By Mary Spicer
It was a snowy February day when Steven Utz first laid eyes on Meadville’s Diamond Park. As he recalls the moment, it was love at first sight.
“I was really taken by that right away — that the heart of Meadville is this incredible diamond with a beautiful piece of architecture all the way around it,” he said, a smile lighting his face at the memory. “There was 12 to 18 inches of snow, and I just wanted to stand in that space for a long time. I decided, ‘Yeah, it would be fine if my wife wanted to come to work here.’ ”
His wife, Caryl Waggett, now an assistant professor of environmental science at Allegheny College, thought it was a fine idea, too. Utz, whose area of academic expertise is architecture, soon discovered the Diamond wasn’t Meadville’s only incredible feature.
“It was very evident when I came to town that there really needed to be something like a book or a handout that really explained the value of these architectural styles in our town,” he explained, noting with delight that Meadville has become “our town” to him after only two and a half years on the scene. “It’s really unique for one place to have so many different styles.”
Working together with local historian Anne W. Stewart of the Crawford County Historical Society and architectural historian Diane Shafer Graham, an adjunct professor of architectural history at Allegheny and member of the governing board of Preservation Pennsylvania, Utz has filled the void.
“Meadville’s Architectural Heritage,” a 128-page history of Meadville as seen through its architecture, is now on sale. Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the collaborators will participate in the historical society’s annual Holiday Book Fair in the President’s Room, Crawford County Historical Society, Helene Barco-Duratz Cultural Center, 411 Chestnut St.
Depending on your perspective, Meadville’s lack of a distinctive “look” — a la picturesque New England fishing villages, rough-and-tumble frontier settlements and all manner of eye-catching styles in between — could be counted as a plus or a minus. Utz, Stewart and Graham come down hard on the plus side.
Back in the day, Stewart explained, it was customary for people who were moving to pretty much take their whole village along with them. Religious and ethnic groups also tended to move en masse, and when they settled down, they proceeded to re-build the little New England town they came from. When Meadville founder David Mead headed west from Connecticut by way of New York State and Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley, however, he brought along a group of nine distinct individuals.
“The people who came with him were not only from different backgrounds, but he found it necessary to go out and recruit people to come out and live here who could do all the things that needed to be done so that we could survive,” Stewart explained. “The melting pot has been here since the beginning, and it’s been a religious melting pot as well as an ethnic one.”
A majority of the buildings featured in the book still exist, Utz added. “It was interesting to see how they’ve changed over the years. A lot of the captions in the book will explain their uses — and how those uses have also changed over the years.”
Meadville is a city that has saved bits and pieces of its best architecture from the very beginning.
“We can go practically from the end of the 18th century right up to Postmodernism,” Graham said. “That’s what makes it so interesting — plus we have all these records, whether the buildings are still here or not.”
Utz is fascinated by the various ways in which Meadville’s old buildings have been preserved. “Adding a new facade to an already-magnificent piece of architecture is a method of preservation, but it’s not always the most favored approach,” he said with a smile.
“It’s all about looking above eye level,” Stewart agreed. “As you walk down Chestnut Street, look above you and see what the building really is.”
Before coming to Meadville from Oakland, Calif., Utz worked in Emporia, Kan., documenting the estate of William Allen White (1864-1944), a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and owner of the Emporia Gazette. Since arriving in the summer of 2003, he has studied the architectural needs of the community on behalf of Crawford County Coalition on Housing Needs and Meadville Redevelopment Authority; in 2004, he was awarded a three-year Frederick P. Rose Architectural Fellowship. Utz also serves on several advisory committees for the City of Meadville.
In collecting the images, the team worked closely with Meadville-area graphic designer Jonathan (Jed) Miller.
“Meadville’s Architectural Heritage” is the team’s first book, but they don’t expect it to be their last. The volume is Meadville’s second entry in Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series and Cambridge Springs, Conneaut Lake and Titusville also have their own volumes. “Wouldn’t it be nice to do the whole county,” Stewart said. “We would really like to do enough volumes focusing on our smaller communities that Crawford County is covered.”
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
YOU CAN GO....
Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Crawford County Historical Society will present its annual Holiday Book Fair in the President’s Room at the Helene Barco-Duratz Cultural Center, 411 Chestnut St.
Authors Steven Utz, Anne Stewart and Diane Shafer Graham will be on hand to sign copies of the just-released “Meadville’s Architectural Heritage.” Other books in Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series featuring Cambridge Springs, Conneaut Lake, Meadville and Titusville will also be for sale, as will an assortment of other books of local interest.
Refreshments, a working model train, music, gifts, prints and French Creek Valley Railroad Historical Society shirts will also be available.
n “Meadville’s Architectural Heritage” may also be purchased at Chestnut Street locations including Loeffler’s Flowers, Tattered Corners Used Book Store and Jack’s Pharmacy; Sandy’s European Market Place on Park Avenue; In Phase in the Downtown Mall; and George’s Jewelry in Park Avenue Plaza. The volume is also available through a variety of online bookstores or through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com or (888) 313-2665. The price is $19.99.
n A variety of brochures featuring historic sites, markers, monuments and plaques; historic structures; and a walking tour of Diamond Park are available free at various locations including the Meadville City Building, 984 Water St.
By Mary Spicer