The president of the Tyrone Area Historical Society and borough councilman, Bob Dollar, along with his wife, Viola, recently purchased “the old Civil War Hospital” on the corner of 12th Street and Washington Avenue. The building currently holds the distinction of being the oldest structure still standing in Tyrone. The Dollars made the purchase with the intention of restoration and modernization.
Constructed in 1855, this unique piece of Tyrone’s history has stood vacant as far back as 2009, causing the property to show signs of decay, with siding and other exterior issues becoming visibly apparent. When asked what prompted them to take on the ownership of this property, the Dollars simply referred to its age, historic significance to the Tyrone community, our nation’s Civil War, and their interest in preserving it.
It was The United Brethren Church of Tyrone that initially broke ground on this location back in 1855, building a two-story wooden framed structure specifically for the use of hosting their weekly worship services. The United Brethren congregation quickly fell into financial hardship, however, forcing them to sell half of the building over to a local Baptist church for a total of $600. Accounting for inflation, this transaction would have been worth $17,316 if conducted today.
Pastor J. Walker of The United Brethren Church organized a fundraiser and ultimately purchased back their share of the property in 1863, albeit only for one year, as the United States government occupied the property for the use of a hospital for the treatment of union soldiers in 1864 due to its location along the railroad. Although there is no written documentation to substantiate it, it is believed that The United Brethren Church may not have been all that detached from the concerns surrounding the issue of abolition. According to Robert P. Broadwater of the State College Magazine, “The United Brethren Church was active in the Abolition Movement, and many United Brethren Churches and homes served as stops on the Underground railroad.” Broadwater was referencing a seemingly useless crawl space that was dug out underneath the structure when he wrote about this building’s historic significance in 2002.
Tyrone was one of many overflow hospitals where Lt. General Ulysses Grant sent wounded soldiers to make room for more immediate needs in field hospitals closer to the front lines. This continued until the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the congregation began petitioning the federal government for funds to repair the church to no avail, requesting a total of $600 in damages (half of the building’s total value). The church eventually raised the funds needed for renovations and reoccupied the building in 1866, where they continued to worship until 1887 when they relocated to a new building.
The United Brethren Church sold their building in 1891 to F. W. Wise Co., when it continued to serve the community as an arts studio until 1894 when it was sold at a sheriffs sale. From there, it moved from owner to owner, being used for either storage or a work/retail space. The last owner to use the structure for public use was Danielle Webster who, for a period of three years, used the building to open The Furniture Barn, closing down in 2009.
As a result of decay, neglect, or just the passage of time, there are only a handful of these old Civil War Hospitals left, with even fewer in occupiable condition. With Tyrone’s Civil War Hospital now in the hands of a couple who “care deeply about preserving history,” a few residents neighboring the structure were quick to show their support. Eric DiMemmo, a resident who lives across the street, said that he was “very happy to see such a historical building being saved and restored instead of torn down and forgotten. Tyrone has so much history and it is nice to have something that can remind us of the people our town came from.”
Former president and co-founder of the Tyrone Area Historical Society, Nancy Smith, said she was “delighted” to hear that her predecessors now own the property. “I was afraid that someone was going tear it down, and it’s within the historic district [in Tyrone].”
“I’ve wanted it for many years,” Viola stated. “It is old and has so many possibilities. It has served the community well, if inconspicuously, in several capacities. I would love to see it be used as some kind of studio again as the natural lighting on the second floor is fantastic. However, there are a lot of hoops to jump through first.
“There are many possibilities and since I feel that God kind of tossed this in my lap when I inquired of Him concerning it. I will wait and see where He takes it. I suspect it will be beyond my scope at the moment.”