Trailheads presents information and details about the exhibits, events and programs hosted by the historic sites and museums on PHMC's Pennsylvania Trails of History.

From the 1950s into the 1970s, when Midcentury Modern architecture was at its height, a flurry of new construction took place on the Trails of History. Many of the visitor centers and museums from this period echoed historic forms appropriate to the sites where they were built. The visitor center at Ephrata Cloister, constructed in the late 1950s to mid-1960s, is complementary to the surviving buildings of the 18th-century community. Fort Pitt Museum was designed in 1966 by Stotz, Hess & MacLachlan to provide museum exhibit space within Pittsburgh’s Point State Park. According to Charles M. Stotz in the July 1969 issue of The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, in order that “the park should not be interrupted by buildings, even though interior museum space was required,” the architect created “a large space within the Monongahela Bastion which was to be restored on its original site.”

But many other PHMC visitor centers and museums built in the 1960s and 1970s exhibited the streamlined forms and features associated with Midcentury Modern architecture. Designs for the Anthracite Heritage Museum, Eckley Miners’ Village, the Pennsylvania Military Museum and Drake Well Museum included glass window walls, aluminum accents such as lettering, and a very stripped-down appearance, sometimes referred to (lovingly) by staff as “electrical substation modern.” The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, built in the early 1970s, was the first building in North America constructed as a railroad museum. It was designed by the same firm as Fort Pitt Museum, but this time the architects took a modern approach. Though much larger than most other PHMC museums built during this period, the Railroad Museum has the same modern straight lines and somewhat blank façade as many of the others. (It is also worth noting here that the Railroad Museum collection includes several locomotives that epitomize the Midcentury Modern aesthetic.) In the past two decades, many of these buildings have been altered, expanded or adorned to provide more welcoming entrances for visitors.


Case Study: Historic Pithole

In response to my request for information from Trails of History sites, Drake Well Museum administrator Melissa Mann and curator Susan Beates provided me with details of the visitor center at Pithole, which inspired my (mostly) online odyssey. For those of you unfamiliar with this gem, Pithole, also known as Pithole City, was a quintessential oil boomtown. Within a few months after the first wells were drilled on the Holmden farm in the summer of 1865, Pithole was a full-fledged town of 15,000 people. But by 1870 it was nearly deserted. (Look for more of the story this year as we mark Pithole’s 150th birthday.)

Fast forward to 1963. Titusville Herald editor James B. Stevenson, having acquired approximately 95 acres of the now-vanished boomtown, donated the property to the commonwealth, which made it PHMC’s responsibility. Stevenson served as chair of PHMC from 1962 to 1971 and he maintained an active interest in the project. Summarizing its progress in a May 22, 1973, article in The Derrick (Oil City), he noted that in 1966 Erie architect Robert A. Krider was hired to design a visitor center and ancillary buildings. Because historically there were no stone or brick buildings in Pithole, “Krider followed the wooden theme with boards and battens on the outside which fit into a modernistic design surprisingly well.” The split-level visitor center featured “a huge, glass enclosed observation deck” and a roof structure that was “intended to resemble an oil well derrick without being exactly like one.”

The design was approved in 1968, and bids were solicited. As will surprise no one, the bids came in above budget; additional funds were secured and Krider adjusted the plans. The building was completed in 1972 at a cost of roughly $200,000. Despite some delays – Stevenson cited budget and staffing woes – the site opened to the public. Over the years, it has been under the administration of Drake Well Museum with various staffing levels. Currently, the visitor center is open on weekends in the summer (the rooftop “derrick” is no more, sadly) and hosts several events during the year (the next is Wildcatter Day on Saturday, June 6).

Curious to know more about the architect, I spent the better part of a day exploring, unable to find a concise biography; however, searching led me to a surprising variety of online sources – census records, yearbooks, news items – from which I was able to glean at least a partial picture.

Robert A. Krider was born in Meadville, Crawford County, in 1913. He graduated from Meadville High School (the 1930 yearbook lists his ambition as “To out-do Paderewski”). He attended Allegheny College in Meadville (listed in the 1932 yearbook), then transferred to Cornell University (listed as a sophomore in the 1933 Cornellian and as a senior in 1935). He was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, the Honorary Architecture Society, and (according to a 1935 item in the Cornell Daily Sun) a musical group called the Highlanders.

Krider was back in Meadville by 1937, listed in the city directory as an architect (the 1940 census found him living with his parents, who had a half dozen other lodgers as well). He enlisted in 1942, served as an ordnance officer in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, and appears to have spent some time in the South Pacific. By 1946 he was living and practicing architecture in Erie. His firm, Meyers, Krider, Werle & Ellenberger, designed some churches and schools in the 1950s and 1960s, but I found few references to other work.

In the late 1970s he conducted an architectural study of the circa 1838 Sturgeon House for the Fairview Area Historical Society and coauthored an article exploring Underground Railroad legends associated with Erie’s oldest building, the Perry Memorial House, also known as Dickson Tavern. Krider and his wife Margaret (Peggy) were active in Erie’s arts community; the Northwestern Pennsylvania Artists Association awards the Peggy and Bob Krider Scholarship each year.

Robert A Krider died in 1982 and is buried in Meadville’s Greendale Cemetery. I wasn’t able to find his obituary, but when Peggy passed away in 2011, her obituary referred to her late husband as “Architect, Pianist, and Erie County Historian.” His work at Pithole stands as a reminder of his architectural career.


Amy Killpatrick Fox is a museum educator in PHMC’s Bureau of Historic Sites and Museums. She writes a weekly blog called Trailheads.