Named for Stephen Girard, the Philadelphia financier who owned land in the area, Girard was incorporated in 1846. With soil deposited from ancient glaciers and a climate tempered by Lake Erie, fruit production thrives in the region. Because of its convenient location along the main ridge road west from Erie (U.S. 20), Girard served as a commercial center for the area's prosperous farms. Stagecoach lines took goods farther west to Cleveland, and after 1844, the Erie Extension Canal that ran along the eastern shore of Elk Creek allowed cargo to be off-loaded in Girard for shipment to Ohio. From the 1840s to the 1860s, two skilled carpenters who specialized in board-and-batten construction, Erastus Slater and Phillip Osborn, built dozens of houses in the village, many of which have survived on Myrtle, Walnut, Locust, and Main streets. The Homer Hart house of 1854 (404 Main Street) is a fine example, with bracketed eaves, corner boards, and a pedimented gable end.
In 1854, famous comedian and circus owner Dan Rice began a twenty-year ritual of wintering his exotic circus animals in Girard. While today's circuses winter in warmer climes, in the early nineteenth century, it was thought that keeping horses, elephants, and camels in a cooler climate during the winter increased their hardiness in the spring. By 1871, three circuses were using Girard as a winter base. Rice commissioned Leonard Volk of Chicago to design one of the earliest Civil War monuments in the nation, a small stone obelisk, which was dedicated on November 1, 1865, with 10,000 people in attendance.
Rail service opened in 1882 north of Girard, and in 1891, another rail line was built along the path of the abandoned canal. In 1902, interurban trolleys gave Girard residents access to Conneaut, Ohio, and to Buffalo, continuing the borough's role as a transportation hub. A pair of handsome, red brick Romanesque Revival churches, First Presbyterian (1892; Main and Church streets) and the United Methodist Church (1863; 48 Main Street E), illustrate the prosperity of the rail era. The Girard Dinor [ sic] (1913; 222 Main Street W), with its barrel-vaulted roof, may be the oldest prefabricated diner still operating in the state, according to historian Brian Butko in Diners of Pennsylvania (1999).
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