La Bella Fontana

Report from Bellefonte PA, by Helen Fontana Bechdel

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Side streets hide town's true beauty

Originally uploaded by Alison Bechdel.
By Helen Bechdel

For the Center Daily Times

Tours of Bellefonte typically direct the visitor to look at the town from the perspective of its main streets, where historic buildings and residences predominate. But a walk along the lanes behind these streets presents a different picture entirely.

Carriage houses, stables and other outbuildings line the lanes, or alleys as they were formerly named, recalling a more muscular era before the appearance of the first automobile. Even though they have been converted to other uses, these structures retain many of their original architectural features.

On East Cherry Lane, behind the Undine Fire Company, a row of stables still looks as it must have in an earlier age. Built of stone, stucco and block, each a bit different from its neighbor, they resemble a mews in an old English village.

On West Cherry Lane, the outline of the original arch is still visible in a converted brick carriage house. Step-sided end walls and a gable surround a pitched roof. Another house at the end of the lane has undergone more of a transformation with its wrought-iron trim and picture window.

Decatur Lane, from Howard Street to Lamb Street, claims three carriage houses on the properties of large homes facing Allegheny Street. One is a private residence, one has been converted to apartments, and the third has recently been painted and restored to blend with the historic nature of its location.

Church Lane almost could have a walking tour of its own, starting from its intersection with Armor Street and heading west. The carriage house located at the rear of the Bellefonte Victorian Manor still contains two horse stalls with space for carriages and feed. Farther along is a brick stable with a hay door, and toward Allegheny street, a restored board-and-batten carriage house rises to an impressive height.

Most of the buildings encountered along the lanes of Bellefonte could be described as functional and relatively free of ornament. That description does not apply, however, to the ornate shingle-and-stone carriage house at the corner of Locust Lane and West Church, behind the Reynolds Mansion.

With its finial-topped ventilators, "flying" roof line and rounded windows, it is an architectural gem in its own right. You almost expect to hear the clatter of an elegant carriage turning down the drive.

To really do justice to an inside view of Bellefonte would require research on a large order. My examples are just a start.


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