I’ve had to deal with some weekday errands these past few days, but now I’m finally here in front of my computer to report on another very interesting trek I had on Wednesday through some old local landmarks. After that Washington School expedition a few weeks ago, this is really getting quite interesting. Photos ahead!
First stop: The Douty Building, Sunbury Street. Erected July 1865 by John Blundin Douty–businessman, coal baron. Original history of building: Storefronts, apartments? Current status: Apartments throughout 2nd floor, sheer disrepair on 3rd.
We arrived at the Douty Building shortly before 4 o’ clock, when the property was scheduled to be auctioned. Bidding wasn’t for me, of course, but I couldn’t resist getting a closer glimpse into another piece of Shamokin history.
So, I came in and gave myself the grand tour–the auctioneer was okay with letting me explore on my own. The first floor was rather unremarkable; inhabited by the remnants of a church organization called “The Ministry of the Water and Spirit.” They hadn’t quite cleared out yet, so most of the first floor was filled with their old stuff. (Interesting–the old Washington School, which I visited a few weeks ago, was also used by a church organization at one time.)
The second floor was all apartments; very small cubbyholes of apartments, and there were three or four. Someone mentioned that this area had been a beauty parlor some years ago. At the moment, the apartments looked fairly clean, and all very much alike, modern, and generic, with white paint and tidy gray wall-to-wall carpeting, while the narrow hallways seemed more of a throwback to the 70’s. The floors were an aged green-and-white linoleum tile, and the walls were covered in wallpaper of a drowsy, faded straw yellow–the not-so-elegant pattern resembling straw, too.
Down the hall, however, were sharp turns left and then right again, and out onto the landing of a big, old spiral staircase extending both up a floor and down one. Faded green paint was to be found in most places, and the tip of a window nestled behind the stairs was visible. Here, at least, things probably hadn’t changed all that much in a hundred-some years–precisely the way I prefer my old buildings.
Unused to the construction of the stairs, I made my way up them slowly. I had not thought to bring a flashlight but for the very weak one in my cell phone, so I used especial caution as some sections were very dark. Finally, at the top of the stairs, I found myself on the third floor, and faced with two doorways.
The one on my left led to a fantastic old room. It was in awful shape, but still bearing wallpaper that in some sections was probably over a century old, as well as the remnants of fine woodwork and…a few other interesting articles. Such as an extremely old sink in one corner.
Apparently, this area had housed a washroom at one time. There was also a rickety ladder near the door leading up to some sort of loft or crawlspace, but needless to say I didn’t venture up there.
Picking my way around the debris, I exited the room and went through the second doorway into a dim hall, where I found three doors all leading into the large, main room of the Douty Building’s third floor.
More debris, of course. But those windows were certainly something. Both side walls, as well, had been lined with large windows until they were boarded up. At one end of the room, I found the dust-shrouded pieces of a banister which resembled that of the rear staircase I had just climbed. Apparently, the now-remodeled front section of the building had had a similar staircase at one time. Also nearby were several fine old glass lamps. Another interested individual I met up with downstairs who seems to know his stuff says that this room may have been some sort of meeting area at one time; he says the green-painted doors are indicative of that.
I also followed the rear staircase down to the ground floor, but found little there except a cardboard box, an odd set of numbers stamped onto the edge of the stairs (hey, I have no idea), and a small, cramped closet under the stairs to which my first reaction was, “Fine place for a hobbit or something, eh?”
Next Stop: F&S Brewery building, Commerce Street.
Downstairs again, the auction took place some time later, but we left early along with a few friends who had also come to take a look around. While talking with them I learned that one had recently purchased a building in town on Commerce Street, the old Fuhrmann and Schmidt Brewery place just past the railroad tracks, with its grayish purple and blue paint over brick, that had recently been serving as a bar. Being that this was rather a local landmark as well, I asked my friend if he would mind letting us come and have a look around there too. It was getting a little dim outside, but we had nothing much else to do, so he agreed–although warning me that the place was not in perfect shape–and we drove the few blocks to Commerce Street.
I confess that, unlike most Shamokin historians, I don’t know a great deal about the F&S brewery, and I’m not sure what purpose this particular building of theirs served–although I know that the rest of the brewery was in the same area–but I have always presumed that it held the company’s offices, or something of that nature. I could be wrong about this, and after exploring the place it seems plausible that it may always have been some type of bar/saloon/watering hole/social gathering spot. (If anyone knows please feel free to enlighten!)
So, arriving at the squarish brick facade of the building, we parked nearby and proceeded up the steps, past a few classic nightclub glass block windows and beer signs still hanging on the walls. Basically, everything looked fairly recent here, including the door which was a rather cheap, vinyl, hardware store, plain-brass-knob, within-the-past-15-years variety. I didn’t expect that much of the building’s original design, if it had ever had much, was still around, but we went in anyway.
The first room was unremarkable–and in rather unpleasant condition. Apparently, the place had been empty for some time before my friend purchased it a few months ago. The bar was rather large, wood and glass block, but not very old. There was a lot of dust and debris, and a few puddles of water had collected on the concrete floor near the entrance, reflecting the street lights on Independence Street that were just beginning to turn on. There were no lights in the building, however, and we used our cell phone flashlights to get around the increasing darkness of the unlit rooms.
After a quick look around the main bar area, we proceeded across some pieces of foam and cardboard through a narrow doorway at the left, leading to the non-saloon section of the building. To my surprise, after a mere couple of feet our flashlights revealed a large staircase of heavy, intricately carved dark wood directly ahead. The hefty banister was covered in fragile veils of cobwebs over every inch, but the quality of the woodwork was undeniable. The last few steps of the stairs were curved outward in an elegant fashion, and even the walls were paneled luxuriously in deep, carved wood.
Basically every section of every wall in this room was wood paneled, complete with carved floral patterns and the works. There was a small room in the back with double exterior doors, and very solid brick walls. (This place is built well, let me tell you.)
On the large landing upstairs, we found several drawers and cabinets–carved wood again–built into the wall, and more fine banister detail.
The main second floor room into which the stairs led was also well-designed, and directly across from the staircase was a room with solid wood beams paneling the walls in an Elizabethan style. Most of the ceilings were dropped, but above some missing panels a few pieces of old trim were still intact. There was also a small room near the stairs which you can see in the above photo, but it wasn’t much (at least compared to the rest of the building!).
At a left turn from the stairs was another doorway, and just past it were draped large, heavy pieces of gray construction canvasing under which you had to stoop to get through. The ceilings here were especially high, and at one place in the middle of the room a ladder with peeling white paint was positioned, leading up to a small, square, windowed dormer-like area. One large corner of the room was walled off, but accessible by a doorway and a long pass-through–resembling a kitchen-type setup, so I presumed we had entered a dining room of some sort. Along one wall were tall windows, with their many panes of glass glazed over from extended lack of cleaning, and scraggly branches of dead trees outside scratched against them in the gray illumination of approaching dusk.
It was getting late and time to go, so we headed back downstairs and out to the front porch. I snapped a few photos of evening Independence Street just across the railroad tracks, but couldn’t help recalling what an unusually beautiful building I’d just encountered, despite its poor condition–and all the past years woven into the gossamers of cobwebs, and the elegant floral carvings of a once-majestic hall. At the same time, too, who knows how many prominent locals of the past may once have trodden up and down that same spiraling rear staircase of the 150-year-old Douty Building; or stood before its windows; or under its high ceilings and now-broken lamps; or through its long, dusty passageways–a century before now? There’s a lot of past in these buildings–and that’s what it’s all about.