Clearfield was an early Lenni Lenape village called Chinkleclacamousche, which means “no one lingers here.” Surely a chamber of commerce publicist's nightmare, it was apparently named for a Native American hermit who affected horrifying costumes to frighten returning hunters into dropping their catch, a lazy but crafty person's hunting technique. By 1805, Lancaster native Abraham Whitmer owned the land and laid out the town in regular squares like Philadelphia: east–west streets were given names and north–south streets were numbered. Clearfield became a borough in 1840.
Despite economic reliance on the lumber industry, the principal institutional buildings are mostly brick and stone. Notable are three stone churches: the Gothic Revival Clearfield Presbyterian Church (1867–1869; 119 S. 2nd Street); the Romanesque Revival Trinity United Methodist Church (1870; 121 S. 2nd Street) designed by Henry Baird, a Williamsport architect; and the Gothic Revival St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church (1886–1889; 211 S. 2nd Street). The stone jail (1870; 300 N. 2nd Street) lies several blocks north of the courthouse and, having lost its perimeter stone walls, has been adapted for use as offices. It resembles contemporaneous stone jails at Hollidaysburg ( BL3) and Ebensburg ( CA3) designed by Edward Haviland.
Clearfield's tree-lined streets have large brick and frame houses dating from the 1870s and 1880s, notably in the 100 block of E. Pine Street and the attractive law office at 2 N. Front Street. The combined Municipal Building and Shaw Public Library (1998; 1 S. Front Street) is a recent addition, as is the red brick hall for the Clearfield Campus of Lock Haven University (2001; 201 University Drive).
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