Towanda has been the seat of Bradford County since the county's founding in 1812. Originally named Meansville for its first settler, Scots-Irish entrepreneur William Means, who arrived c. 1786, in 1828 it was renamed Towanda, which is a Nanticoke and Delaware Indian expression for a burial place. The town's location along the west bank of the Susquehanna River attracted transportation systems, beginning with the North Branch Canal in 1854, an extension of the Lehigh Valley Railroad in 1869, and in the twentieth century the intersection of U.S. 6 and U.S. 220. Affluence generated from agricultural, timber, and light industry helped make Towanda a showcase of nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century architecture.
Towanda's downtown is Main Street and its significant buildings include the Progress Building (1999, Highland Associates), a Postmodern office building at the foot of the Susquehanna River bridge. The Italianate Hale's Opera House (1887) at 601 Main Street was converted to Keystone (movie) Theater in 1913, and in 2001 the Bradford County Regional Arts Council completed a restoration and built an addition along its south side. The marble-fronted First National Bank (now the Northern Tier Regional Planning and Development Commission) at 312 Main Street was built in 1909 when the Classical Revival style was popular. Tree-lined York Avenue possesses one of the state's finest small-town collections of Queen Anne houses, nearly all of wood. Exceptions include a fine Gothic Revival cottage at the avenue's south end, the c. 1870 Elijah Parsons Italian villa at 304 York Avenue, and the c. 1850 David Wilmot House at number 207, which is more significant for its connection to the author of the 1848 Wilmot Proviso than for its Italianate architecture. Most of the town's houses cling to the hillside west of Main Street. Two elaborate Gothic Revival houses are the David Cash House (c. 1850) at 302 3rd Street and the Carpenter Gothic Mahlon Mercur House (c. 1860) at 200 Chestnut Street, which with its eleven gables with bargeboards and triangular-pointed windows has a delightful verve. An earlier Mahlon Mercur House (c. 1837) at 14 2nd Street is a notable Greek Revival work with an Ionic portico and an exceptional entrance. Many notable Towandians (including U.S. congressman David Wilmot; see WA12) are buried in Riverside Cemetery, just north of Christ Episcopal Church ( BR15).
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