Latrobe lies at the base of Chestnut Ridge, the westernmost ridge of the Allegheny Mountains. Although the town is situated just north of the historic Forbes Road, its development is closely tied to the subsequent rise of the railroad in the 1850s. Oliver Barnes, a civil engineer and agent of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), purchased the Thomas Kirk farm in 1851, built rail lines across it, and then laid out lots on the flat plain adjacent to Loyalhanna Creek. He named the town for his classmate and friend Benjamin Henry Latrobe Jr., an engineer for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and son of the eminent architect. Three years later, the town became a borough. By the late 1870s, a second rail line, built by the Mellon family, extended into Ligonier Valley from Latrobe. Increased passenger traffic led to the construction of a handsome, eclectic, c. 1903 passenger station and support buildings on McKinley Avenue, designed by the Pennsylvania Railroad's chief engineer William H. Brown. In 1904, Latrobe became a stop on the interurban trolley line that linked many isolated coal patch towns. By the 1930s, Latrobe had become a center of alloy steel production and home to the Latrobe Brewing Company, manufacturer of Rolling Rock Beer until 2006, when the company was purchased by City Brewing.
Two iconic figures are native sons of Latrobe: Fred Rogers of public television children's program fame, who in his youth was a member of the brick Romanesque Revival Latrobe Presbyterian Church (1891–1892) designed by William Kauffman at 428 Main Street, and professional golfer Arnold Palmer, whose name is attached to the local airport. Rogers's boyhood home of Colonial Revival style stands at 737 Weldon Street. Other notable buildings in town include the Queen Anne–inspired Samuel Miller house at 414 Baker Hill Road, which reflects the exuberance of the late-nineteenth-century railroad era. The majority of the suburban streets are lined with modest houses dating from 1900 to 1960. The multistory brick and stone veneer business and commercial district includes the 1892 iron-fronted Columbus Building at 908 Ligonier Street and the six-story Classical Revival Bank Building of 1926 at 816 Ligonier Street by Bartholomew and Smith.
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