First Friday celebrates Meadville's birthday

May 3—It's a First Friday 236 years in the making — well aged, like a fine spirit, though Meadville could certainly pass for a city barely past its bicentennial.

The monthly installment of extended shopping hours at participating downtown shops is taking Meadville's birthday as its theme this month. David Mead and his party of 10 settlers arrived May 12, 1788, and the history that followed will be celebrated in a variety of ways around downtown, according to organizers.

"It's clear there's been a lot of pride in Meadville throughout its history," said Renna Wrubleski, co-chair of the group that organized the event. "The amount of adoration people have for our past is really inspiring and I hope we continue to have that pride today."

Wrubleski pointed to the consistent interest seen in historic photos of the city among local social media groups as evidence of civic pride. With that in mind, images of historic Meadville will be on display around the Market House during the event. In addition, the newly redesigned Experience Meadville website, which launched Thursday at, features historic photos linked to a map of downtown.

Using the map, visitors can stand at a variety of locations and view highlights of that specific site's history or look at then-and-now versions of downtown Meadville, comparing the current view to what it looked like in decades past. As they look west down Chestnut Street at the intersection with Market Street to the Downtown Mall, for instance, today's visitors can hold up the comparable historic image on their cellphones to see where trolley cars once ran down the middle of the street past Woolworth's and toward French Creek in the distance.

The scene depicted in that image comes from 1911, the same year the Crawford County Trust building opened at the northwestern corner of the intersection of Chestnut Street and Market Street, just south of the Market House. The skyscraper that towers over the downtown area will be another site exploring history during today's event.

While the building often has people looking up, today the focus will be on the ground floor and below. Not too far from the first-floor lobby chandelier will be an exhibit on the building's history. Expanded in 1931, there's little the tower hasn't seen in more than a century, according to Ron Mattocks, who was setting up displays and readying for visitors Thursday. But at the same time, there are plenty of current residents unfamiliar with the building's history and even more who haven't seen the inside of the building in recent years.

Today, visitors will have a chance to head downstairs, where the former vault area, still featuring the massive door as thick as an adult's arm is long, has been transformed into The Vault Lounge, an event space with a speakeasy feel. There they'll be able to purchase historically themed drinks made with Meadville Rye, distilled according to the original 19th-century recipe, such as the Whiskey Sa-Spirella, a sarsaparilla-flavored cocktail that pays homage to the corset company that had several Meadville locations when the Trust building opened.

Mattocks drew particular attention to the Trust building's location next door to the Market House and the related roles played by the two buildings in area history.

"The Market House represents a the agricultural aspect of our economy and this building," he said with a a quick glance around the vault room, "this building kind of represents the industrial or financial side of things."

First Friday participants will not only be able to see images of Meadville's multifaceted past, they'll be able to taste part of it as well, according to Ashley Mattocks-Rose, a member of the board that oversees the Market House and also Mattocks' sister. The free treats at the Market House will be historically inspired.

"We're doing historic cookies from Catherine Reynolds' cookbook," Mattocks-Rose said, referring to a member of the family best remembered today through its connection to the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum. "I've been in test kitchen all week, trying out three different recipes of jumbles — it's like a snickerdoodle."

Like the descent into the largely forgotten vault area, the juxtaposition of past and present almost inevitably brings deeper thoughts to mind.

"It's still underground, but it's no longer 'underground,'" Mattocks-Rose joked of the event space drawing people back downstairs. "It's like at the Market House — we understand that we have to preserve history, but it's also our job to keep pushing forward and preserve it for the future. The more we can save, the better."

While happy to celebrate the past, Mattocks warned that a fixation on the past shouldn't become an obstacle.

"Change is going to happen," he said.

Wrubleski expressed optimism about the changes underway 236 years after the city's birth.

"Even if it doesn't look the way it did," she said, "we're headed in a good direction."


The First Friday Celebrate Meadville event takes place today from 5 to 8 p.m. at more than a dozen downtown locations on Chestnut Street and nearby on Market Street and Park Avenue. The free event features raffles, special offers at select stores, and activities relating to Meadville's 236 birthday. Participants can earn raffle tickets by spending $17.88 or more at participating stores — a nod to the city's founding year. A historic Meadville exhibit, along with historically inspired treats, will be on display at the Market House, where Mayor Jaime Kinder will deliver a birthday proclamation at 6.

Mike Crowley can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at