In the early 19th and 20th centuries, Newport was the economic and industrial hub of Perry County.
The Pennsylvania canal system and the Pennsylvania Railroad brought prosperity to the eastern part of the county, and industry flourished. A housing boom resulted, and Victorian craftsmen created beautiful details for the buildings of Newport, which was home to canal boat captains, business owners and bankers.
“Despite floods and periodic economic downturns, magnificent examples of Victorian architecture survived in downtown Newport,” said Roger Smith, former executive director of the Perry County Council of the Arts (PCCA).
Starting in early May, you can take an up-close look at these architectural flourishes, as PCCA opens the photo exhibit, “Downtown Details,” in Landis House.
Local history buff Jane Hoover thought up the project to highlight the decorative elements so abundant in Newport’s historic district, which is on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.
“Sadly, many people walk the streets here in Newport and never look up to see the beautiful work these craftsmen did,” Hoover said. “My concern was that the narrative developed by the National Park Service lacked history and visual appeal to help people realize the prize we have here. Additionally, the narrative lacked any photographs.”
So, Hoover spoke with Smith, and he organized a group to review the town’s historic buildings and deepen the existing narrative. The group included Hoover, Smith, photographer Irene VanBuskirk and Bryan Van Sweden, historic preservation specialist for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
“I had been taking photos of the buildings in Newport,” VanBuskirk said. “Since the town had already inspired my artwork, I wanted to be involved. My intent in this project has been to create artful, rather than documentary, images.”
One example is 51 S. Second St., once owned by Peter Schlomer, a 28-year-old immigrant from Germany, who arrived in Newport in 1889 and bought the lot from an A.B. Demaree. From his shop, Schlomer started out selling saddles and harnesses and later expanded into clothing. The house reflects its dual use as a residence and shop.
This building has an elaborate frieze board under the eaves, brackets that seem to support the frieze and eaves, drip caps that surround the tops of the windows to protect the glass from rain, and gingerbread trim that takes its theme from natural forms. Local planing mills provided the high-quality woodwork needed for the elaborate ornamentation.
The PCCA show, which runs through early July, highlights 20 of these homes. The exhibit then moves to the Veterans Memorial Building in New Bloomfield and wraps up at Newport High School, so students can see and study examples of Victorian architecture. The exhibit is funded by a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.
Moreover, Sunbury Press plans to publish a companion, travel-friendly paperback book highlighting the buildings. So, after seeing the photos, visitors can tour Newport and see the architecture for themselves.
“This exhibition continues the work of PCCA to highlight history through the arts,” said Erika Juran, the current PCCA executive director, who emphasized the connection between the exhibit and Newport’s bicentennial in 2020. “So, come and help us celebrate.”
“Downtown Details” runs May 4 to July 7 at Landis House, 67 N. Fourth Street, Newport. For more information, visit www.perrycountyarts.org or call 717-567-7023.
Sunbury Press may be reached at www.sunburypress.com or by calling 855-338-8359.