National Heritage Area

(814) 677-3152

217 Elm Street

Oil City, PA 16301-1412

Stick

In the 1860's and 1870's American builders developed a uniquely American style of architecture, one that emphasized the architecture of wood. Rather than attempt to emulate the masonry of Greek and Roman buildings of antiquity, copy the style of fifteenth century Italian villas finished in stone and concrete, pretend to be a quaint English cottage, or create the illusion of a castle built of stones, American builders chose to exploit the abundant resources of wood found in the United States in new and innovative ways while paying no heed to historical precedents. The American builders of the time chose to erect expensive houses which emphasized the new, light, highly versatile wood frame structural system recently developed – the balloon frame with its light 2×4 studs and 2×10 joists and rafters.

The Stick style was a masculine architecture of sharply drawn lines, lots of angularity and few curves. No longer limited by the great weight and assembly difficulties of masonry construction, the new Stick designs soared high into the sky with jagged, irregular roofs and plenty of American imagination. The steeply sloped roofs extended noticeably beyond the wall line like sharp knife edges and in some form emphasized the rafter construction. The horizontal sheathing and vertical cornerboards suggested a weave or lattice of “stickwork”. This stickwork was often complimented with inverted picket fence vertical cladding, ornamental bands of decorative wood arrangements at the floor levels, and decorative trusses at the gable ends. Sometimes, decorative horizontal and vertical boards were applied over the wall cladding. The exterior wall cladding and decoration of the Stick style house served to emphasize and celebrate the wood skeleton beneath.

 Jacob Cadwallader was from Eastern Pennsylvania and was trained as a lawyer at Harvard. Upon graduation, he chose to try life in the Oil Region of Venango County. He did very well from the start as both a producer and refiner of oil. When the Bradford field came in, Cadwallader did well again as an owner of Anchor Oil. He also had considerable success in Warren County. Cadwallader lived in Titusville. In 1870 he built a fine Stick residence at 609 N. Perry.

This excellent example of Stick architecture clearly shows the soaring angularity the style is known for. The mass and plan are particularly complex and irregular. Vertical cornerboards, horizontal stick elements, and decorative wood arrangements about the floor levels all testify to the reality of a stick frame structure beneath the wall cladding. Note the simple form of the windows which call attention to the stud framing rather than disguise it. The underside of the roof eaves are sheathed parallel to the roof surface above and clearly suggest the presence of rafter framing. An old photo of this house shows decorative trusses were situated across the gable ends; the plain vergeboards are not original. The house has undergone other changes over the years.

The big house at 108 Reed Street in Oil City is a particularly fine example of a Victorian home built in the Stick style.

The first impression of this house is its tall and angular mass. The impressive hip roof is elaborated with a complex variety of dormers and gables. The exterior plan is angular with right angle turns here and there looking for new possibilities and ways to break out of the basic box volume. The roof rafters are exposed well beyond the wall plane and creatively finished. The windows are tall and plane, actually just simple voids in the stud frame. Elaborate trusswork can be seen on the gable facing Reed Street and on the gable overlooking West First. Some of this is repeated in the dormers to reinforce the strong statement made by the gable trusses. Three belts of Stick style decoration showing incised work, diagonal board panels, and short, vertical boards are around the floor levels. John R. Campbell purchased the lot for this house in 1872. County tax records from the time indicate the house wasn’t completed until 1880. Campbell was the Treasurer of a variety of early oil firms including Vandergrift and Forman. In 1877 he was named Treasurer of the United Pipe Lines Company based in Oil City. This Standard Oil affiliate was the entity responsible for collecting oil by pipeline from the well sites, transporting oil by pipeline to the railroads, and for storing oil not in transit.

Willis Hulings built a large Stick style residence in Oil City at 114 Moran.

The Stick character of this home is evident from its high, angular mass and the sharp roof edges coming at you. The windows are all plane rectangular forms which appear as mere voids in the stud framing. Willis Hulings built this house in 1882. He was an attorney, prominent state legislator and particularly active in attempting to legislate uniform rail rates for the oil industry.

Built in 1879, the house at 711 W. First Street in Oil City was purchased by Alvin Drake Deming in 1889.

The Stick credentials of this house can be seen in its tall and angular mass, the open eaves which suggest the rafters, the elements of decorative trusses across the gables, the vertical cornerboards and horizontal cladding and the vertical picket fence cladding around the upper wall surfaces. The classical veranda is a latter 1890's addition. As a younger man, Mr. Deming made a living as a photographer and his “Views Of The Oil Region” from the early 1860's are highly regarded collector’s items and sources of early oil history. In 1876 Mr. Deming was compelled to sell his interests in a refinery to Standard Oil. In 1882 he was a principal in the establishment of the Independent Refinery. Much of this refinery was destroyed in the great fire and flood of June 1892. Hundreds in the region lost their lives in this extraordinary tragedy. Deming was injured in the massive explosion along Seneca Street in Oil City. He died the following year at the age of fifty-six.

The Victorian period church structure at the corner of 11th and Buffalo Street in Franklin is an interesting example of the passing influence of Stick architecture and the gradual emerging of something new.

The building demonstrates many of the Stick conventions. In this application, even the circular windows could be considered appropriately Stick. However, the belt of shingles around the tower and the application of shingles on the upper gable surfaces suggest the coming of the Queen Anne architectural style.

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