Last week I had the privilege of touring a landmark Shamokin structure–the McConnell Building, corner of Sunbury and Rock Streets. Its red-brick facade has been a distinctive feature of downtown Shamokin for more than a hundred and twenty years, but most locals have probably never been afforded the opportunity of a close look at its architecture and history.
The McConnell Building was named for William C. McConnell (1860-1949), a prominent local businessman and later state senator. Originally hailing from a small town near Harrisburg, McConnell removed to Shamokin and aligned early in the 1880s with the Kulps and McWilliamses, pioneer merchants of lumber, brick and ice.
Left: An early photo of William C. McConnell. Right: McConnell (left) in his office with George Jones (right), probably 1930s. This may or may not have been in the McConnell Building.
McConnell was only twenty-one years of age when he joined the firm of Kulp, McWilliams & Co. on January 1, 1882. In 1886, Kulp, McWilliams & Co. was dissolved, with Darlington Kulp retaining the lumber business and McWilliams and McConnell taking brick and ice.
Prior to the construction of the McConnell Building, the Kulp company occupied a simple building on the corner of Sunbury and Rock Streets.
McConnell’s career seems to have taken off rapidly. Plans for construction of a new business block, the future McConnell Building, were already being developed in March of 1894. The building was completed in January 1895.
Today, the McConnell Building retains most of its original appearance both inside and out. The distinctive feature of the facade is a triple archway with stone columns, flanked by the arched windows of the two front offices (now apartments).
Above: Views of the portico area.
An arched entryway leads into a vestibule which still contains the original wall tile in delicate designs and pastel tones.
The outer doors, painted green, appear to have been a later addition. The tiled entryway was most likely open-air.
In addition to the firm of McWilliams & McConnell, the Shamokin Business College moved here in 1895 on the third floor, and the Kulp Lumber Company–then known as D.R. Kulp & Co.–located their headquarters in one of the front offices.
Above: Main hallway and original entry doors.
Left: Main hallway. Next to the radiator is the door of the Kulp Lumber Company office.
Right: Stairway and door to front left apartment. Presumably this would have been the McWilliams & McConnell office.
Kulp’s lumber firm was probably headquartered in the McConnell Building for a number of years. They were later located, at various periods, in the Masonic Building and at 316 East Independence Street. Suffice to say that this excellently preserved front office in the McConnell Building was, at the turn of the century, the center of operations for the Kulp firm during its heyday under the leadership of Monroe H. Kulp, popular Congressman and eldest son of founder Darlington Kulp.
A rare photograph, reprinted in the News Dispatch in 1946 and believed to have been taken in 1895, shows the company officers in their new headquarters.
We can imagine that many a timber deal was concluded and business plans negotiated in this room. In 1905, when “Farmer” Kulp embarked on his project of building a town between Shamokin and Mount Carmel, this was the office at which interested locals were directed to inquire about purchasing lots in the brand new settlement. That town would soon be known as Kulpmont.
Although the company later relocated their offices, they returned to the McConnell Building in 1946. In a photo of the building’s facade from 1957, lettering on the second floor reads “W.J. Wiest” and “Kulp Lumber Company.” The photo, currently in the collection of Larry Deklinski, can be viewed at Deklinski’s website here.
In recent years, the office was converted to an apartment. A kitchen and bath were added and ceilings were lowered, but the room retains its original woodwork, including a curved window with interior shutters.
On one side of the room is a walk-in safe, shown below.
Also noteworthy is the office’s front door, which appears to be original although most other apartment doors in the building were replaced over the years. The door features a “Newspapers” slot where company executives may have received their daily or weekly copy of the Dispatch or Herald.
Improvements are currently underway in the apartment, but the McConnell Building’s gracious and history-conscious proprietor intends to preserve the features which have survived so well over 125 years. A neutral paint color scheme will be used to keep the historic atmosphere authentic.
Across the hall, we find the opposite front office, likely McConnell’s. The current tenant kindly allowed me inside to get a photo of the beautiful tiled fireplace which matches the vestibule.
Another striking feature of the building is the central staircase, leading up four floors.
Above: First-second floor views of the staircase.
Above: Second floor views.
Above: Third and fourth floor views.
The William McConnell Building is a local treasure in a town where historic architecture is rapidly dwindling. Touring its halls is also a unique opportunity to see Shamokin as its citizens of old did, and to retrace the steps of these earlier generations through the spaces they built and occupied.
Shamokin desperately needs this kind of refreshing perspective, one which can only be attained through reconnecting with her past. For this reason, William McConnell’s imposing edifice is still relevant today, and stands as a declaration that this community’s history has not yet been lost.