When Mifflin County was established, the county seat was laid out by surveyors Samuel Edmiston and James Potter on the site of Ohesson in 1790. Known as Pokeytown, it was renamed for local ironmaster William Lewis, founder of Hope Furnace and a member of the Pennsylvania legislature, after incorporation in 1795. Lewistown was built at the base of a hillside at the west end of the Long Narrows. While most ridge and valley county seats retained their nineteenth-century streetscapes, progressive Lewistown urbanized as it developed into the largest town on the Juniata in eastern Pennsylvania.
The town center, an elongated Lancaster Square at the intersection of Market and Main streets, has been redesigned several times. The first log courthouse was erected in 1790 two blocks from the square on the northwest corner of W. Market and S. Wayne streets, where the two-story brick Mifflin County Correctional Facility (2000) now stands. In 1798, a new two-story brick cubic courthouse with a pyramidal roof topped by a cupola was constructed in the center of the square with an adjacent open market house. By 1839, this outdated “coffee mill–style” building was deemed an obstruction and it was torn down and recycled into a more dignified Greek Revival courthouse ( MI1). The Apprentices Literary Society constructed their one-story brick club building in the style of a Greek Revival meetinghouse a block from the courthouse on 13 E. 3rd Street in 1845. The higher elevation of the 3rd Street block was traditionally church row, with a splendid cluster of early-twentieth-century medieval revival churches, including Charles W. Bolton's Presbyterian Church (1907) at 17 E. 3rd Street.
Influenced by the City Beautiful movement, local citizens founded a Civic Improvement Society in 1891 and transformed their rustic market square into landscaped Monument Square with a Civil War memorial in the form of a classical column that complemented the Greek Revival courthouse. The introduction of new tool, brick, silk, and rayon industries nearly doubled the population between 1900 and 1910. The Mann Edge Tool Company relocated from Reedville in 1892 and its boxlike office building remains on the corner of E. Water and S. Dorcas streets. The massive four-story Coleman Hotel (1893) at 24–26 W. Market, the three-story Masonic Temple (1893) at 2 E. Market, and the three-story Wollner Building ( MI3) announced the modernization of Lewistown. The Wollner and Coleman buildings were the work of H. E. Ahrens and Brothers Construction Company, who built themselves a fanciful turreted Queen Anne–style office (1906) with a chamfered corner entrance at W. Main and Juniata streets. Although many early-nineteenth-century houses were razed to make room for commercial buildings, a few notable Federal residences survived, including 10, 11, and 12 S. Main Street; the former Wayside Inn at N. Main and 3rd streets; and the McCoy House ( MI6) on 17 N. Main Street.
New architectural styles updated the downtown between 1920 and 1940: the Classical Revival Russell National Bank (1926) at 32 E. Market and the U.S. Post Office (1927) at 100 W. Market; the Embassy Theatre ( MI4) with its Art Deco interior and the Art Deco Montgomery Ward Department Store ( MI2); the Beaux-Arts Municipal Building (1937) at 2 E. 3rd Street; and the streamlined five-story brick Hotel Lewistown (1937) at 20 S. Main Street. As the county seat and economic center of the county, Lewistown carries itself like a big city, with larger and more sophisticated buildings than most of the county seats of the Susquehanna Valley.
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