Rebuilding efforts to take time, attention

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Icicles hung from an ash-covered tree along Allegheny Street, standing in stark contrast to the charred, blackened remains of the four buildings destroyed by fire Thursday evening.

The ice and soot was a reminder of the eight-hour firefight handled by more than a dozen area fire companies trying to douse the flames that engulfed one of the oldest sections of the borough’s business district.

Steam noiselessly seeped from beneath the rubble of the rear apartments that remained partially standing Friday morning. A lone green Hulk glove was visible in the rubble.

Borough resident Marie Little, who worked on a committee to earn Hollidaysburg a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, said the strip of buildings dates back roughly 175 years.

A historic district plaque mounted near what used to be the front door of 115 Allegheny St. dates the home to 1839.

Most of the other homes are from the 1840s, Little said.

“The brick buildings were just as old, but … were refaced at a certain time,” she said.

Little said it will require a lot of work and attention to rebuild the 100 block of Allegheny Street, and the borough’s Historical Architecture Review Board and Historic Preservation Commission will have to look at using the right models, materials and scale.

“It would be one of their first challenges,” she said.

Borough Mayor John Stultz said the borough will soon approve an emergency demolition permit to tear down at least three, and possibly four, of the block’s five buildings.

One of his employees, Lacey Cunningham, owns the four set to be razed. She was unavailable for comment, but Stultz said she told him she’s “definitely planning to rebuild.”

“That’s a good thing,” Stultz said. “They do have fire insurance on those properties, so that’s an issue that’s already been addressed – and thank God that’s happened.”

He said it’s unclear what will be built there and when, but Stultz said Cunningham is a “good neighbor” and friend of the borough, and officials will work with her when she’s ready.

“I feel very confident that our historic and architectural review boards will work with her on the plans, to build a structure that will contribute to the historic nature of the downtown,” he said.

While many said they remain hopeful that someone can work to fill the large hole in Downtown Hollidaysburg that will be left when the buildings come down, it was devastating to many to watch such old structures burn.

“When I heard and saw it really, truly, it made me sad,” Little said. “It made me really almost cry. I knew some of the people that lived in that area, too. And to see these buildings, which we’ve all grown accustomed to for the last 100 years. … It’s all gone.”

One of the homes in particular carried significant historical value, Little said: 117 Allegheny St., where the fire originated in an apartment kitchen.

“It was owned by originally by Elizabeth Hurm in 1850s,” Little said, “the only woman ever reported to buy a piece of property in her own name” at that time.

Women owning property in that era – and receiving credit for it if they did – was unheard of, Little said, but records show Hurm purchased the property with her money, and even the deed “noted it was hers,” Little said.

Hurm also was a significant local figure, Little said, having married Adam Joseph Wolf, whose son, Charles Wolf, founded Wolf Furniture.

Although the home’s been lost, people can find a silver lining in the response and love shown by local business owners and residents once they found out what happened, Little said.

“The neighborhood and the business people when it was reported, how generous they were … it gives you an idea of how big their hearts are,” she said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.