Photo credit: D. Taylor , 06/2004

Property Name: Decatur Heights Historic District
Date Listed: 12/28/2005
Inventory No.: AL-IV-A-166
Location: Cumberland, Allegany County

Description: The Decatur Heights Historic District is a mixed-use residential/commercial/industrial historic district of 77 acres located on the northeast side of Cumberland. The district lies immediately east of the downtown and contains a total of 377 resources, including five properties previously listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The topography of the district rises from west to east, with much of the district lying in a valley between Waverly Terrace on the east and Bedford Street on the west. Baltimore Avenue--the National Road and later U.S. Route 40--rises considerably as it meanders westward from Henderson Avenue and climbs steeply as it moves northeast from Bellevue Street. The topography immediately east of Baltimore Street is precipitous, with a nearly 200' rise from Baltimore Street to Waverly Terrace. Approximately 50% of the resources in the district predate 1890, approximately 40% date were constructed between 1890 and 1930, and the remaining approximately 10% post-date 1930. The architecture of the Decatur Heights Historic District includes a strong concentration of vernacular residences, early row houses executed in the Federal and Greek Revival styles, a considerably smaller number of commercial buildings, and several institutional buildings, among which are the previously listed YMCA and AME Church and Carver School, a pre-integration African-American education resource. The majority of the domestic architecture is of wood and a smaller proportion is of brick, and most of the district's few commercial buildings are of brick. A particularly distinctive construction technique in the district--and seen elsewhere throughout the city--involves the use of brick laid in a stylized Flemish bond with double glazed headers. An alternative masonry construction technique involves the use of concrete block, which grew from late 19th and early-20th century technological advances and adds to the architectural importance of the district as a whole. The majority of buildings in the Decatur Heights Historic District are two to three stories in height and of a conventional rectilinear form, although a few buildings are irregular in form to match angled corners and intersections. The district's few commercial buildings are generally flat-roofed or have shed roofs which slope gently from front to back. Residential buildings have gabled and hipped roofs as well as front-to-rear-sloping shed roofs. A series of locally distinctive stylized French Second Empire-style buildings have Mansard roofs with dormers and a handful of Dutch Colonial Revival-style buildings have gambrel roofs. The architectural styles represented in the Decatur Heights Historic District include most of the design modes popular during the district's c. 1820-1950 period of significance. the district's earliest extant buildings date from the third and fourth decades of the 19th century; most of these are executed in Federal or Greek Revival style or in vernacular derivations thereof and many are row houses with three-bay facades and side-passage plans. Some of these houses include "eyebrow" windows at attic level. The Italianate style was popular in the middle and late decades of the 19th century, incorporating tall and narrow window proportions and overhanging cornices along the roofline. Some Italianate-influenced buildings in the district exhibit a level of sophistication of design, while others are simple in their detailing and incorporate modest brackets along the cornice of an otherwise-unadorned shed-roofed single-family residence or double house. The French Second Empire style is represented in the district by a series of dwellings with a locally distinctive variant of the characteristic Mansard roof which defines this particular style, some with dormers and others without. The Queen Anne style is characterized by substantial homes of irregular materials, plan, and finish, often incorporating into their design towers and turrets. The Colonial Revival dwellings in the district are modest in their detailing with the Palladian window being the most prevalent Colonial Revival-style detail. The Dutch Colonial Revival, a late 19th and early-20th century design mode, incorporates a characteristic gambrel roof and is also represented in the district. Purely 20th century styles such as Bungalows and American Foursquare houses also occur in the district. Among the most distinctive of the early-20th century dwellings in the district is the single-story brick residence built for Dr. Thomas Koon at 221 Baltimore Street, with broadly overhanging eaves and a roof of barrel tile. Previously listed in the National Register, the Koon House represents contemporary American design from the second decade of the 20th century. Many buildings in the district are of no formal architectural style, but rather reflect the vernacular building traditions of this community throughout the period of significance. These vernacular buildings contribute significantly to the broad-based architectural character of the district as a whole.

Significance: The Decatur Heights Historic District is significant for its association with the history of African-American education in Cumberland because of the presence in the district of the Carver School at 340-344 Frederick Street. It is also significant for its association with the exploration and settlement of the region, with the district positioned along the National Road and dating from the first decades of the 19th century. Significance for transportation is established by the presence of Baltimore Street originally known as the Baltimore Turnpike, which became part of the National Road, America's great early-19th century overland route westward. Lastly, the district is significant for its architecture, established by a strong, locally significant, and dense concentration of primarily residential buildings built between c. 1820 and the 1940s, among which are examples of many of the styles of design popular during the period of significance. Its significance is strengthened by the presence in the district of buildings representing the work of significant local architects, particularly Wright Butler, who was a leading designer in Cumberland in the late 19th and early 20th century. The period of significance begins in 1820, representing the approximate date of construction of the earliest buildings in the district, and ends c. 1950, a date by which the district's basic appearance had been established. The district retains integrity in its physical qualities, associative values, design features, and specific aspects of construction which date from its period of significance.


Boundary Map

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