Punxsutawney is both the oldest and the largest town in the county. Reverend David Barclay laid it out in a grid pattern along Big Mahoning Creek c. 1818, and it was organized as a borough in 1851. The name is derived from the Native American words meaning “town of ponkies” (floating ashes). The Lenni Lenape called it the “Town of Sandflies,” or Ponks-ad-u-te-ny.
On the second day of February every year since 1886, the residents of Punxsutawney reenact the German custom of Candlemas. They pull a groundhog from his lair, and if he sees his shadow and runs back into his lair, there will be six more weeks of winter. Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog, lives in a special cage in the library for the rest of the year (1974; 301 E. Mahoning Street). The movie Groundhog Day (1993) brought a national audience to the event, but the town was not allowed to portray itself on screen; Woodstock, Illinois, was chosen for movie immortality. To bolster civic pride and add color and humor to the commercial district, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club and Northwest Pennsylvania's Great Outdoors Visitors' Bureau sponsored the placement around town of thirty-two, six-foot-tall fiberglass Phantastic Phil groundhogs, painted by area artists.
Mahoning Street (PA 36) follows the creek along an east–west route. At 135 E. Mahoning Street, the red brick, four-story Pantall Hotel (1888) facing Barclay Square is one of the largest buildings in town. The addition of a McDonald's restaurant in the middle of the commercial district in 1996 brought life back from the strip malls just west and south of town. Several adaptive reuse projects are reinvigorating the commercial district in the twenty-first century, including the former Eberhart Building (1902; S. Findlay Street at W. Mahoning Street), a three-story brick building with corbeling at the cornice that is being reused as classrooms and offices by Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Mahoning Street farther west is lined with substantial residences dating from the 1870s to the 1920s. The Christian Miller House (c. 1878; 233 W. Mahoning Street) is a frame Italianate house with paired brackets, segmental-arched windows, and elaborate window surrounds. The Punxsutawney Area Historical and Genealogical Society is housed in two former residences: the former E. C. McKibbon House (1901–1903; 401 W. Mahoning Street) designed by Green and Wicks with elements from several turn-of-the-twentieth-century revival styles, including Tudor Revival, Colonial Revival, and Shingle; and the Lattimer House (c. 1880; 400 W. Mahoning Street), a red brick Italianate. The stone Gothic Revival First United Methodist Church of 1899–1900 by Charles M. Robinson (301 W. Mahoning Street) has the first documented windows by the Willet Stained Glass Company of Pittsburgh. The Ohio sandstone Gothic Revival Sts. Cosmos and Damian Roman Catholic Church (1939–1942; 616 W. Mahoning Street) was designed by George Wesley Stickle of the Cleveland firm Stickle and Associates.
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