by Polly Faust Smith
Researchers of people, places and things of the past often think they are finished with a project, when, unexpectedly, a hidden piece of the puzzle is turned over.
Such a puzzle piece in the research of my great-grandparents’ home was with me all along in the form of one of founder William Smith’s Indentures for Lot No. 102 in the original plan of the town of Huntingdon. This ancient title to the lot between Hill (now Penn) and Washington Street, along what is now Sixth Street, was among old documents of the Foust businessmen of Mill Creek. It, along with a photo of a handsome brick home, came into my possession in the late 1970s. At the time, seeing no names on the indenture that I recognized, I put it in storage.
The lot, it turns out, was the eventual site of the brick residence of Ira N. and Carrie Foust, and their young family. Prior to that, Thomas Kerr erected a log house on the Hill Street end of the lot (the lot measures 200 feet from Washington to Hill). Benjamin Miller bought the whole lot in 1831 from John and Martha Kerr and Silas Fluke The property remained with his wife and then his three children until the Penn Street half was sold by the Miller heirs to Sterrett Drake in 1891. Mr. Foust purchased the vacant portion of the lot facing Washington Street in 1891 from the Elizabeth Miller estate and from J.C. Blair, who quickly “flipped” his brief part ownership of the property. Mr. Blair had paid the Millers $2,700 for it and before it could be recorded, it was sold to Mr. Foust for $3,600.
Seeing a copy of an indenture in Nancy Shedd’s “A Study of the Ancient Borough of Huntingdon” prompted me to look at my long-neglected document. Careful examination revealed the lot’s location, as well as the names Foust and Drake in pencil on the reverse side. William Kerr’s signature as witness to the transfer to Thomas Kerr in 1794 was at the bottom. The indenture in Mrs. Shedd’s book showed William’s purchase of Lots No. 100 and 101 in 1791.
The pieces of No. 102’s history seem to be all there, barring any unforeseen discovery! From Kerrs, to Millers, to Drake and Foust and finally to Huntingdon Borough itself, the lot between Washington and Penn streets along Sixth saw many changes over 203 years.
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My interest in the southeast corner of Sixth and Washington streets began at age 12 when my grandmother Sarah Faust and I were heading to my home from hers in Mill Creek in her little Nash Metropolitan. As we turned from Penn onto Sixth Street, she pointed up and told me the house on top of the Murphy 5&10 Store was once the home of my great-grandparents. “What house?” I asked. She told me to look closely when I was downtown sometime, and I would see the upper floors of a house on top of the store building.
There were two “5 & 10’s” at opposite corners in downtown Huntingdon: McCrory’s (the less fancy of the two) at the northwest corner of Sixth and Washington Streets and Murphy’s at the southeast corner. I do recall my curiosity upon seeing at the back of the store an open door with a stairway to …where, an upper floor? Was there really part of a house above the store?
Forty years ago, my grandfather gave me permission to take the collection of family photos and other important documents which two generations before him had not thrown away. Among the photos was one of the house, fence and fountain at the corner of Sixth and Washington streets in Huntingdon, the home, for a short time, of my great-grandparents Ira Newton and Carrie (McKinnon) Foust. My interest in the house “up there” was renewed; however, complete research did not take place until the past few years.
The editor of an 1892 edition of The Semi Weekly News titled the new house a “handsome brick residence.” According to the April 7, 1892, local newspaper, Hall and Edwards had the contract to build the brick house that summer. The same company was the builder of Reed’s large brick structure on Washington Street, where the former Grove Stationery store stands today. By August, the Foust home was almost ready for the roof, the newspaper reported. And, in October, Mr. Foust and Mr. Drake had paid for brick pavement and a “neat iron fence” to run the length of Sixth Street between Washington and Penn streets.
In the new home, Carrie gave birth to my grandfather, Benjamin R. Foust II (spelling later changed to Faust) in August 1893 and his sister, Amelia, in 1895. The country was suffering through a “panic” or economic depression, and I.N. was in over his head with debt, some of his own making and some left over from the days when he was in business with his father, who died in 1890. B.R. Foust & Son lost the steam flouring mill between the railroad and the Juniata River in Mill Creek during the Flood of 1889. B.R. Foust long suffered and then died from health complications brought on by trying to save grain and machinery from the rising flood waters. A newspaper article revealed a man was killed in an explosion at Foust & Co.’s sand works west of Huntingdon in the area known as Warrior Ridge in October 1892. This surely led to I.N.’s debt load since the victim left behind a widow and children.
The court appointed an agent (attorney) to sell off many of Mr. Foust’s properties in Mount Union, Mill Creek and finally, in November 1895, the home in Huntingdon. He and Carrie returned to the Foust homestead on Main Street in Mill Creek with their seven children and housekeeper. (Two more daughters were later born to them.)
The house, first listed as 528 Washington St., was purchased in early 1896 by W. Albert and Catherine Myton of Petersburg. Mr. Myton died June 8, 1921, and one year later, Mrs. Myton sold the property to businesswoman Margaret Grimison. Mrs. Myton left the house before the end of the year. Information about the house’s use could not be found until I spied a brief in The Daily News in 1924 which reported Mrs. Grimison’s sister, Katherine, and her husband, Howard Hartley, moved to the house. They, along with Newton H. Isenberg, were listed as residents at that address in the 1925 business directory of Huntingdon.
The character of the property began to change in 1924 when D.H. Stiel opened a Bon Ton store listed at 530 Washington St. It can be assumed that the Hartleys and Mr. Isenberg were residing in apartments in the structure and the store was given the 530 address. The Bon Ton lasted until about mid-1925. The R.B. Fleischer Co. ran a newspaper ad in November 1924 that a department store would be opened at the corner of Sixth and Washington Streets in the Grimison building. I admit this information has led to many questions, such as how much space was taken up by two stores, plus residents at a single address. The G.C. Murphy Co. purchased the Fleischer store at the location in November 1928.
The corner lot went through changes in 1929. The Daily News reported the Murphy store was reopened in expanded space. The business directory lists its address as 528 Washington St. The Home Music Store Inc. and the residences of Mrs. Katherine Hartley (widow) and Newton Isenberg are listed at 530 Washington St. In the 1930 census, Mrs. Hartley’s apartment and that of Newton and Pearl Isenberg are listed as separate units.
In July 1947, Mack Realty Corp. bought the equally attractive Hazlett residence at 524-526 Washington St. for the purpose of razing it and adding to the Murphy store. Today, the exterior difference in the bricks shows the addition made to the original store building. H.T. Reynolds of Huntingdon had the contract for the project. However, I could not find an account in the newspaper about the demolition of the first floor of the house for the interior store space to be expanded. The upper floors remained intact. I learned from former employees the curious stairway, seen in my younger days, led to Murphy offices and lunchroom on the second floor.
Mrs. Grimison remained the owner of the 528-530 Washington Street property until her death Aug. 10, 1953. The widow, Mrs. Hartley, became the owner and, upon her death, her stepdaughter gained the property, followed by the woman’s three children. The G.C. Murphy store in Huntingdon closed the last week in August 1983, and the property was turned over to the Mack Realty Corp, an affiliate of the Murphy Company. The deed states the western half of the property is occupied by G.C. Murphy Co. and the “lot has a one and three story and basement brick and frame building” on it.
Brothers Jay and Leonard Poser purchased the property in October 1984 for use as an extension department store for their other businesses. Known as Poser’s Other Corner, it went out of business in 1995.
The large storeroom with the upper floors of the “handsome brick residence” was sold by the Posers to Huntingdon Borough in 1996 to create council chambers, police department, 911 operations center, and offices. The town’s original municipal building was a few doors east on Washington Street, thus returning the hub to downtown Washington Street.
The building, now carrying the address of 530 Washington Street, was extensively remodeled and occupancy was made May 8, 1997. The top two floors of the brick house remain today, being held up by supports which are hidden within the ground floor walls. Part of the foundation is visible in the basement. The county 911 center’s technical equipment is in a second floor, climate controlled room.
In August 2017, on a hot and humid day, my 13-year-old granddaughter and I climbed the stairway and were shown a few of the upper-floor rooms and the exterior walls and windows from the flat roof of the building which surrounds them. There is a house “up there.” Many people have taken their meals and slept within those walls since 1892 but it was that first family of parents and their little children who will always be, for me, most important.