Union City Signage Celebrates National Register Designation

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Photo: “Union City Borough Secretary Cindy Wells and Union City Pride president Dave Nothum, with one of the new signs designating Union City’s National Register historic district.”

The installation of five new signs in Union City could surprise residents who may have been unaware they live in a historic district that’s listed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.

Nonprofit Union City Pride, in collaboration with the Union City Community Foundation, Preservation Erie, and Union City Borough, recently had the five signs installed at key entry points to the historic district that includes West High Street between First and Third avenues; South Street between First and Fourth avenues; and First, Second and Third avenues between West High and South streets.

Union City’s historic district – which was approved by the National Park Service in 1990 – also includes Main Street between High Street and Concord Street, although that area was not included in the current signage initiative.

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation, according to the National Park Service’s website. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Register is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.

Melinda Meyer, president of Preservation Erie, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Erie County’s architectural history, said Union City’s historic district is one of seven in Erie County. In the City of Erie they include West Park Place, the West 21st Street historic district, and the West 6th Street historic district.

There are also National Register historic districts in Lawrence Park, Waterford and North East, and National Register nominations are in-process for Girard and Corry.

The designation alone does not impose restrictions on property owners, nor does it necessarily preserve a property in the future, said Meyer. It can, however, bolster community pride and, by raising awareness of the value or significance of historic properties, encourage their ongoing care and preservation.

Meyer said the Union City historic district National Register nomination was prepared some three decades ago by John Claridge, who was the director of the Erie County Historical Society at the time and a founding member of Preservation Erie.

The historical society and the Erie County Department of Planning had a strong partnership and were responsible for preparing and submitting a handful of National Register nominations in the 1980s and 1990s, Meyer noted.

Union City Borough employees installed the signs, and Borough Secretary Cindy Wells said it’s another example of what makes Union City a special place to live.

“I hope residents realize the history there is in the borough and that they are proud to live in a community such as Union City,” she said.

Dave Nothum, president of the board of Union City Pride, said the historic district signage should bring positive attention from anyone interested in history, including residents who live in the district.

“I hope we have enough new members of our community who are not completely aware of our history, and that these signs will encourage them to investigate that history further,” he said.

Union City’s original National Register nomination document notes the historic district – including the downtown portion – contained commercial, industrial and residential buildings primarily erected between 1865 and 1925.

The overall historic district at the time of the application in the late 1980s included 128 buildings, some of which have since been lost to fire and other factors. Of those original 128 buildings, 17 were erected between 1865 and 1879; 58 between 1880 and 1892; 41 between 1893 and 1925; and 12 since 1925.

The residential portion of the district had 68 contributing buildings. Sixty-three of them were two- or 2 ½-story frame buildings, along with two brick, one stucco, and two combined stone and frame.

The application goes on to say 15 of the houses in the district exhibit mid-19th century architectural influences, primarily Greek Revival and Italianate. The best examples of Greek Revival style, according to the application, were 28 First Avenue; the circa 1865 house at 22 First Ave.; and at 20 W. High St. The use of Italianate design is evident in the house at 4 South St., and the circa 1875 home at 27-29 First Avenue.

The dominant styles in the district are those associated with the late Victorian and early 20th century periods. Among the more popular are Queen Anne, the application states, which is exemplified in the house at 21 South St. with its standing metal seam roof, stylized shingles in the gable ends, decorative window surrounds, and varied clapboard siding. Another Queen Anne building, but also exhibiting certain Stick Style elements in its gable ends, is located at 20 South St.

The Shingle Style Mulkie House, circa 1905, stands at the corner of First Avenue and South Street. It features hipped dormers, and French style shingle roof. The porch columns and foundation are constructed of stone. Next door is a residence of the same age, with Tudor detailing and a hipped roof with dormers in the Tudor Revival style.

Another period house in the district is the circa 1910 Colonial Revival residence at 27 Third Ave. It features a large front porch, elaborate pediment-shape dormers, prominent cornice with dentils and brackets, and pilasters supporting the front dormer.

The 27 W. High St. house, circa 1900, is also of Colonial Revival design, and features a large two-story portico incorporating a pediment and entablature of elaborate decoration.

Built at the same time as the more imposing residences in the district are a number of smaller houses which can be classified as “bungalows,” the application notes. Examples of this type are the circa 1902 house at 28 Second Ave., and the circa 1910 house at 41 W. High St.

Preservation Erie’s Meyer said the National Register designation is not easily obtained.

“The National Register of Historic Places is the nation’s list of important historic buildings, structures, sites, and objects … and Union City is on it,” said Meyer. “Adding a historic resource to the National Register isn’t easy, nor is it guaranteed.

To be considered eligible, she continued, a resource must meet the National Register criteria for evaluation, which involves examining the resource’s significance, age, and integrity, or how much it looks like it did in the past.

Meyer said inclusion on the National Register should be a source of community pride.

“The history of Union City is unique, and it is forever documented on the nation’s list of its most important historic resources,” she said.