DESIGN INTERVENTION: St. James Parish House is an ‘exquisite’ example of its Georgian Revival inspiration

C. Emlen Urban Series – Part 11

Architects typically hit full stride in their early 40s, and C. Emlen Urban was no exception. With his practice in full swing and his reputation for producing high-quality work growing exponentially, Urban was able to be more selective with the commissions he accepted and the architectural styles he designed.

Approximately two years prior to the Stevens Girls High School dedication, the bishop of St. James Episcopal Church offered a blessing for its newly constructed Parish House at 119 N. Duke St. Its architect was none other than Lancaster’s favorite design professional, 41-year-old Urban.

Respecting the adjacent Federal-style church and rectory, Urban selected Georgian Revival style for the 1903 three-story, five-bay brick Parish House. This monumental yet understated structure is one that is easily overlooked by the passer-by. Today, and even in the earliest known photographs of the Parish House, massive shade trees along the narrow sidewalk make it difficult to appreciate and fully enjoy the architecture and detailing. Behind the canopy of branches, however, lies Urban’s largest and most exquisite example of nonresidential Georgian Revival architecture.

The Parish House exhibits textbook Georgian Revival details, including Flemish bond brick, quoins, a water table, two belt courses, keystone window lintels, six-over-six window panes and classic Ionic columns. However, the real magic occurs at two locations on the facade. Directly over the main entrance door is a cast-stone balcony supported by two large decorative consoles and, above that, a stone pediment with the date inscribed in Roman numerals. The second location is Urban’s attention to detailing at the roof cornice; the deep soffit consists of square blocks with pegs, round rosettes, dentil molding and the traditional use of Greek “egg and dart” trim.

The full digital version of the LNP News article can be found on LancasterOnline.

C. Emlen Urban: Part 10

Architect’s extravagant 1905 Stevens School is a lesson in forecasting the future

With the arrival of a new century in 1900, C. Emlen Urban continued to rise in popularity and notoriety in all circles of engagement, public, private and social.  The recent completions of the Stehli Silk Mill, the Wharton School, Stager Hall at Franklin & Marshall College and the Quarryville School set the stage for a commission that would test the mettle of this young rising star.

In 1902, the School Board of Lancaster commissioned 39-year-old Urban to design the girls high school. After visits to recently completed commissions by other architects in York, Reading, Chester County and Atlantic City, Urban returned to Lancaster to design what would be considered the most extravagant, controversial and expensive high school between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

The center-city site at Chestnut and Charlotte streets, with tree-lined streets, rolling topography and generous sidewalks, was the perfect setting for his three-story all-masonry structure. He employed three architectural styles: beaux-arts, Italian Renaissance and Greek Classical. Urban’s four-year apprenticeship 20 years earlier with Philadelphia’s avant-garde architect, Willis G. Hale, gave him the confidence and skills necessary to effectively mix and match these diverse styles. The purple brownstone foundation blocks, golden bricks, elaborate terra cotta ornamentation, green copper cresting and hand-carved chestnut entrance led to severe public criticism for the significant cost overruns that occurred during construction.

Full LNP Article:  Architect’s Extravagant 1905 Stevens School is a Lesson in Forecasting the Future

C. Emlen Urban: Part 9

Architect’s work on Lancaster’s Stehli mill was smooth as silk

On October 22 and 23, 1897 the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal and New Era newspapers announced that a major international silk manufacturing company would begin construction on the world’s second largest silk mill operation to be located along Martha Avenue.   Stehli & Co. of Zurich, Switzerland was “induced” by the Lancaster Board of Trade to locate their first United States operation in Lancaster County Pennsylvania.  When announced, the initial construction would employ over 500 men and women in a three-story structure measuring 50 feet wide by 250 feet long utilizing 600,000 bricks and housing 300 looms!  When all five phases of expansion were completed in 1925, the mill employed more than 1,600 workers, contained 250,000 square feet of floor space, 2,500 windows, 1,100 looms and was 883 feet in length, making it the longest single building in America and the second longest in the world.

Stehli & Co retained Lancaster’s 34 year old architect, C. Emlen Urban, to be their architect of record. As in the past, Urban’s business connections and personal relationships in the community positioned him to receive this landmark commission that would expand his geographic reach to two other Stehli states: North Carolina and Virginia.

Credit for historical photos:

Full LNP Article:  Architect’s Work on Lancaster’s Stehli Mill was Smooth as Silk

C. Emlen Urban : Part 8

Architect C. Emlen Urban develops a sweet partnership with candy entrepreneur Milton S. Hershey

C. Emlen Urban understood the power of relationships as well as anyone in the business. Shortly after launching his career in 1886, he joined the most prominent social clubs in Lancaster including the prestigious Hamilton Club. This club in particular provided Urban with an opportunity to meet other successful business persons in the community including James Shand, Peter Watt, A. B. Rote and, perhaps most fortuitously, Milton S. Hershey!   Hershey (age 32) and Urban (age 27), two young and emerging entrepreneurs, teamed up in 1890 to design alterations to Hershey’s personal residence with his wife Catherine Hershey.

This residential venture was the beginning of a long and illustrious career between two friends spanning more than 40 years. Similar to Urban’s experience with Peter Watt and the Watt & Shand department store, the relationship began by designing a residential project followed quickly by numerous commercial ventures.  Residential commissions are always the most challenging, risky and exhausting because of the intense personal nature of the design decisions. Urban’s success with the three-story Shingle Style mansion and carriage house for the Hersheys resulted in several major commissions that would take him well beyond Lancaster City.

Full LNP on-line article:  C. Emlen Urban’s Sweet Partnership with Milton S. Hershey 

C. Emlen Urban – Part 7

Urban takes his show on the road

The year is 1898. It has been12 years since the 35-year-old architect hung his “Open for Business” shingle.  During those 12 short years C. Emlen Urban designed many private homes, multiple mansions, a school, a department store, a café, a small hotel, a cigar factory, a farmer’s market and several commercial structures. His reputation for producing high quality designs that were both timely and innovative was growing.  However, as impressive as the 1898 Beaux Arts Watt & Shand Department Store and the very stylistic four-story Davidson Buildings were – it was a pair of unpretentious three-story residences located on West Chestnut Street that caught the eye of a New York City real estate developer and ultimately took Urban’s work on the road.  The Italian Renaissance style was growing in popularity across the country and Urban’s Lancaster City was no exception.

Defined by distinctive low pitched, hipped roofs with red barrel tile shingles, deep overhangs and exposed decorative rafter tails, these identical twin residences were a radical departure from the traditional Queen Anne and Federal style designs that lined the streets of the city. However, the real Italian flair can be seen in Urban’s use of terra cotta putti or cupid statuary over the second floor windows and in the third floor medallions. There is little doubt that the New York developer was impressed by Urban’s attention to detail, proportions and use of materials, but his attraction most likely focused on the upper floor level where Urban’s ability to successfully integrate functional building elements into his designs with grace and beauty was demonstrated.

Read the full LNP article:  Lancaster’s Architect Takes his Show on the Road


Head back to the classroom to ‘tour’ some of architect’s greatest schools

It’s September and even C. Emlen Urban had to go back to school!  However, as a young architect it was for a new objective—to design them!  Urban’s illustrious career included many building types: residences, civic buildings, churches, industrial, mercantile, offices and even schools.  In all, he designed 13 public schools, from his first in 1895 at the age of 32 to his last in East Lampeter Township on Old Philadelphia Pike toward the end of his career.  His more notable school designs included Stevens High School, 1906; Milton Hershey Consolidated School, 1914; Fulton Boy’s School, 1916; Reynold’s Middle School, 1927; and Lancaster Catholic High School, 1929.

Fulton Boy’s School – Neo-classical style

Urban’s school designs were as varied as the architectural styles that he chose for each of them.  Each school represented a popular style of the time beginning with Italian Renaissance for the 1895 Strawberry Street Elementary School, to Gothic Revival for The Reynold’s Middle School, and Beaux Arts/French Renaissance for his most controversial design, the Stevens High School.  All 13 buildings are still in existence; some are being used for their original function while others have been repurposed for a new use.  Either way, their longevity reflects the integrity of the materials he specified, the quality of the design and the buildings’ ability to adapt to the changing times.

The full LNP News article and photos are available at Lancaster On-line.




C. Emlen Urban: Part 5

Urban makes house calls

Despite C Emlen Urban’s rising success in designing large scale and significant commercial, retail, and civic structures – he still made house calls.  Residential design is often where architects learn the trade and begin understanding how buildings are constructed.  Although smaller in scale, a private residence is just as complex, and often more demanding of skill, patience, time and knowledge than the larger public structures.  Urbans’ reputation for producing quality and innovative designs at all levels and styles resulted in residential commissions in Lancaster, Lititz, Millersville, Manheim, Marietta, Strasburg, Gap, Annville, and Hershey.

His residential design styles were as varied and unique as his clients and included:  Queen Anne, Chauteauesque, Tudor Revival, Colonial Revival, Italian Renaissance Revival, Shingle Style, Beaux Arts, and Georgian Revival.  Each architectural style has its own ‘vocabulary’ of details, proportions, materials and overall character that must be taken into account when developing the plans and elevations.  For example, the Paired Mansions at 623-625 W Chestnut Street are designed in the Italian Renaissance Style and incorporate terra cotta ornamentation, low projecting tile roof overhangs with exposed rafter tails and distinctive recessed third floor balconies.  His design solution for these companion homes was so well received that he was commissioned to replicate them in New York City!

Read the full LNP Article:  Take a virtual tour: Lancaster’s most famous architect left his mark on private homes, too

C. Emlen Urban: Part 4

Watt & Shand Department Store

As the 19th century was waning, C. Emlen Urban’s architectural career was waxing.  In 1898, at the age of 35, Urban was commissioned to design what many of his admirers consider to be his high-water mark—the Watt & Shand building. If not his crowning achievement, it is certainly the most recognizable and prestigious public building in downtown Lancaster.  Having successfully completed the personal residence for mercantilist Peter T. Watt in 1896, Watt and his business partner, James Shand, challenged the young Urban to further elevate their position in the retail community and bring the department store into the 20th century.

Concurrently, a new architectural style was sweeping the country and replacing the ever popular Queen Anne style. The newest craze was grounded in European design with a flair for the flamboyant!  The Beaux Arts style, named after the French national university in Paris, Ecole des Beaux Arts, arrived in the United States during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.  Many cities of wealth and prosperity subsequently introduced this radical departure from the norm into their downtowns.  Civic buildings including courthouses, capitols, libraries, train stations, and post offices were the typical candidates for the Beaux Arts style.  The most distinguishing characteristics included Greek and Italian Renaissance decorative elements such as columns, pediments, balustrades, ornamental windows, stone carvings and elaborate sculpture.  The traditional building materials utilized were tan colored brick, marble, and cut stone.

Read the full LNP Article:  Architect designs the heart of Lancaster city’s Penn Square


The year is 1896.  C. Emlen Urban is 33 years old and celebrating his tenth year of private practice.  His architectural commissions to date have been as varied as his business acquaintances. Architectural styles embodied in his work have included Queen Anne, Shingle, East Lake, Chateauesque and Romanesque Revival.  Noteworthy business acquaintances have included chocolatier Milton S. Hershey, hotelier Charles Wagner, tobacconist Menno M. Fry and, now, mercantilist Peter T. Watt partner of James Shand.

Within one year of completing twin Chateauesque mansions on West Chestnut Street in 1895,  Urban was commissioned to design an even more impressive baronial Chateauesque mansion at the corner of President and Marietta Avenues for the Watt family. The full LNP Artical can be found at Lancaster On-line: Urban’s 1896 Work Builds Some of Lancaster’s Still-Treasured Landmarks.


With his first major project complete, 20th-century architect Urban turns to lucrative private projects. The year is 1888. C. Emlen Urban is 25 years old and has just completed his first major architectural commission to rave reviews. The Southern Market Center demonstrated his ability to design and oversee a complex civic building with the ease of a seasoned architect.

This accomplishment, in addition to his expanding involvement in local business and social clubs, led to a groundswell of opportunities that allowed him to continue honing his skills.

Urban’s 1889 introduction to Lancaster’s aspiring 32-year-old confectionery entrepreneur, Milton S. Hershey, led to the design of Hershey’s private residence at 222 S. Queen St.

The full LNP article can be found at Lancaster On-line.