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South Pugh Street, State College: The Early Years

by on June 04, 2011 9:55 AM

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of articles looking at South Pugh Street between College and Beaver avenues, from the earliest days of The Farmers' High School and the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania through the boom years of the 20th Century, down to today and into the future. Today's story focuses on the early development. Tomorrow we'll take a closer look at some Pugh Street landmarks during what could be called the middle period. Next weekend's story will tell of doing business on Pugh Street today and what the 100 block may be like tomorrow and in the years to come.

Evan Pugh arrived in town on a gloomy, snowy day in late October 1859 in a buggy driven by Hugh McAllister. The town didn’t have a name — it wasn’t even really a town. But Pugh was here to head the institution around which the village would eventually grow – the Farmers’ High School. McAllister, a Bellefonte attorney, was one of the trustees.

Pugh, a tall, muscular Quaker from Chester County, "was gifted with a mind of unusual vigor," John Blair Linn wrote in his definitive "History of Centre and Clinton Counties, Pennsylvania." Pugh’s mind, Linn continued, was “enriched by ripe scholarship and varied culture, and to these he united a temper genial, fearless, and just, and a mature judgment."

Pugh had studied extensively in Europe, earned a doctorate at Goettingen, and, as Jo Chesworth noted in "Story of the Century: The Borough of State College, Pennsylvania, 1896-1996," gave up a promising career in agricultural chemistry to come to a region that one of his successors would later describe as “equally inaccessible from all parts of the state.”

“The harvest is great, but the laborers are few,” Pugh said of his new academic post – the first president of what would one day become the Pennsylvania State University.

Pugh’s initial impression, as described by Chesworth, indicated just how much work remained to be done: “Entering the wooden shanty that was the school dining hall and kitchen, he was warmly greeted by the four professors and, as he recorded it, ‘110 unruly, unkempt boys, some as young as fifteen.’ ”

“The difficulties confronting him were tremendous,” proclaims Pugh’s biography in the Penn State's Eberly Family Special Collections Library. “He found the building only a third completed, the treasury empty, the courses of study imperfectly organized, the faculty inadequate, and the student body undisciplined ... the trustees were under fire for attempting an undertaking beyond their ability ... everything about the place was crude, almost primitive.”

But, as Chesworth wrote, Pugh “believed that this primitive little school could eventually become one of the best agricultural schools in the world."

Pugh was responsible for changing its name to the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania, but he did not live to participate long in the harvest. He died in 1864 at age 36, less than three months after marrying Bellefonte resident Rebecca Valentine.

Pugh's vision, however, is memorialized in the title of Evan Pugh Professor, an honor for which Penn State faculty members are chosen, according to the university’s office of the vice president for research, because they “displayed the courage to pioneer in his or her field, the discipline to remain at the forefront of research, and the generosity of spirit to share these accomplishments with students.”

Pugh’s legacy also includes what Vivian Doty Hench in “The History of State College, 1896-1946” explained was originally intended to be the town’s main north-south thoroughfare: Pugh Street. Unlike Pugh’s dream for the college, however, which eventually came to fruition, the town founders’ vision for his namesake street went unrealized for many decades.

“Pugh Street, designed by the first settlers to be the center of the town, became the center for private homes rather than for business,” Hench wrote. Unlike many faculty members, who lived in rather modest cottages, at least one viewed Pugh Street as a site for something grander.

“In 1877, Professor W. A. Buckhout built the first wing of his later spacious mansion on the southwest corner of Pugh and Beaver,” Hench wrote.

William A. Buckhout, a botanist, graduated from the college in 1868 and joined the faculty three years later, according to Chesworth’s research. Three years after Buckhout built his home – which he later enlarged to include 17 rooms – physicist I. T. “Thorny” Osmond built another across the intersection with East Beaver Avenue.

The Osmond home was later moved to make way for the modern-day fraternity house. But, as Chesworth noted, Pugh Street soon “attracted more private homes than businesses, aided no doubt by the Osmond and Buckhout beauties on the second block.”

Just south of the Buckhout house on Pugh Street was the Shivery rooming house, which gained a place in local legend as “The Fort” after an incident that occurred in the late 1890s involving a freshman who barricaded himself inside.

“Refusing to submit to hazing by sophomores, he pulled out a gun and threatened to shoot,” Chesworth wrote. “He didn’t, but the sophomores did, firing a barrage of vegetables from a campus cannon that broke most of the windows.”

Dr. W. S. Glenn Sr. built his home on Pugh Street in the early 1880s and, Hench wrote, also built a home for his parents, which was torn down when the Glennland Building [more about that tomorrow] was begun.

W. L. Foster built the town’s first apartment house in 1894 on the southwest corner of Pugh and College next to his home, which, Hench reported, “was built much earlier.”

The Buckhout mansion, however, was that area’s main attraction.

“Used in the 1920s as a fraternity house, and more recently as a rooming house, it was demolished in 1945 to make room for the Irven Mohnkern building,” Hench wrote. “But in its day, it was the mecca for both town and gown affairs, and was the center for social activities among the young people.”

Arthur “Ray” Warnock, dean of men on campus, wrote “The Half Colyum” for the Weekly and later Daily Times, commented on the loss of that landmark in 1945, as quoted by Chesworth:

“When the Buckhout house at the southwest corner of Beaver and Pugh was being torn down recently, we heard a newcomer say that it was time ‘that old flimsy fire-trap was being removed.’ Newcomer, that was a well-built house. About the turn of the century it was one of a group of faculty homes which made up one of the residential boasts of the town. ... On the corner north of it still stands the ‘Frenchy’ Foster home."

Irving Foster was a professor of romance languages at the college. His home at Beaver and Pugh housed “Peanuts” Morrell’s peanuts-candy-and-popcorn emporium, which, Chesworth reported, “had moved up from its hole-in-the-wall location just off College Avenue on Pugh Street.”

“In the ’40s and ’50s,” Chesworth continued, this home (now the site of the Pugh Street Parking Garage) had headquartered Dean Probst’s Sally’s Sandwich Shop, which delivered sandwiches every evening to fraternities, sororities and campus dorms.”

It was, in its day, quite the sight.

“Sally’s Sandwich Shop on the corner of Beaver and Pugh, would undoubtedly startle its original owners, with its gay green and yellow paint, its flashing neon signs, and its boardwalk approach,” Hench wrote in 1948.

“Built in 1894, it was first occupied by the James Y. McKee family. Mr. McKee had served a long term as vice-president of the College, including a year as acting president between the unfortunate term of Joseph Shortlidge and the coming of President Atherton. A few years later, the house was purchased by W. C. Patterson, and occupied by his son-in-law and daughter, Mr. and Mrs. I. L. Foster. ...

“For several years after the death of his widow, it housed only emptiness, and its staring windows and sagging porches gave it that mysterious air so frequently common about large, old, vacant houses. Today it is young and gay again, having been rejuvenated by the fountain of youth found on every college campus.”

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Rich Kerstetter is managing editor of StateCollege.com. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SCeditorial or get news updates via Facebook at http://facebook.com/statecollegecom. Rich can be reached at richard.kerstetter@statecollege.com or at (814) 238-6201 Ext. 135.
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