Butler was laid out in 1803 on a hillside above Conoquenessing Creek on land donated by John and Samuel Cunningham. Butler flourished immediately. By 1805, there were five taverns, followed by churches: Presbyterian (1815), Roman Catholic (1822), Episcopal (1824), and United Methodist (1827). John Negley established a woolen factory and carding works in 1810, the William Borland brickyard was established in 1823, and iron and steel manufacturing began in the 1840s. The fastest growth occurred during the late-nineteenth-century oil boom. North Main and N. McKean streets are lined with large Second Empire, Italianate, and Queen Anne houses built with oil wealth, notably the brick, Second Empire house for William Timblin (c. 1874; 6 W. Diamond Street), now occupied by law offices. The grandest of the houses built by an oil heir is the forty-room Tudor Revival Elm Court ( BU11).
During the first half of the twentieth century, manufacturing plants for railcars, automobiles, and the Bantam Jeep, of World War II fame, sustained the city's prosperity. Butler's industrial base declined after the war, the steel industry floundered, and the oil wells ran dry. Despite this, the downtown business district remains alive with the activities of the county seat.
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