The Historic Brick Block is now in the hands of the Johnsonburg Community Trust

The Historic Brick Block is now in the hands of the Johnsonburg Community Trust

Borough of Johnsonburg, Elk County, PA, 06/23/2020 — The deed to the block-long, 1890, Brick Block is now in the hands of the Johnsonburg Community Trust

Blocks of the downtown buildings, in the Borough of Johnsonburg, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  All are built on the site of the first settlement in remote, mountainous Elk County.  About a half dozen of these historic treasures stand vacant and in need of stewardship.

In keeping with the Trust’s revitalization mission, its most-pressing project is rehabilitating the massive, Pennsylvania-At-Risk, Brick-Block structure, said to be the First Outdoor Mall in the U.S..  Under a century of wall coverings, the Trust is exposing five-bricks-thick internal firewalls.  Volunteer work parties also have uncovered tin ceilings, hardwood floors, and original storefront details, such as transom windows.  All this in shops lining an historic, stone arcade.  

As the Trust nears the end of Phase I, of its plan to rehabilitate the Brick Block, Trust directors and other volunteers have removed 42 tons of debris from the 45,000-square-foot structure. This year alone, volunteer hours total more than 600 hours, simply on the structure’s clear-out.  About 600 additional hours of donated professional services include specializations such as–accounting, architectural-planning, business-planning, construction, electrical, event-running, grant-seeking, legal, project-management, promotional, social-media, web-design….  Nearly all Trust volunteers now live in the borough, are natives of the place, or have family ties to it. (A building-clear-out, backstory-Blog about the “Brick Block’s Dirty Little Secrets” is linked below.) 

The 5 phases of the Trust’s, 5-to-7-year, Brick Block Rehabilitation Plan are– Phase I: Secure and Protect the Building and Raise Funds. Phase II: Mitigate further Damage to the Building, Clean, Paint, and Plan. Phases III, IV, and V: Rehabilitate Retail and Residential Units and all 12 Bay Windows. 

Currently, the Trust is wrapping up Phase I and heading into Phase II of our $3 Million rehabilitation plan.  As background, and for context, estimates made 1-2 years ago placed potential demolition of the Brick Block at about $1 Million. Choosing to demolish this cornerstone structure, at the heart of the Borough of Johnsonburg’s Commercial Historic District, likely would have begun the end of revitalizing the borough’s historic downtown. 

The Brick Block’s $612 purchase price is not the Trust’s primary expense; although, encouragingly, this cost was covered by a gift, donated anonymously and especially for this purpose.  In fact, generous, financial donations, plus offers of time and labor, began arriving in December, well before the non-profit organization secured the deed to the Brick Block at the end of May.  Despite recent world events, the amount that people are pitching-in continues to grow. (A “Pitching-In,” details-link is below.) 

The Trust plans to raise funds via private donations, events, matching funds, and grants. These funds, along with cash-on-hand, will be used to rehabilitate the grounds and the historic façade, as well as the (12) street-level Retail units and (12) upper-level Residential units in the Brick Block.  Retail units are envisioned to hold a mix of non-profit and for-profit tenants.  Residential units may be leased on a seasonal or daily basis.  About a year from now, the Trust hopes to be renting to its first retail tenants; residential leasing is anticipated to begin, perhaps, 6 months later than that. 

Revenue received, from operations of the structure, will be reinvested in the Brick Block or otherwise used to support the mission of the Trust.  This rehabilitation project has the potential to generate approximately 75 full and part-time jobs, as well as reinvigorate a deteriorated downtown and enhance community pride. 

Sitting at an altitude of about 1,500 feet, the Brick Block was built with excellent, local sandstone, clay, and timber from the adjoining 500,000-acre Allegheny National Forest and the 7, forested hills surrounding the borough’s scenic valley.  The headwaters of the Clarion River begin just down the street from the Brick Block.  As the borough’s natives say, “Once you’ve dipped your toe into the Clarion, you’ll always want to go back there.”  

Hundreds of businesses and residents have occupied the Brick Block over the last 130 years.  Now, they may do so again, for years to come.  

The Trust’s rehabilitation efforts benefit not only the Borough of Johnsonburg and Elk County but also the PAWilds and Lumber-Heritage Regions as well as state and federal goals to preserve “At-Risk” historic structures. 

More stories, of the Trust’s progress, are to come.  In the meantime, please follow this link to find a new backstory Blog, detailing the group’s first 6 months with the Brick Block and telling the Brick Block’s Dirty Little Secrets, LINK HERE:

Finally, please follow this link to see the Ways People are Pitching-In, LINK HERE:.

Press-Use Photos: LINK HERE:

Who We Are: LINK HERE:

E-mail Contact:

Trust Spokesperson: Megan Schreiber-Carter



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