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Mifflinburg

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Once famous as the “Buggy Capital” of Pennsylvania, Mifflinburg was a national center in manufacturing carriages, wagons, and sleighs in the second half of the nineteenth century. This was a logical industry for a town built on the main lines of the turnpikes that connected the county from east to west. From 1841 to 1924 there were seventy-five independently owned buggy shops that at their peak manufactured six thousand vehicles annually for a national market. When Mifflinburg was the Detroit of horse-drawn vehicles, William F. Sterling, A. A. Hopp, and Robert S. Gutelius were the “Big Three.” They made the transition to horsepower by retooling the Mifflinburg Body and Gear Company on 8th and Walnut streets to manufacture wooden truck and station wagon bodies.

Mifflinburg had a slow and complicated start as the uneasy union of two villages founded by rival German land speculators. In 1792, Elias and Catharina Jungman founded Jungmans Stettle, or Youngmanstown, in the heart of Buffalo Valley. They laid out a grid with 60 × 100–foot lots, donated land for a school and a cemetery, and offered discounts for church property. The lots sold so well that in 1797 George Rhoade purchased the neighboring tract and laid out the parallel streets of Rhoadestown. When the villages were incorporated in 1827 as a single town named Mifflinburg (in honor of the first post–Revolutionary War governor of Pennsylvania), their street plans did not mesh. Lanes of varying lengths stitched the villages together between 3rd and 4th streets where the streets suddenly bend. The following year, the square on Market Street lost its commercial purpose when the Lewisburg-Mifflinburg turnpike (PA 45) came through Chestnut Street and businesses relocated there. Mifflinburg languished until after the Civil War when buggy manufacturing regenerated the local economy and stimulated new construction projects.

Mifflinburg's architecture flourished in the latter part of the nineteenth century when ornate Victorian woodwork was lavished on the houses of buggy manufacturers beginning with Daniel B. Miller's improvements to a simple Federal-style town house (1870) at 425 Chestnut Street. The buggy barons' need for ever grander houses produced the “Big Three” of Mifflinburg architecture: Joseph Boob, Enoch Miller, and Elmer Rudy. From 1850 to 1878, Joseph Boob, a second-generation builder whose father worked on the First Presbyterian Church (1844, demolished), created pattern book “Victorian cottages” and “Italian villas.” Between 1870 and 1910, his enterprising apprentice, Enoch Miller, distinguished himself with a variety of building types and styles, some decorated with ornamental woodwork produced at his planing mill on N. 8th Street. In 1879, he built a Victorian cottage for David Brubaker at 241 Market Street and the Renaissance Revival house for Dr. John R. Gast at 422 Market Street. In 1883, he designed the unified brick commercial block on Chestnut Street that included the J. D. S. Gast Department Store (number 350), Heiter's barber shop (number 354), and the Strunk Store (number 358). The versatile Miller built the brick Ray's Church (St. Peter's Union Church, 1883) on Old Turnpike Road (PA 45) three miles west of Mifflinburg; the Carpenter's Gothic Lincoln (United Methodist) Chapel (1891) at 2350 Paddy Mountain Road, one mile west of Laurelton; and collaborated with York's John Dempwolf on Mifflinburg's First Lutheran Church ( UN10). His successful practice extended to Lewisburg, Vicksburg, and Lewistown. At the turn of the twentieth century, Elmer Rudy, working with his brother, Charles, built intricate Queen Anne houses and simple bungalows to meet the changing taste of the times.

Writing Credits

Author: 
George E. Thomas

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