School Lane Hills Historic District
The School Lane Hills Historic District (also known as the Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
The School Lane Hills (also known as the Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District) is an excellent example of early suburban development in Lancaster County gaining its significance between 1820 and 1935. Situated approximately two miles west of downtown Lancaster City, the area retains a high level of original character and integrity.
Of the 216 structures located within the Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District, 183 are contributing while only 33 are non-contributing. A church located at 1025 Columbia Avenue, a small office building at 1059 Columbia Avenue and the Lancaster County Historical Society building at 230 North President Avenue are the only three buildings originally constructed as non-residential properties. The majority of non-contributing buildings within the Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District are single family residences constructed between 1960 and 1975 on vacant lots that were scattered throughout the district. In time, many of these suburban houses will make their own contribution to the historic district. The remaining non-contributing buildings serve as residential units in the form of garden apartments. These were constructed c.1960. Presently, of the 216 buildings within the Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District, 206 buildings are residential, while ten function as non-residential.
The earliest houses in the Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District can be found along Marietta Avenue. Settlement within the Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District began c.1820 with the construction of two large houses, Wheatland at 1120 Marietta Avenue, and the Herr House at 1305 Marietta Avenue. For over half a century, this area of Lancaster Township served as farmland, and the major thoroughfare, Marietta Avenue, functioned as one of two roads leading from Lancaster City to western Lancaster County.
Around the 1890's, residential construction began to move westward out of Lancaster City. The earliest suburban houses began to appear along the 900 and 1000 block of Marietta Avenue. This was due in part to the streetcar lines that were installed west along Marietta Avenue and south along North President Avenue. (see Streetcar Suburbs These houses, unlike most city houses, were built with little concern for money and space. Thus began Lancaster Township's reputation as an exclusive area in which to reside.
Residential construction in Lancaster Township was continuous, but it was not until 1926, with the founding of School Lane Hills, Inc., that the concept of a unified suburban development emerged. Land was purchased by the corporation, divided into building lots and put on the market for select purchasers. Today, School Lane Hills, Inc. continues to sell lots in the vicinity of Marietta Avenue, west of the historic district.
The majority of the buildings within the Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District were constructed between 1920 and 1939. They were laid out in contiguous rectangular lots with varying widths and depths The buildings within the district range from elaborate and grandiose mansions, like those along Marietta Avenue and scattered along North School Lane, to slightly less grand but still elaborate houses like those along Wheatland Avenue, Ridge Road and Columbia Avenue, to more modest single residences and duplexes like those along Race Avenue and Woods Avenue. Whether grandiose or modest, all the houses within the Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District are examples of fine construction using the best building materials including brick, stone, wood clapboarding and sometimes stucco finish, and the best roofing materials including slate, wood shingles and clay tile. Most of the houses can be attributed to prominent Lancaster City architects or builders including C. Emlen Urban, Henry Shaub, Frank J. Everts, M. R. Evans, Frank Trissler, Frederick Houston and George Wyant.
Architecturally, the majority of the homes were designed in the Revival styles popular at the turn of the twentieth century. Among these building styles are the Colonial Revival style, the Dutch Colonial Revival style and the Georgian Revival style. These popular "American Revival" styles reflect the country's and Lancaster County's patriotism and nostalgia for Colonial days. The Tudor Revival style, a more European Revival style, reflects the romanticism, wealth, and taste for quality and life that was also popular in Lancaster Township. To a lesser degree, homes were also constructed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, American Foursquare style and late Queen Anne style.
Over one-third of the houses built in the Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District were designed in the popular Colonial Revival style. The typical house can best be described as a 2 1/2 story dwelling with gable roof and end chimneys. Like 1063 Wheatland Avenue, the entry is often decorated by a fanlight or transom, sidelights and porch with classical columns. More often than not a one story sun porch, open or closed, and a one story ell flank the main building. The majority of Colonial Revival style houses were constructed of brick or wood clapboard with a slate roof and six-over-one or six-over-six window sash. Other examples of the Colonial Revival style include the elaborate Oaklyn, 1209 Marietta Avenue with its two story projecting pedimented entry porch and fluted columns and the modest duplex at 1009-1011 Woods Avenue with its gable roof, end chimneys and six-over-one sash.
The Dutch Colonial Revival home in Lancaster Township is characterized by a slate gambrel roof with end chimneys. The facade is three bays wide with a central entry below and a three bay shed roof dormer above. The exterior walls are usually finished in a combination of brick or stone and wood clapboarding. Three fine examples of the Dutch Colonial Revival style are the Maxwell House at 1060 Columbia Avenue, 1025 Wheatland Avenue and 1027 Wheatland Avenue. A variation of this style in the Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District is the large cross gambreled duplex at 24-26 Race Avenue.
The Georgian Revival style house is typically 2 stories high, five bays wide and has a central entry. Large dormers, sometimes pedimented with pilasters and round arch windows, like those on 1270 Wheatland Avenue can be found above. Like the Colonial Revival home, the Georgian Revival house is usually flanked on one or both sides by a one story sun porch or ell.
The Tudor Revival house is the most decorative style found in Lancaster Township. Steep gabled roofs and cross gables flare to form porch roofs, entryways and projecting bays. Buildings of this style are usually multiple bays wide and incorporate stucco, stone, brick and half timbering into the wall surfaces. Because of the whimsical nature of the Tudor style, there is no standard plan for buildings of this style in Lancaster Township. Examples of the Tudor style include 1112 Wheatland Avenue, 166 Hamilton Drive, 150 North School Lane and 153 Hamilton Avenue.
Residences were also constructed in other styles popular in the late 19th and early 20th century. Examples of these styles are the Queen Anne houses at 1043 Wheatland Avenue and 1023 Marietta Avenue, the American Four Square house at 1008 Woods Avenue and the Spanish Colonial Revival house at 1060 Wheatland Avenue. Several one of a kind houses can be found in the Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District, including the Beaux Arts "Edenson" at 128 North School Lane (modeled after the mansions in Newport, Rhode Island) and designed by James Warner, architect of Lancaster's Central Market, and "Roslyn," the Chateauesque style mansion of local retailer P. T. Watt at 1035 Marietta Avenue, designed by C. Emlen Urban, architect of many local residential and commercial buildings including the Hershey Theatre in Hershey, PA. Fortunately, today the houses in the Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District vary little from their original designs. Neither the influence of artificial siding products nor the replacement of original roofing materials with asphalt shingles is very popular. Lancaster Township property owners continue to uphold the high standards of building maintenance and landscape maintenance that was attractive about this early twentieth century suburban area.
The boundaries of the Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District have been determined by several factors. Intrusive buildings to the west and south establish some boundaries. These residences, dating c.1945 to the present, are part of the extension of the original School Lane Hills, Inc. development and in time may be a contribution to the district. The residences to the north, east and south are different in architectural character from the residences within the Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District. Although these residences were constructed c.1925 to 1945, they were not part of the turn-of-the-century suburban movement of the planned School Lane Hills, Inc. development, and do not exhibit the scale, massing, condition or integrity of the residences within the district.
Large areas with non-contributing buildings are included in the Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District because this land was originally part of the School Lane Hills, Inc. development. For unknown reasons this land remained vacant until c.1960 when several single family houses and exclusive garden apartments were erected. In time, many of these structures will be contributing to the district.
The Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District is an excellent example of early suburban development. The Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District is one of the earlier, exclusive and most architecturally distinctive suburban developments in the area. Beginning as an unplanned development and later a planned development, the area continues to remain prominent and exclusive. Today, residential building lots west of the historic district are still sought after. The area has a large concentration of elaborate suburban houses, many designed and constructed by prominent Lancaster architects and builders. Significant examples of the Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, Georgian Revival, Dutch Colonial Revival, Queen Anne, and American Four Square styles can be found in the Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District.
The origins of development in this area of Lancaster Township can be traced back to c.1820 with the development of two farmsteads along Marietta Avenue. Until the 1880's the Herr farmstead at 1305 Marietta Avenue and the Buchanan farm at 1112 Marietta Avenue were the only residences in this section of Lancaster Township.
The prime thrust of the suburban movement commenced about the end of the 1880's in the part of Lancaster Township on Marietta Avenue between President Avenue and West End Avenue. The construction of these large residential structures was most likely influenced by the streetcar line that ran out of Lancaster City and west on Marietta Avenue, providing easy accessibility to the city and downtown businesses. Among the first of the suburban houses was the c.1889 Joseph U. Fritchey house at 1023 Marietta Avenue and Roslyn, the home of P.T. Watt, owner of Watt and Shand Department Store, at 1035 Marietta Avenue.
Suburban residential growth continued along Marietta Avenue into the early decades of the twentieth century and spread west along Wheatland, Woods and Columbia Avenues. The realization that the suburbs could be reached more easily by the streetcar or by America's newest form of transportation, the automobile, was attracting prospective homeowners. The Lancaster suburbs gained in popularity, but development was not planned.
It was not until 1926 that a more unified concept of suburban development emerged in the activities of School Lane Hills, Inc. The beginnings of School Lane Hills, Inc. can be traced to 1923 when Herbert B. Weaver, a member of the Weaver tobacco merchant family, decided to move out to the country from his home in Lancaster City. He purchased a farmhouse (1305 Marietta Avenue) and surrounding acreage from the farmer, Landis Herr. About the same time, Armstrong Cork Company was moving its headquarters from Pittsburgh, PA to Lancaster and the president, Dwight B. Armstrong, was searching for a lot on which to build a permanent residence. He settled on property on Marietta Avenue, purchasing it from Weaver.
Dwight Armstrong was familiar with the residential development that was occurring in Pittsburgh and suggested to Weaver that he subdivide his acreage for that purpose. After discussing the concept with several friends, Weaver decided to form a corporation for the sale of building lots.
In 1926 the School Lane Hills, Inc. was formed with four stockholders: Herbert Weaver, Dwight Armstrong, James Hale Steinman, owner of the local newspaper and radio station, and Fred A. Wiker, a wholesale hardware businessman. The corporation contracted the services of landscape architects McCloud and Scatchard of Lititz to layout the streets and Huth Engineers to survey and plot the development.
Soon after the establishment of the corporation, a restrictive covenant was developed to regulate the growth and construction of the area. The buyers' brochure stated: "Your investment in a home site in School Lane Hills is especially safeguarded by the high standard of development that is being maintained, by the unsurpassed location of the property and by the environment created by a selected group of purchasers and owners of homes in this distinctive community...Plan to build at School Lane Hills."
Building in the School Lane Hills area continued steadily for the next ten years. From about the late 1930's until the mid 1940's, little construction occurred. After World War II residential construction once again commenced west of the Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District and on the few vacant lots scattered throughout the district. Today, construction continues on new roads that branch off Marietta Avenue to the west.
One of the reasons for School Lane Hills' success as an exclusive and distinctive suburb was the rule that no more than ten lots could be sold per year. This created a pent-up demand among the business executives from Armstrong and other Lancaster area companies.
Another factor that made School Lane Hills so distinctive was the option of every resident to choose his or her own architect or builder. Among the architects working in the area before the incorporation of School Lane Hills, Inc. were C. Emlen Urban and James Warner. Urban, regarded as Lancaster's most distinguished architect from 1900-1932, designed many prominent commercial buildings, including the Hershey Theatre in Hershey, PA and the Watt and Shand Department Store in downtown Lancaster. In Lancaster Township, his designs include the Tudor residence at 1025 Marietta Avenue and the Chateauesque style residence at 1035 Marietta Avenue. James Warner, best known as the architect of Lancaster's Central Market on Penn Square, was commissioned to design the Beaux Arts residence at 128 North School Lane.
The quality of design and craftsmanship engaged by the early architects set the pace and standards of the building to follow.
Among the first to design and build homes in the new area, known as School Lane Hills, were Frank J. Everts, Henry Shaub and Frank Trissler. Everts, a local Lancaster architect, designed the Colonial Revival houses at 1405 and 1412 Ridge Avenue. Shaub, noted for his designs of schools and commercial buildings (including J. P. McCaskey High School and the YMCA building, both in Lancaster City), designed several homes in the historic district, including 1124 and 1126 Wheatland Avenue. Trissler, a speculative local builder, constructed homes in the Tudor Revival style. Among his buildings are 164 and 166 Hamilton Avenue and 1310 Marietta Avenue. Other prominent Lancaster architects who designed in the area include Frederick Houston, George Wyant and third generation architect, Melven R. Evans.
Other areas of Lancaster Township, like Hamilton Park to the south of the Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District and the Buchanan Park area to the north of the district, were developed in the early 1930's and later. It is unknown whether these smaller areas of development were the plan of an individual or a corporation, or whether these areas developed independently due to the need for convenient housing close to Lancaster City. Like the houses within the district, the Architecture of Hamilton Park and the Buchanan Park area is similar in quality and style, but is not as exclusive or distinct as the architecture in the district. The homes in Hamilton Park and the Buchanan Park area are more modest in size and scale, and lack many of the architectural embellishments found on the buildings within the district.
Architecturally, the Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District has one of the largest and finest collections of elaborate early suburban residences in Lancaster County. The Colonial Revival, Georgian Revival, Tudor Revival and Dutch Colonial Revival styles throughout the district reflect the influence of such national events as the 1876 Centennial Exposition, the 1893 Columbian Exposition and the growing movements against Victorian era frills and excess. No where else in Lancaster County can such a fine concentration of large, elegant suburban homes be found.
The Northeast Lancaster Township area attracted many upper class Lancaster City residents who sought a single family house, a spacious atmosphere in which to rear children and a need for a relaxed country setting near Lancaster City. Among the first owners in the area were prominent doctors, lawyers, judges, architects, business executives and retailers.
The Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District significance lies in its role of tracing suburban development in Lancaster County from the early farms to the streetcar to the automobile to the planned development. The Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District's significance lies also in its fine examples of early suburban houses. These Colonial Revival, Dutch Colonial Revival, Georgian Revival and Tudor Revival homes continue to exhibit the high degree of architectural character originally conceived by the professional architects and builders who designed in this area. Today, School Lane Hills retains its status as a residence for the affluent. Most of these large homes remain single family residences, or in the case of a duplex, one family per unit, and as a whole the area possesses excellent integrity and condition.
Art Work of Lancaster, portfolio, 1891.
Atlas of Lancaster County, 1864, 1875 and 1899.
Franklin Ellis and Samuel Evans, History of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Everts and Peck, 1883, pp. 903-913.
Interview with Albert J. Slosser, March 1984.
Lancaster City Directories, 1899-1930.
Recent Works by C. Ernlen Urban, Architect, brochure, Lancaster, 1896.
Resources and Industries of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, chiefly by Richard M. Reilly, Lancaster, Board of Trade, 1909, pp. 54, 83, 97, 101.
School Lane Hills, brochure, c. 1926.
Frank B. Trissler, A Treatise on Suburban Homes at School Lane Hills, Lancaster, PA, brochure, c.1927.