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Search Buildings of Western PA Using PHLF Database

The Buildings of Western Pennsylvania Searchable Database is a resource containing over 1,700 data fields documenting the contents of the collection of research materials assembled for the writing of Buildings of Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania (University of Virginia Press in association with the Society of Architectural Historians, 2010).

Compiled in File Maker Pro, the Database is a spreadsheet style document that allows users to search through materials pertaining to important architecture, historic personages, town histories, correspondence, National Register documents, maps, floor plans, photos, newspaper articles, and many other records from 32 western Pennsylvania counties.

Of these media types, newspaper articles and printed histories of various kinds comprise the majority of the collection. The intent of the Database is to allow researchers not only a quick means to look up information in the collection, but a means to gain a general sense of what materials can be found within the collection in a more comprehensive and detailed way than a finding aid would allow.[1]

All entries within the database are comprised of five fields. From left to right, they are box number, folder number and name, the type of record or records, the specific name of the record or records, and, if available, the date of publication.  Thus, an example entry might read 1; Folder 5: Erie County-Erie City; National Register of Historic Places Registration Form; Boston Store; 1996. Most entries have multiple records per generic record heading (i.e. several specific brochures in the fourth column under the category “Brochures” in the third) for the sake of convenience.

While the Database was compiled to be comprehensive, there are a few notes to be made on its scope. Any and all historical information from a variety of sources is listed under the heading “General Information” by topic, as opposed to the type of record. Field notes, which are present in almost every box and folder, have not been listed largely as a result of their idiosyncratic nature; it should generally be assumed that topics covered under “General Information,” will, however, have field notes pertaining to them. Various photos and illustrations that depict unknown buildings from unknown locations are also present, and have been largely excluded. Users should, as with field notes, assume that photos relating to the folder topics will be present. Finally, though redundant copies of several items exist, generally only one copy is listed, in the first location it is present from Box 1, Folder 1 onward through Box 17, Folder 6.

The Database can be searched in a number of ways. The best way to find items is to list search terms in the search bar in the upper right hand corner of the file. Users can input as few or as many specific search terms as they would like to narrow results. For example, “Washington” will return all entries that contain the word “Washington” across all fields, “Washington County” all entries with “Washington” or “County,” “Washington County Newspaper Articles” all newspaper-based entries from Washington County, and “Washington County Newspaper Articles 2003” all articles from the year 2003. Note, however, that a search like “Washington County” will return results on information about George Washington within Allegheny County. This formula allows users to, for example, search for specific articles on specific topics from a given year, all brochures from a given town in a county, or all highway maps across all counties.

When searching terms, the following words may prove especially useful, though users are encouraged to input specific names of towns, individuals, buildings, bridges, and other more particular topics––Pittsburgh, any Pittsburgh neighborhood, brochures, handbills, general information, maps, National Register documents, scans of printed books, lists (of properties), menus, photos; illustrations, blueprints, floor plans, correspondence (which often contains information on buildings) sent to Lu Donnelly, principal author and volume editor, surveys, newspaper articles (primarily from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Pittsburgh Business Times, and Pop City Media), journals, magazines, and booklets.

Thirty-one Western PA counties are included in the published book, Buildings of Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania: Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Armstrong, Indiana, Westmoreland, Fayette, Greene, Washington, Cambria, Blair, Centre, Huntingdon, Fulton, Bedford, Somerset, Warren, McKean, Potter, Clinton, Cameron, Elk, Forest, Clarion, Jefferson, Clearfield, Erie, Crawford, Venango, Mercer, and Lawrence. Research was done on thirty-two counties but Juniata County was moved to Buildings of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania (2010), although some research material remains in this collection.

Ryan Henderson

Duquesne University


[1] The Finding Aid for Buildings of Western Pennsylvania Research Collection was completed June 2009 and can be consulted in the James D. Van Trump Library, Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633