At the confluence of Oil Creek and the Allegheny River, Oil City extends over the valleys with beautiful
historic buildings, streets, and parks.

The town’s oil boom and industrial might, beginning in the 1860s, built homes, shops, and corporate headquarters of elegance and style. More than 100 years have passed since most of those buildings were constructed; the town and its inhabitants have changed significantly, while many historic buildings have retained most of their charm. These significant buildings are encompassed by the historic districts of Oil City, which have been recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as worthy of preservation.

Historic buildings and neighborhoods have great value for Oil City and its residents, but they also have challenges. Maintaining, restoring, adapting, and even understanding these buildings can be difficult. Whether you are a first time homeowner, a community leader, or an experienced commercial property
manager, this Design Guide has the information and tools you need, specific to Oil City. It is a voluntary resource to support and enable historic preservation and to encourage Oil City to flourish.

Common Terms

A building or a structure, such as a bridge or a monument, that is at least 50 years old and has meaning to the community’s past due to its architectural design or connection to a person or event of historical significance.

The National Park Service defines a historic district as “A geographically definable area, urban or rural, possessing a significant concentration, linkage, or continuity of sites, landscapes, structures, or objects, unified by past events or aesthetically by plan or physical developments. A district may also be composed of individual elements separated geographically but linked by association or history.”

The National Park Service defines a historic preservation as “The act or process of applying measures necessary to sustain the existing form, integrity, and materials of an historic property. Work, including preliminary measures to protect and stabilize the property, generally focuses upon the ongoing maintenance and repair of historic materials and features rather than extensive replacement and new construction. New exterior additions are not within the scope of this treatment; however, the limited and sensitive upgrading of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems and other code-required work to make properties functional is appropriate within a preservation project.” In simple terms, historic preservation encourages the protection, stabilization, and repair of historic materials, instead of replacement and new construction.

Purpose of a Design Guide

The main purpose of this voluntary Design Guide is to provide guidance for property owners, tenants, contractors, design professionals, tradespeople, local government officials, and community organizations to promote and ensure the integrity of the historic districts and buildings in Oil City for the enjoyment of current and future generations.

• Understand the important architectural and design features of older and historic buildings
• Provide maintenance recommendations – seasonal and long-term
• Understand technical building elements specific to historical periods
• Provide an informative resource for owners of historic buildings and individuals interested in purchasing a historic property in Oil City
• Encourage and foster good stewardship of historic buildings by providing accessible knowledge

• Enhance the cohesion and the integrity of the three historic districts by maintaining the authentic character of the buildings and landscape and preserving the neighborhood settings
• Build upon the aesthetic improvements already completed in downtown Oil City by the Oil City Main Street Program
• Promote cultural tourism and increase economic development by strengthening the aesthetics of the historic districts
• Attract new residents and economic investments by improving, maintaining, and strengthening the identity of Oil City’s historic districts

• Recommend improvements to public rights-of-way and recreational spaces in and around the historic districts
• Recommend tools to avoid demolition, assess when it is unavoidable, and document and salvage components of demolished buildings
• Provide design guidance for new construction to maintain continuity within the historic districts


This Design Guide aims to benefit the community of Oil City and its stakeholders. When properly utilized, the Design Guide mutually benefits
property owners, tenants, historic districts and the community.
• More homeowners maintain and restore their buildings, encouraged and enabled by the Design Guide
• Historic districts experience observable improvement, and inspire more improvements
• Historical related tourism and entrepreneurial development builds stronger commercial districts
• New residents are attracted to the historic districts and invest in properties, including blighted properties
• Historic preservation builds property values, tax revenue, community pride, and neighborhood strength

Sponsors, Team & Process

Funding for this Design Guide was supported by a Keystone Planning Grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Additional funding was provided by the National Park Service via the Oil Region Alliance of Business, Industry and Tourism; Hart Family Fund for Small Towns of the National Trust for Historic Preservation; Northwest Charitable Foundation, Inc.; Mr. and Mrs. Henry B. Suhr, Jr.; and Take Pride in Oil City.

The Oil City Main Street Program spearheaded the Design Guide project. A steering committee composed of residents and business owners from the three historic districts, local elected officials, and local community organizations oversaw the Oil City Design Guide process and development. The steering committee met with the consultant team, citySTUDIO and T&B Planning, regularly during the process to provide feedback and suggestions, and to publicize the Design Guide public engagement efforts. The committee recognizes the efforts of Kathy Bailey, Oil City Main Street Program Manager (2011 – 2023), for seeing this project through. Her hard work and dedication to the Program greatly benefited the Oil City community. Public input was provided via an online survey in Summer 2021. Public feedback on the second draft of the Design Guide was supplied during a public meeting in Spring 2023 and public comments on the final draft of the Design Guide was provided in Summer 2023 during a second public meeting. Cover art created by Raven Nespor, Oil City Main
Street Program Intern.

Get Your Copy

Download the complete Oil City Design Guide.

Contact: Stevette Rosen Main Street Manager
217 Elm Street • Oil City, PA 16301
Phone (814) 677-3152, ext 101
Fax (814) 677-5206