Historic Preservation Feature is a series of articles on the efforts to save and reuse historic buildings, districts and sites in Pennsylvania.

At the time of the Common­wealth of Pennsylvania’s Ter­centenary, it is appropriate that architecture receive special atten­tion. Of all the arts, architecture is most closely related to life itself: whether a barn or a cathedral, a build­ing satisfies a human need. Thus, buildings are a mirror of a given epoch’s ideals and functions. 1n this light, Pennsylvania’s architectural heritage constitutes a tangible lesson in the state’s history.

In many respects, Pennsylvania architecture is a veritable microcosm of most of the styles which have been favored in this country for the past three centuries. The progression from late Medieval styles to the Modern may be traced in diverse creations of the Commonwealth’s man-made envi­ronment. 1n only a handful of other states in the United States can this cross-section be found. Further, Penn­sylvania has often led the country in the introduction of new architectural styles. For example, the 1932 Phila­delphia Saving Fund Society Building, by George Howe and William Lescaze, is often regarded as one of the coun­try’s first examples of the Internation­al Modern style. Moreover, the state is fortunate to possess extant buildings designed by some of the most out­standing architects to have worked in the United States since the late eighteenth century – ranging from Latrobe to Richardson to Saarinen.

It is necessary here to comment on the concept of style as applied to architectural history. Generally, a style is the intellectual creation of art his­torians who seek a coherent system for the formal and chronological classifi­cation of man-made objects. Conse­quently, most styles are recognized­ – and named – in the context of history. Styles possess certain characteristics of both form and ornament, and they can be defined in a given time span. Most styles manifested in American archi­tecture in the past three centuries originated in Europe; it is the interpre­tation that is to be regarded as a re­gional development.

Although Pennsylvania is a sampler of much of the nation’s architecture, it also possesses much that is truly unique. Regionally favored building materials, including the gray limestone of southeastern and south-central Pennsylvania, the green serpentine stone of Chester County, and the logs of northwestern Pennsylvania, give in­dividuality to the structures of a given region. The tenacity of some structural techniques and styles brought to the state by different groups accentuates the diversity of regional developments. Indeed, the interaction between ethnic traditions and new styles has often re­sulted in some of the finest architectural creations in rural areas of the state.

The following photo-essay is the first of a series of articles on the archi­tecture of the Commonwealth. This sampling, of course, cannot illustrate all styles known in the state, but the buildings illustrated here demonstrate many of the forms, building materials and styles favored in Pennsylvania throughout the past three centuries. Although the examples in this article are located in the writer’s place of resi­dence, Lancaster County, most of the illustrated buildings do represent styles which can be recognized in many com­munities throughout Pennsylvania.

 

Herr House (Germanic Style)

From the late 1600s throughout most of the 1700s, many of the state’s buildings reflected the ethnic back­grounds of its early settlers. For ex­ample, the English Quakers who settled in the immediate Philadelphia area usually built homes reminiscent of those which they had left in the British Isles. Of all the diverse styles reflecting European traditions, one of the richest is that brought to Pennsyl­vania by settlers from the Palatinate of Germany and Switzerland. Although the passage of two centuries has claimed many of these Germanic style build­ings, examples survive in the Lehigh Valley and in Bucks, Montgomery, York, Berks, Lebanon and Lancaster counties.

In Lancaster County, the most noted example of a Germanic, medieval type house, which may be typical of the homes of Swiss-Gem1an settlers of the first half of the eighteenth cen­tury, is the Herr House near Willow Street, several miles south of Lancaster City. Although the building is fre­quently called the Hans Herr House in honor of the traditional progenitor of the family, it should be noted that the stone Lintel over the door bears the initials of Christian Herr, as well as the date 1719. Germanic characteristics in­clude the very high-pitched roof con­taining two stories within the roofline, the central chimney, and the cut stone jambs and lintels enframing windows and doors. Germanic settlers used long wooden shingles overlapped in such a manner that each shingle required only one nail.

Other notable Germanic houses in Pennsylvania include Fort Zeller near Newmanstown in Lebanon County, several houses in the Oley Valley of Berks County and the famous house of the Miller at Millbach in Lebanon County. Some noted interiors from the latter house are now displayed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

 

Ephrata Cloister (Germanic Style)

Throughout southeastern Pennsyl­vania, structures built by Germans during the first two generations of settlement were diverse in both forms and functions. In part, this diversity resulted from the pluralistic back­grounds of the Germanic immigrants; it also reflected the social and economic variety of communities in the New World.

The largest and most complex Germanic structures were those groups of buildings erected for communal groups. Fine examples of such communal buildings are seen in the Moravian settlements at Bethlehem and Lititz. Among the most remarkable of all communal buildings in Pennsylvania are those of the Ephrata Cloister in Lancaster County, whose frame struc­tures are eloquent testimonials to strong Medieval traditions. The sur­viving buildings represent part of a large monastic community founded by Con­rad Beissel in I 732. Key structures are the Chapel (Saal) and the Single Sisters’ House {Saran), the latter being one of the largest buildings erected in the American colonies before the Revolu­tion. Noteworthy features here include the very steep roofs, the shed dormer windows and the small, unbalanced window openings.

In both the Herr House and the Ephrata Cloister, casement windows bespeak. the tenacity of medieval styles. Although the casement windows are restorations, they represent what was the most prevalent form of window sash in the county before 1750. In­deed, as late as 1798, more than ten percent of all the houses in Manheim Township retained these very old-fash­ioned window sash, which were later replaced with double hung windows.

 

Sehner-Ellicott-Von Hess House (Georgian Style)

In most of the American colonies, the Georgian style was introduced from England about the end of the first quarter of the 1700s. Basically, the Georgian style denotes high-style English architecture from the reigns of George I through George III. Sym­metry of external and internal design is a key element of the Georgian style. Architectural ornament, often inspired by printed pattern books, was based upon Renaissance interpretations of ancient Roman prototypes. In the Phil­adelphia-Lancaster area, the favored materials for Georgian buildings were brick and stone; most structures were two or three stories in height. Many of Lancaster’s finest Georgian structures were adapted closely from buildings in Philadelphia.

In Philadelphia, noteworthy exam­ples of the Georgian style include In­dependence Hall (Pennsylvania State House), dating c.1732-1756; Cliveden, dating 1761; and the Steadman-Powell House, dating from the mid 1760s. Representative examples of the style may be found in most of the state’s southeastern counties.

Due to land values in towns, few Georgian townhouses had the long facades with five openings per floor. A facade with three openings per floor was often favored for townhouses. An excellent example of this design is seen in the Sehner-Ellicott-Von Hess House on Lancaster’s North Prince Street. Now under restoration for public pur­poses, this house is believed to have been built about 1787-1789 by Gottlieb Sehner, a joiner, as his own residence. The scale of the window sash on the facade is typical of Georgian practice, with twelve-over-twelve sash being used for the two first floor win­dows. Due to lower ceiling height on the second floor, the sash there are eight-over-twelve. Other notable de­tails include the predimented doorway and the cornice with block-like modil­lions.

 

Zion Reformed Church (Federal Style)

In general, the Federal style flour­ished from the 1790s into the fourth decade of the 1800s. Essentially, this style was not a radical departure from the materials, scale and symmetrical exteriors favored in Georgian design. Instead, it introduced a new vocabu­lary of ornament inspired by archeo­logical discoveries in Greece and Rome; the publications of the Scottish archi­tect, Robert Adam, influenced the dis­semination of this neoclassical move­ment. This new style of delicate orna­ment was combined with inventive uses of oval, circular and semi-circular forms. Six-over-six window sash were introduced at this time.

One of the earliest examples of this Federal or Adamesque style in Amer­ica is the Woodlands, the elegant seat of the Hamilton family near Philadelphia; it was under construction in the 1780s. Statewide, important examples of this style range from Old West at Dickinson College in Carlisle, built from designs by Benjamin Henry Latrobe in 1803; to the now-Jost Old Capitol in Harrisburg, designed by Stephen Hills in 1819; to Allegheny College’s Bentley Hall, built in Mead­ville about 1820-1830 from designs by Timothy Alden.

One of the masterpieces of Federal architecture in Lancaster County is Zion Reformed Church near Bricker­ville. This brick structure was built by a German Reformed congregation in 1813 with the carpentry work done by Emanuel Deyer (1760-1836), the lead­ing joiner in Manheim. The round headed windows and fanlights over the doorways indicate the Federal period’s preference for circular forms. The main doorway may be ranked as one of the finest pieces of Federal style wood work in the county, notable for its delicate fanlight, thin pilasters and carved fan-shaped ornaments. It is re­markable that the pews and galleries of the interior are intact even to the preservation of the original paint on the woodwork. Restoration of the original wineglass pulpit, removed in 1890, is planned.

 

Grubb Mansion (Greek Revival)

As the nineteenth century pro­gressed, eclecticism in all the arts be­came more apparent. Architectural styles, usually based upon historical precedents, developed as multi-faceted aspects of taste. One of the most pop­ular styles that flourished from the Federal period into the first generation of the Victorian period (1837-1901) was the Greek Revival.

If defined strictly, the Greek Revival was a very close replication of ancient Greek temples based upon publica­tions of archeological discoveries. These temple-like forms were em­ployed for a variety of structures, ranging from houses to banks to col­leges. In more restrained interpreta­tions, the Greek Revival style was ex­hibited as an overlay of new details on the forms of the Federal style. In this context, the style could be manifested in moldings, a mantel with columns or an entry portico having Grecian details.

The first Greek Revival building in the country was the 1799-1801 Bank of Pennsylvania by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, a Philadelphia landmark which was demolished about 1871. Other fine buildings in this style found throughout the state include Phila­delphia’s Second Bank of the United States, built in 1819-1824 from de­signs by William Strickland; the In­dependent Congregational Church in Meadville, dating 1836; and the Elias Baker Mansion in Altoona, built in 1844-1848 from designs by Robert Cary Long, Jr.

Lancaster’s Grubb Mansion on North Lime Street is an elegant if restrained example of this style. It was erected in 1845-1846 as the town­house of a wealthy ironmaster, Clement B. Grubb; the facade was designed by a Philadelphia architect, John E. Car­ver. The chief characteristic of the Greek Revival style seen here is the entry portico with paired Doric Order columns. More subtle manifestations of the style are seen in numerous de­tails, including the Grecian type mold­ings and the plastered frieze at the third floor level. The low third story windows often were designated as “attic story” windows.

 

Lancaster County Courthouse (Roman Revival)

As defined according to the years of Queen Victoria’s reign, the Victorian period extends from 1837 to 1901. Within this long span many styles flourished in architecture, and eclectic tastes developed. It was a time of many revivals of historical styles, ranging from the Greek to the Baroque. In brief, Victorians saw the past not as a source for literal copies, but rather as an inspiration for new creations.

Closely linked with the eclecticism of the Victorian age was the idea of association – a building would be de­signed in an historical style possessing conceptual overtones related to its function. For example, the Gothic style was revived in Victorian archi­tecture for buildings whose functions evoked associations with the medieval past: churches, collegiate complexes and funerary structures. The chief motif was the graceful, pointed Gothic arch, and buildings accentuated verti­cality in design. Actually, the Victor­ian period fostered two revivals of the Gothic style. The first commenced in the 1840s and flourished in many areas through the 1870s. The second, or Perpendicular Gothic Revival, began about 1890 and lingered into the 1930s.

Another aspect of the concept of association was applied to govern­mental buildings in the United States. Throughout the nineteenth century, the Roman Revival style was felt to be appropriate for national, state and local governmental edifices, since it evoked the association of the Roman republic with the American republic. There are, for example, about a dozen county courthouses in Pennsylvania built in the Roman Revival style. In Lancaster County, the finest Roman Revival style building is the oldest section of the present Lancaster Coun­ty Courthouse, built in 1852 from designs by the noted Philadelphia architect, Samuel Sloan. Features of the style include the prominent central dome, the monumental porticoes sup­ported by Corinthian Order columns and the elevation of the building on a high foundation.

 

Fulton Opera House (Italianate Style)

One of the eclectic Victorian archi­tectural styles that did not partake of the concept of association was the Italianate style. Often linked with the Renaissance Revival, this style was rooted in the works of the English architect, Sir Charles Barry. Generally, the style flourished from the 1840s through the last decade of the nine­teenth century and was adapted to buildings of very diverse functions, ranging from houses to stores to edu­cational institutions.

Exteriors of Italianate style build­ings may be classified in two broad categories: those with symmetrical facades and those with more complex, asymmetrical elevations. The symmet­rical exteriors were inspired by Italian Renaissance palaces. Examples of such facades are seen in the Atheneum of Philadelphia by John Notman, built 1845-1847, and the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, erected in 1857 from designs by Napoleon LeBrun and Gustavus Runge. The asymmetrical ex­teriors were inspired by Italian Renais­sance villas, notably those of Tuscany. Examples of this aspect of the Italian­ate style include the countryseat Alverthorpe at Jenkintown, designed by John Notman in 1850, and the now-lost Lycoming County Court­house in Williamsport, designed by Samuel Sloan and built in 1860. It is interesting to note that, seemingly without any logical reason, both sym­metrical and asymmetrical interpreta­tions to the Italianate style were favored for many firehouses between 1860 and 1890.

In Lancaster County, the Italianate style was introduced in the early 1850s and lingered into the 1890s. A rela­tively early example of the style is Lancaster’s Fulton Opera House on North Prince Street, built from designs by Samuel Sloan of Philadelphia in 1852. Although the ground floor has been modified several times, the second and third stories of this symmetrical facade remain intact. Features of the style seen here include the use of Renaissance-inspired ornament, the triple arched windows and the cursive brackets that ornament the cornice.

 

Central Market (Romanesque Revival)

A rich Victorian style favored for public buildings, churches and some stores, but seldom adapted to resi­dences, was the Romanesque Revival. Loosely based on forms, materials and ornament favored almost a thousand years ago in many parts of Europe, the style was introduced in America in the 1840s and 1850s in the works of two architects, James Renwick and Richard Upjohn. Sometimes contemporaries designated the style as “Lombardic.” Dark colored building materials, in­cluding stone, terra cotta and pressed brick, combined with massive round­headed arches, small window openings and clustered, engaged columns to create an effect both bold and expres­sive. For factories and some institu­tional buildings built in this style, paired central towers were favored.

Important Pennsylvania buildings in the Romanesque Revival style in­clude Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia, designed by John Notman in 1857; the Allegheny County Court­house in Pittsburgh, designed by Henry Hobson Richardson in 1884; and Pittsburgh’s Shadyside Presbyterian Church dating 1888-1890, designed by the firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge. It should be noted that the works of the Boston-based architect Henry Hob­son Richardson (1838-1886) were so noted that later developments of this style in the period 1880-1900 often were termed “Richardsonian Romanesque.”

The best-known example of the Romanesque Revival in the county is Lancaster’s Central Market, built from designs by James H. Warner in 1889. The market shows strong features of the style with its asymmetrical compo­sition, massive sense of walls, repetitive use of arches, and ornament sculp­tured in both stone and terra cotta. The austere dignity of dark red brick and brownstone is enlivened by the checkered pattern of white and brown stones in the gable.

 

Griest Building (Beaux Arts Style)

In the beginning of the twentieth century, the focus of architectural achievement shifted from domestic and institutional buildings to commercial structures. Consequently, the greatest concentration of important buildings in the county from this period remains in center city Lancaster. Many commercial buildings dating be­tween 1890 and 1930 were built in the Beaux Arts style, which adapted ornament from the French Renais­sance to contemporary needs. A new range of colors were introduced to the cityscape by light colored brick, terra cotta, ceramic tile and light stone.

The Griest Building, built in 1924 from designs by C. Emlen Urban, re­mains Lancaster’s first and only sky­scraper. The prime technological re­quirement for the construction of sky­scrapers is the mastery of structural steel construction, as seen here. Rich stone carvings ornamenting the pilasters, panels and friezes of the exterior merit attention.

Statewide, other good early twen­tieth-century examples of skyscrapers may be seen in structures as diverse as Pittsburgh’s Frick Building of 1902 by Daniel H. Burnham or Philadelphia’s Sears, Roebuck Eastern Store of 1920 by George Nimmons. In general, sky­scrapers are found in large cities. How­ever, the occasional examples seen in smaller towns, like Lancaster’s Griest Building and Reading’s Berks County Courthouse, often possess surprising sophistication.

 

The nine buildings illustrated and discussed here are representative of the richness and diversity that charac­terize the Commonwealth’s architecture. The future will benefit from this legacy only if it is preserved. The next article in this series will deal with the history of the preservation movement in Pennsylvania. with attention given to related historical and cultural de­velopments. The remaining two articles will deal with other aspects of archi­tecture and historical consciousness, with particular emphasis on methods and strategies for preservation.

 

John J. Snyder, Jr. holds an MA degree from the Winterthur Program. For nearly a decade he has been active in preservation activities in Lancaster County and presently is consulting architectural-historical researcher to the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County.