Preserving Grove City

preserving grove city

In the last two decades, Grove City has made some great improvements. In 1995, downtown was filled with obtrusive street lights and power lines, while recent revitalization efforts have buried those power lines and added period street lamps to complement the architecture. The brick sidewalks and facade improvements make the downtown seem fresh, yet still historic. These are a few of the positives.

However, if you looked at Grove City from let’s say 1930 compared to today, you’d probably be pretty disappointed. Beautiful buildings have been replaced with generic lifeless structures. Once thriving family neighborhoods are now apartments and peeling paint. While many of Grove City’s most historic structures can never be brought back, we can at least try to save what we have left. We need to stop bulldozing history and replacing it with Rite Aids.


The view of Main Street from Broad Street in the early 1900's
The view of Main Street from Broad Street in the early 1900’s

First, look at Main Street. Beautiful homes, churches and schools once lined both sides. Looking at the picture above, on the very left you can barely see the corner of a church tower (also pictured below). Beside the church, you have several attractive homes that today would be considered historic and somewhat architecturally interesting. Just beyond the intersection of Main and Center you see the old Center School (also pictured below). Today, not a single building in this picture is standing. Often, something new can be better than something old. But today, the church is a parking lot, the houses are a Rite Aid, and Central School is a McDonalds. Better?

Presbyterian Church on the corner of Broad and Main St.
Presbyterian Church on the corner of Broad and Main St. Now a parking lot.
Central School House, where McDonalds is today
Central School, where McDonalds is today

On Broad Street, College View Towers demolished an entire block of downtown (pictured below). Continue down the Main Street and you’ll find gas stations. Country Fair and BP/Marathon took down churches. Rev. Dr. Isaac Ketler, who founded Grove City College, had an ornate Victorian mansion that was demolished on Main Street (pictured below). What stands in it’s place? The old cinder block Rite Aid that now sits empty. While time often brings change, and change is sometimes necessary, the community has the right to say, “Is this what we need, and is this where we need it?”

South Broad Street, where College View Towers once stood.
South Broad Street, where College View Towers now stands.
Dr. Ketler's home, once at the intersection of Center St. and Main St.
Rev. Dr. Ketler’s home, demolished to make way for the former, and now empty, Rite Aid on Main St.

In the last few months, the newest Rite Aid demolished a large beautiful craftsmen home, along with the old Four Star Pizza building that was once one of the first gas stations in the area. Granted, the building sat vacant for a few years, but it had unique architecture that added character to the busiest intersection in town. The right person could have restored it into something useful, and beautiful. In the right situation, change is the right decision. A hotel was once interested in building on that block, but had trouble acquiring all of the land it needed. While you could more easily argue that a hotel near downtown Grove City could have been good change, can you argue the same about Rite Aid?

First a gas station, then pizza show. Recently demolished to make way for the new Rite Aid.
First a gas station, then pizza shop. Recently demolished to make way for the new Rite Aid.

It’s important to remember that the most successful small towns are loved for their main streets and not for their strip malls or Rite Aids. They’re also not loved for their giant housing developments. While the first step in Grove City is preservation, the second is restoration. In nearly every case, the nicest small towns are the ones that embrace its history and, when needed, restore it so the houses and buildings will be around for another century. Every year the once stately homes around West Pine, Main Street, Center Street and others fall further into disrepair or are renovated into apartments. And with Center Street being the entrance to Grove City, the first impression is hardly a good one.

While there is no clear answer as to how to make these residential neighborhoods thrive again, we can at least look at what other successful communities have done. Many have embraced walkable neighborhoods. They place more value on being able to walk downtown and historical character, than having a giant backyard and a three car garage in the suburbs. To not have to get in your car for every errand is a plus to many. Could this trend happen in Grove City? Why not? There’s a growing popularity of TV shows that spotlight buying old homes on the cheap, and putting the rest of your budget towards renovating it into your dream home. And this trend isn’t just on TV. If for every person that built a new house in Village Park, another person could be convinced to instead renovate a home in town, change could happen quickly. For now we just wait for that one person, or group of people, that are inspired to make the first step. Then hopefully others will follow.

We can’t replace these buildings once they’ve been demolished. And if they are going to be demolished, we should at least make sure it isn’t for another Rite Aid.

by Alex DeGroff

Old Grove City Train Station on Blair Street.
Old Grove City Train Station on Blair Street.
Another image of the Presbyterian Church on Main Street and South Broad Street, now a parking lot.
Another image of the Presbyterian Church on Main Street and South Broad Street, now a parking lot.

15 thoughts on “Preserving Grove City

  1. I was indeed sad to see that craftsman style home torn down. I was in it when it was the Olde Arbor Rose B&B and it was lovely. It makes me cry to tear down old buildings that could be resurrected. This is why I was so thankful for the people renovating Sweet Jeanie’s. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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    1. You know what really made me sad and really angry was when they tore down the old Junior High , I went there and I cried when I saw it was gone…STOP….leave the old buildings alone, WHY ?? do people have to do that ? It is just sad.

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  2. I enjoyed reading this and seeing pics from the past. There are some vacant buildings in town that are structurally deficient and, sadly, the only option is tear down. We’ve been renovating houses in grove city since 2009 and are always looking for more projects.

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  3. I loved seeing the old pictures. It makes me wish we never changed a thing. It would have been cool to see the train station if it was still standing. It’s truly sad that so much is being changed.

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  4. Moved from Grove City to Bedford, PA in 1985. If you need an example of a revitalized town, you need to visit Bedford, PA.

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  5. When I was a kid, I worked in the summer for Joe Alberth in that old Quaker State gas station on the corner of S. Center and W. Main Streets. The renovation of old gasoline stations entales costly remedial environmental procedures that may easily exceed the commercial or residential value of the property. Over the past 23 years, many visits to Western Europe have always raised within me a sadness that our culture does not build more permanent buildings, or place more value on preserving those that we have. Perhaps We have lost a common social ethic that formerly placed value upon quality of living rather than quantity of acquisition. Or, maybe we’ve yet to gain such an ethic. Regardless, once again, ” We have met the enemy and he is us”.

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  6. Very well wrote article. I would have to agree. Grove city is a beautiful town as well as a community. I grew up here. Not in town but still this is my home and I want my son to feel like down town is a safe place to be and to appreciate the historical value of what we still have here. The big business has a hold on our community and some have done good for our community yet others just see $$$$ signs. We can not stop the progress of big business but we can at least make an effort to preserve what we have. Thank you for voicing your opinion Andy.

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  7. Well done Alex. I grew up at 519 State Street in the 40’s and 50’s. I attended Lincoln School and the old GC High School on Main St. The class of ’55 was the first class to graduate from the new HS. As a matter of fact our class of 1955 is having our 60th HS reunion this August 22nd at the GC Country Club. It will be fun to see what downtown looks like now. Keep up the good work and kudos to those who are undertaking these projects to bring back the charm and beauty of our beautiful little town.
    Suzanne Murphy

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  8. Alex,
    Your comments and thoughts are both insightful and well-written. Having spent a great deal of my career in the real estate business in Grove City, and a number of years as Chairman of the Grove City Planning Commission, I/we dealt with many of the issues you mention–sometimes successfully, other times not.

    In 1965 we proposed that a “theme” be developed for the downtown that would take advantage of the many historic, and architecturally interesting, buildings. We could not get the business owners, building owners, or a majority of council to agree that this would be beneficial to the entire community.

    On the other hand, in the early 70’s, there was a push to rezone West Main street, commercially, from Broad Street to the city limits. We managed to save the blocks, from Elm to Spring Streets, residentially. As a result, a number of homes that had been converted to apartments (4 that I’m sure of) were converted back to single family homes. Maintaining the residential zoning designation not only protected W. Main St, but also protected homes on both College Ave and Poplar St.

    As to College View Towers, and the buildings it replaced. Those buildings, all in a deteriorating condition, were purchased by J. Howard Pew and given to the borough with the stipulation that they would be torn down and the site used for a new borough bldg. He clearly wanted a better “neighbor” for Grove City College.

    The first site selected for elderly housing by the Planning Commission was on Jackson St., directly across from the Kroger store and adjacent to the parking lot behind G.C. Murphy–the most convenient location for daily access by the elderly, few of whom would be driving. It was to consist of two 4 story buildings, as opposed to the high rise we now have. Unfortunately, it had to be a Redevelopment project and the Redevelopment funds of the 60’s and early 70’s evaporated. The late Don King, then President of Council, and I went to the Chairman of the Mercer Cy Housing Authority, asking what we could do to assure elderly housing for Grove City.
    His answer was “Have a site available–NOW.”

    Thus, the present site of College View Towers. Even then, a controversy continued over the need for it. Many residents, including Mayor Perry, were opposed to it. They were convinced that “Grove City does not need this”. We managed to prevail and, ultimately, found that over 50% of the first occupants were living on Social Security only. The building was fully occupied within months, and has continually had a waiting list. Among the most vocal opponents were a number of college professors. Ironically, the Mother-in-law of the most vocal opponent, lived there for five years before passing away.

    I, for one, appreciate your interest and concern for our community, Alex–and I still consider Grove City “my” community. I hope you find the information that I have provided at least interesting. A gentleman that I have the utmost respect for–now deceased–said that “It’s very important for us to know what we don”t know.”

    Best regards,
    Chuck Bestwick

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