Design guidelines have long been considered the “level” in the preservation toolbox. 

These handy documents provide guidance to property owners within a historic district on how to appropriately care for their building.  Addressing issues as diverse as retaining the three components of a historic storefront for that Main Street commercial building, to choosing gutters and downspouts, to finding the right mortar composition, design guidelines can be the go-to reference tome to ensure the community character is holistically maintained.

Carpenter Corner Antiques, 101 S. Franklin Street

The City of Titusville saw the benefit of the drafting their own community focused Design Guidelines and quickly discovered that the PHMC’s Keystone Historic Preservation Grant program provided a funding opportunity to prepare them while gauging the public perception of the importance of preserving their built environment. 


If you are not familiar with the city, Titusville is located in Crawford County in the northwest section of Pennsylvania.  The city experienced a building boom shortly after Drake Well, the world’s first commercially successful oil well, was established in 1859.  This influx of population and requisite building stock created a unique central business district surrounded by residential homes of both modest and elaborate scale and style.  This blog post from April 2016 talks about Titusville’s rich history.

The core of the community was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 as the Titusville Historic District with 452 contributing buildings parlaying the significance of Titusville as the center of the Pennsylvania’s oil industry from 1859 into the 20th century. 

Ida Tarbell House, 324 E. Main Street

Despite the collapse of the speculative oil boom by 1866, Titusville survived because of the mercantile trade it developed in the region, maintaining its prominence during other smaller oil booms that occurred in the region.

Keystone Help

While the community had diverse building stock, leaders felt there was a lack of the key understanding of how to maintain it.  It was also impossible to maintain their historic center if property owners couldn’t recognize what was important and what elements made their community unique.  That is where the Keystone Grant Program could step in to help.

The City contracted with T&B Planning of Murraysville, Pennsylvania to spearhead the project.  T&B Planning completed similar projects such as the Fayette County Mountain Area and the Pittsburgh Cultural Heritage Plan.   

The firm worked hard to engage Titusville’s stakeholders from the start of the process.  Through a series of public events, the planning team gauged what elements should be included in the design guidelines and used this baseline data to measure what residents considered important in their community and spark interest in maintaining this character in the building stock. 

What’s Included

The design guidelines provided an overview of the history of Titusville and the development of its architecture in effort to educate the public and those in charge of its stewardship of the importance of maintaining the community character.  Photographic assessment of structures, both commercial and residential, and detailed architectural renderings of exemplary historical buildings of various types within the district explained how to achieve that goal.  

W.H. Abbott House, 215 W. Main Street

These visual assessments provide a particularly close delineation of historic building materials and features found in Titusville’s commercial and residential architecture. 

The design guidelines offer comprehensive recommendations for the appropriate methods of maintaining, repairing, rehabilitating and/or restoring Titusville’s myriad styles of historic buildings and various building materials found therein.  Another helpful facet of the project are the real recommendations for maintaining and improving the streetscape in all areas of the historic district that accompany the visual assessments. 

William B. Sterrett House, 226 E. Main Street

Titusville’s final document recognizes that the town is an ever changing and evolving canvas.  Historic Preservation isn’t appropriate to preserve the streetscape as a time capsule but rather offer common sense suggestions to manage change that happens in every community.

There are recommendations that consider the implication of demolition and new construction (such as compatible examples of infill construction) to the historic district as a whole. 

West Spring Street commercial buildings

With an eye to the future, these recommendations ensure that further development within the City enhances the community character and meld seamlessly into the City’s defined cultural and historical context without visually detracting from the historic streetscape. 

The most telling part of the project was the public involvement.  Opinion surveys and presentations were a key component to the full project.  The project team used this effort to better educate and inform the community on historic preservation methods and the tools available to them.  These tools include identifying funding sources as well as providing detailed information on recommended approaches for repairing, preserving, and restoring historic buildings. 

These guidelines are now available on the City of Titusville’s website at

Want to know more know more about the Titusville, PA: Design Guide for Historic Structures and Features

Come to the Pennsylvania Statewide Conference on Heritage in Chambersburg!  There will be a session on Thursday, June 20th at 9 AM with Abbe Watson-Popscu and Rhonda Clark of the Titusville Planning Commission who will share the success of the project in the Collaborative Planning Approaches for Community Preservation Action and Placemaking Revitalization session.    Registration information about Preservation Pennsylvania’s Summer School may be found on the conference website at

Keystone Grants Announced

The Commission also announced the most recent recipients of Keystone Historic Preservation Grants. Included in the projects is a similar initiative in Oil City, Venango County sponsored by the Oil City Main Street Program.  Click here for a full list of the 2019-2020 Keystone recipients.