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1979 McDonald's Comes to Mansfield PA
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Mansfield Is Home of Northern Tier's First McDonald's  by Steve McCloskey

November 2018, Mansfield PA

Photos from the Collection of the History Center on Main Street in Mansfield PA

mcdonalds 1993
Mcdonads 2018

In case you haven’t noticed, Mansfield has been suffering from Big Mac withdrawal as of late.

Three months ago, on August 11, Mansfield’s most successful business closed its doors to start a complete renovation, and it is scheduled to reopen in early December. The new Mansfield McDonald’s will be in the same location, but nothing of the original building will remain.

Although it doesn’t seem that long ago, and hence may not seem quite historic to some, the grand opening of Mansfield McDonald’s on May 1, 1979 ranks among the top business and social milestones in borough history.

On that spring day 39 years ago, Mansfield became the most envied community in the whole entire Northern Tier when it became McDonald’s first location in the vast expanse of territory between Corning, NY and Williamsport from North to South and Scranton and Erie from East to West to host the Golden Arches.


Gene Walsh had left his job with the Philadelphia Gas Company and moved to Mansfield with his wife and business partner Irene, along with their children. They had purchased The Dairy Treat on South Main Street in 1969. Cast and Crew presently occupies that building.

Rumors had started circulating around the community in 1978 that McDonald’s was looking for property. Shortly thereafter Gene Walsh responded to a blind ad placed in the Elmira Star-Gazette concerning a franchise opportunity. After a vetting process, Gene was selected to become McDonald’s newest franchise owner.

McDonald’s acquired what the company considered the most desirable parcel of property in town. The site was the former location of Burke's Grocery and Tony’s Pizza located next to Corey Creek. It was then owned by Wells and Goodall Pontiac - located across North Main Street where Northern Tier Beverage now operates - along with John and Janice Colegrove.

dairy treat

 There was a lot going on in and around the borough in the months surrounding McDonald’s grand opening. Those of us that were around during those chaotic days of gas shortage lines will remember the rationing of gasoline allowing drivers to buy gas only on days that corresponded to the numbers on the license plates

Even though hampered by the shortage of gas, traffic was a mess. There was no bypass then, with all Route 15 traffic both north and south passing directly through Mansfield on Main Street. Traffic lines at the light at the intersection of Route 6 and Route 15 never seemed to diminish. Backing out of a parking spot on Main Street was a lesson in patience.

Gas line Photo on North Main Street photographed by Max Colegrove  

Adding more insult to the chaos, the replacement bridge over the Tioga River and elevation of Route 6 from the current location of Sheetz to east of the high school disrupted traffic on Route 6 – including a temporary bridge on West Elmira Street -- for more than two years.

Once you got out of town to the north you ran into the final months of construction of the Tioga/Hammond project – the largest public works project in county history. That historic project would be dedicated just months following the opening of McDonald's.

Photo: Temporary bridge near end of Elmira Street while Rte 6 bridge was being rebuilt photographed by Chester P. Bailey

temp bridge

But even with all that going on, the biggest, most exciting story by far was McDonald's.

The opening celebration was so big and so anticipated it became a six-day affair starting with a parade led by the Mansfield High School marching band to the ribbon-cutting ceremony officiated by Mansfield mayor Ben Hutcheson. A champagne and Egg McMuffin breakfast was followed by the opening week highlight when Ronald McDonald’s appearance caused a blockage of traffic on Main Street.  

The response of area residents was staggering. People traveled from far and wide, and lines never seemed to diminish during that opening week. According to Bob Walsh, Gene and Irene’s son who currently owns the McDonald's franchises in Mansfield, Wellsboro, Towanda and Troy, sales that first day shattered the one-day sales record for any store in the McDonald’s Albany Region and continued to break that record each of the next five days.

Photo Caption: Mayor Ben Hutcheson (left) poses on McDonald's opening day in 1979 with Bill Berresford and Irene and Gene Walsh (right). Photo submitted by Craig Hutcheson.

McDonalds 2018

That success has continued almost unabated since that spring day in 1979 making McDonald's arguably the most successful business in borough history. On average, the Mansfield McDonald’s, which has provided job opportunities for thousands of Mansfield area residents, serves more than 21,000 customers per month. That’s almost seven times the total residents of the borough according to the 2010 census.

It will be good to have McDonald's back in the very near future, but it’s difficult to believe anything could top that special opening week in 1979.

The History Center on Main Street, 83 N. Main Street, Mansfield PA 16933
Bradford County PA
Chemung County NY
Tioga County PA

Published On Tri-Counties Site On 18 NOV 2018
By Joyce M. Tice
Email: Joyce M. Tice