since the founding of Waynesburg more than 200 years ago, one lot has always had the same owner, St. Ann Roman Catholic Church. The southeast corner of High and Cumberland Streets was called Lot #136 in the original surveyor’s plan. Purchased in November 1799 by Rev. Patrick Lonergan, a missionary priest from County Donegal, Ireland, it has never been sold.

Father Lonergan had a dream of establishing a colony for Irish Catholics in southwestern Pennsylvania. After crossing the mountains from eastern Pennsylvania, he arrived in June 1795 at the first Catholic settlement in this corner of the state, a chapel in Westmoreland County now known as St. Vincent’s Arch Abbey.

According to early church histories, he did not stay long.  With a few Irish families, he went first to Donegal Township in Washington County where he bought several thousand acres. He asked the Bishop in Baltimore, John Carroll, to direct Irish Catholic settlers to him “as they would enjoy all the benefits of religion.” 

Soon thereafter disappointed with the quality of the land, he adjusted his sights to Waynesburg where for $217 he bought four lots on Greene Street plus the church lot on High Street.  

At this time, there were few Roman Catholics living in southwestern Pennsylvania, the closest chapel being the Jacob’s Creek colony near Connellsville, Fayette County. 

Accompanied by his sister, a nun, Father Lonergan planned to build a chapel in Waynesburg for his Franciscan order and a convent.  

It was fascinating for this writer to discover that from 1799 to 1801, Waynesburg had a resident priest who ministered to a scattered flock as far away as Pittsburgh and Butler County while Pittsburgh did not have a resident priest until 1808.

A letter in the Greene County Deed Book No. 1 explains what happened to Father Lonergan after he failed to build a chapel or convent in Waynesburg. In September 1801, he wrote to Bishop Carroll that although he had previously committed to staying in “Pittsburg,” he was now compelled by “extreme distress” to abandon his design, and planned to return to Europe with a friend. He sent the deeds to the five Waynesburg lots to Bishop Carroll. They were never recorded in Bishop Carroll’s name, but the letter was and the property continues today to be owned by the Roman Catholic Church.

Father Lonergan did not go to Europe. Instead, after a brief stay at the Catholic colony in Donegal Township, Butler County, he travelled down the Mississippi to a parish assignment in the Red River Valley of Louisiana. He died in New Orleans in 1804, at the age of 52. 

No record exists of what his followers did next, but it’s doubtful they stayed in Waynesburg.  In 1816, a visiting priest wrote: “There is scarcely a Catholic in Waynesburg and very few in the neighboring county.”

Father Lonergan’s attraction to Waynesburg may be explained by what happened 30 years earlier. One of my ancestors, Felix Hughes, led four Catholic families to Greene County, settling near Carmichaels.  As early as 1771, they petitioned the Bishop for pastoral care, but no traveling priest was available. There’s no doubt they would have been supportive of Father Lonergan’s plan and disappointed when it failed.
Next month, I’ll write about the buildings of St. Ann.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018


This column first appeared in the May 2018 issue of GreeneSPEAK!

The Wiley Armory today

How well I remember Waynesburg’s Memorial Day Parades of the 1950s, full of marching troops, bands and floats. My grandmother, Mrs. Asa G. Wiley, was one of the Gold Star mothers who wore a corsage and rode in a convertible. People cried when they passed by. Too young to understand, I later realized that they were honoring her loss of a son in World War II, my uncle, Capt. Robert C. Wiley, for whom the Armory is named.

 His widow, Rona (Tuttle) Wiley, was the borough tax collector at that time. My family and I watched the parade from her second floor office windows near the police station.  

American Legion James Farrell Post No. 330 Drum and Bugle Corps ca. 1928. Photo courtesy of Waynesburg Borough.

Uncle Bob had first enlisted in Waynesburg’s storied Company K of the Pennsylvania National Guard while attending Waynesburg College in the 1920s. The Armory on North Washington Street was their training site.
Captain Robert C. Wiley.  Photo courtesy of his sister, Margaret Wiley Morgan.

When Company K mobilized in February 1941, Uncle Bob was 34 years old, married and the father of a son, considerably older than the other volunteers whom he supervised. But, he was unwilling to abandon “his boys,” many of whom he had taught and coached at local high schools. He left Waynesburg as the First Sergeant of Company K, and within two years was company commander. Company K was part of the Pennsylvania 28th Division. After extensive training stateside, they deployed to Europe in September 1943 and joined the Normandy invasion in July 1944. 

On August 9, 1944, in a fierce battle with the Germans near St. Lo, most of his officers were killed or wounded. Despite being severely wounded, he continued to lead until he was killed by a sniper four days later. Posthumously, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest award for valor.

Early postcard view.

When constructed in 1914, the Waynesburg Armory was the finest public structure in Greene County, one of 20 built across the state. The legislature had appropriated $30,000 for its construction by W. L. Blair & Sons of Waynesburg. Earlier, Company K had been headquartered on the third floor of the Ross Building on South Morris Street, today Hot Rod’s restaurant.

1950's view, courtesy of Waynesburg Borough.

The all-brick armory had a two-story administrative wing in front and large drill hall in the rear.  The  low-pitched, steel truss roof had wide overhanging eaves, typical of the Prairie style of architecture developed in the Mid-West at that time by architects Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Plaque above entrance door.

Commissioned officer rooms, lockers and dressing facilities were on the main floor with a community lending library and amusement room above, and in the basement, kitchen, showers and steam heating plant. The large drill hall was 60 x 75 feet with an 18-foot arched ceiling and wood floor. It was used for many community events including early Waynesburg College basketball games. It was named the Robert C. Wiley Armory in 1999. 

For almost a century, Wiley Armory housed an Army or National Guard unit until the last occupant, Company B of the 110th Infantry, moved to a new “Readiness Center” in Evergreene Technology Park outside of town in 2010. Waynesburg University purchased the old armory and renovated it, retaining the Wiley name. It is now used for administrative offices and university athletics.
Wiley Armory is now owned by Waynesburg University.