The Fountain Hill Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
Bethlehem's Fountain Hill Historic District is an intact, neighborhood of elaborate, architecturally varied mansions, smaller but still stylish managers' and merchants' houses, and public church buildings. It contains homes, an Episcopal cathedral and the Lehigh Valley Railroad offices and terminal built by steel and railroad executives in Bethlehem between 1857 and 1925. The district sits atop a hill south of the Lehigh River on the west border of the city, overlooking the industrial and transportation centers flanking the river. Surrounding the district are the river to the north, a commercial area to the east, dense duplex and rowhouse construction to the south and a continuing neighborhood of mansions across the city line in the Borough of Fountain Hill, Lehigh County, to the west. Within the district, large mansions surrounded by spacious lawns are located in the north and center; more modest residences with smaller yards are found in the south. The Episcopal Church buildings are on the district's eastern edge, and a Masonic temple, a large railroad office building and terminal, and a concrete bridge are in the northeast corner.
The Fountain Hill District includes 53 buildings and one structure. Twenty-six buildings were erected between 1857 and 1886; twelve between 1887 and 1905; eight between 1906 and 1925, and seven after 1925.
Twenty-one of the 46 contributing buildings are two-and-one-half- or three-story mansions in brick or stone, and three are outbuildings, including mansion carriage houses. Sixteen are smaller houses, typically of two-story brick construction. One is commercial; two are offices; one is a railroad terminal, and one is a Masonic Temple. The seven non-contributing buildings include four residences, one apartment building and one church parish house.
The mansions are the main focus of the district, built in Colonial, Georgian, Gothic, Queen Anne and Tudor Revival and Shingle styles. The mansions line West Third and Wyandotte streets and Delaware Avenue, standing as much as 100 feet from the curb, amid lots of about three acres of mature landscaping and sweeping lawns. These grand houses, two of which are turreted, are built of brick and shingles or stone, with gabled or hipped roofs.
Various late 19th and early 20th century styles are represented among the mansions of the historic district. The circa 1870 Linderman/Schwab Mansion, 557 West Third Street, is the largest of these houses. The cut-granite edifice which rises to three stories, essentially is Chateauesque style with eclectic detailing. The front door is centered in a tower and is topped by an iron entry canopy. The iron motif is echoed in the porch and conservatory details of the main facade.
The Gothic Revival Robert Sayre Mansion, circa 1857, stands at 250 Wyandotte Street. It features arched entry doorways. Overhead hang elaborately carved bargeboards.
Tudor Revival style doors and crenellations highlight the circa 1863 Elisha Packer Wilbur Mansion at 202 Wyandotte Street. This brick house has brick quoins, a central tower and Tudor Revival overdoors. A Classical Revival/Art Deco Masonic temple was added to the house in 1924.
The house of Warren Wilbur, Elisha's son, is brick, symmetrical and Georgian Revival. The circa 1900 building at 531 West Third Street has a full front porch, flanking chimneys and bracketed roof eaves.
The William Sayre Mansion, 306 Wyandotte Street, circa 1862, is of Queen Anne style with bay windows and multiple-paned sash.
The smaller houses are located chiefly along Seneca Street, erected 20 feet from the curb on quarter-acre lots. Brick is the principal building material and most of the houses are in Colonial, Queen Anne, Gothic or Spanish Revival styles, their mass perpendicular to the street.
Built at the same time as Fountain Hill's most imposing residences, these less ostentatious dwellings were constructed for industrial and railroad managers, contractors and merchants. They typically are less ornate and more eclectic than the mansions, but nonetheless reflect style trends of the period.
A Gothic Revival cottage at 435 Seneca Street, erected circa 1885, and a circa 1904 Colonial Revival house at 430 Seneca Street are high style examples of their types. Combined Spanish and Colonial Revival details mark 427 and 429 Seneca Street, built about 1925. Leaded glass and pedestal porch columns at 433 Seneca Street give an Arts and Crafts flavor to the circa 1890 Spanish Revival house. Colonial Revival and Queen Anne Revival touches also are evident on the circa 1885 house at 510/512 Seneca Street.
The non-residential buildings are on Wyandotte Street. The circa 1886 railroad buildings include the Lehigh Valley Railroad Headquarters located uphill from the north end of Wyandotte Street, a Queen Anne Revival eclectic four-story office structure individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The adjacent three-story brick Gothic Revival office building originally housed the Wilbur Trust and now provides railroad office space. Union Terminal is a one-story Classical Revival brick structure downhill from Wyandotte Street. Nativity Episcopal Cathedral, circa 1866, is on the corner of West Third and Wyandotte streets. The stone Gothic Revival church has a rounded ambulatory and three-story crenelated tower with gargoyles. The adjacent circa 1900 parish office hall, rebuilt to reflect the Gothic Revival influence, replaced an earlier, also Gothic-influenced building. Episcopal Diocese offices are contained in two small circa 1900 vernacular houses with Italianate touches. The adjoining Second Empire style brick commercial building, built about 1890, now houses a church-run shelter for the homeless.
The single contributing structure in the district is a portion of the 1923 Hill-to-Hill bridge which connects Fountain Hill at its northeast corner to the Central Bethlehem Historic District and spans the Lehigh River. This structure, which combines concrete semi-circular arches and steel-truss construction, is roughly 50 feet above the river bank and the adjoining railroad tracks.
Most of the bridge is located outside the Fountain Hill Historic District in the proposed extension of the Central Bethlehem Historic District. Within, Fountain Hill are the southern bridge abutment and a section of the span extending from the bridge abutment to a point about 300 feet north of the abutment.
The district also contains seven non-contributing buildings. Several residences, including a pair of duplex units, were built on the site of a mansion demolished about 1920 at the corner of Seneca and West Third streets. Two ranch style houses were erected in the 1950s on portions of the grounds of mansions. The largest of the non-contributing building is a blandly detailed, 1960s, two-story apartment building erected between two large mansions at 543 West Third Street.
The 1939 Episcopal Church Parish House is non-contributing because it was built after the period of significance (1857 to 1925).
The non-contributing buildings do not detract greatly from the district's integrity. They comprise less than one seventh of the total buildings in the district and are scattered throughout it. Most are of the same size as or smaller than the contributing buildings. Only the two-story apartment building affects blatantly the historic appearance of the district.
Overall, the district's buildings maintain a high degree of integrity. Although 21 of them have been converted to apartment dwellings, one to a funeral home, one to a physician's office, one to a Masonic temple, and three to church use, their exteriors remain basically unchanged. The most common change has been the installation of fire escapes on the sides or backs. Less than five per cent of contributing buildings have been sided in aluminum. Some woodwork, especially in window frames, has deteriorated through neglect. Other changes to contributing buildings include the enclosing of porches at 250 Wyandotte Street, 557 West Third Street, and 531 West Third Street. Two two-story brick dwellings, 331 and 333 Wyandotte Street, have been linked by a recent addition to form the Episcopal Diocesan Center. The Queen Anne Revival porch on the William Sayre Mansion, 306 Wyandotte Street, has been replaced with one of wrought iron. Residences at 441-443 Seneca Street and 402 Cherokee Street are the most altered. The former is now a duplex with a columned front porch. The walls of the Cherokee Street building have been covered in rough-textured stucco.
The Fountain Hill Historic District is historically important in the areas of industry and transportation for its association with the managers of Lehigh Valley Railroad and Bethlehem Iron Company (later Bethlehem Steel Corporation). During the second half of the 19th century, Fountain Hill was the principal Bethlehem residential section for upper- and middle-level officers of these two firms. It was the main neighborhood of the city's richest and most influential businessmen during the period that has been termed Bethlehem's golden era. In addition, Fountain Hill Historic District is significant for containing the Lehigh Valley Railroad headquarters and one of Bethlehem's largest and best preserved collections of high style domestic architecture from the late 19th century. No other section of the city had so large an enclave of elite managers' residences during the late 19th century.
The area known as Fountain Hill lies on the hill south of the Lehigh River and west and north of Broadway, the road to Emmaus laid out in 1763. This land now partly is in the City of Bethlehem, Northampton County, and partly in the Borough of Fountain Hill, Lehigh County. John Simpson sold the acreage in 1746 to the Moravians, members of a German religious sect who founded Bethlehem. The site constituted the Fuehrer and Hoffert farms until the mid-19th century when the Moravians began to divest themselves of some of their vast holdings.
Charles Luckenbaugh purchased the farms and resold them in 1848 to Daniel Desh, who already owned land west of the former Moravian property. The land was sold again in 1854 to Rudolph Kent of Philadelphia who marketed it. A ten-acre portion east of the current Wyandotte Street was acquired for railroad use. Land west of Wyandotte Street was divided into lots along a diagonal grid street pattern.
The railroad spurred Fountain Hill's growth. The major rail line was the Lehigh Valley Railroad, established in 1853 by Asa Packer to transport coal from the fields near Mauch Chunk to Philadelphia.
Robert Sayre was chief engineer of the company during construction and its general superintendent. Under his leadership, the line became a regionally important railroad, particularly in transporting coal from Pennsylvania's anthracite field to cities throughout the Northeastern United States. Sayre was responsible for extending the Lehigh to New York Harbor in 1875, and creating trunk line service between the Great Lakes and New York during the 1880s. With the financier E. P. Wilbur, founder of the Wilbur Trust and railroad president after Packer, Sayre built the line's headquarters. All company business was transacted within this circa 1886 building at 425 Brighton Street. The railroad bought the circa 1886 Wilbur Trust Building at 415 Brighton Street in 1910 for use as an adjunct office.
Sayre and Wilbur also helped foster the development of Fountain Hill as a residential center for Bethlehem's foremost business managers. Sayre built his Gothic Revival style "country estate" at Third and Wyandotte streets in 1857, the first of Fountain Hill's many mansions. His brother William's Queen Anne Revival style dwelling went up at 306 Wyandotte in 1862, and Wilbur had an eclectic Gothic Revival house with Elizabethan Revival tower erected the following year at 202 Wyandotte.
Leaders of Bethlehem Iron Company/Steel Corporation also encouraged the growth of Fountain Hill. During the mid-19th century Bethlehem Iron was expanding its mills to the east of Fountain Hill, along the Lehigh River, and becoming one of Pennsylvania's leading iron manufacturers. Both Sayre and Wilbur, directors of the iron company, as well as railroad executives, were not alone among Bethlehem Iron Company officials to favor Fountain Hill. Garrett B. Linderman, a Bethlehem Iron Company general manager, built his Chateauesque style mansion at 557 West Third Street in 1870. Construction of his house spurred other Bethlehem Iron managers to settle on Fountain Hill.
The greatest burst of construction on Fountain Hill occurred during the 1880s and 1890s. A multitude of mansions appeared on Delaware Avenue, West Fourth Street and Wyandotte Street, and smaller but still fashionable houses were erected on Seneca Street.
Top officials of Lehigh Valley Railroad and Bethlehem Iron and Steel occupied the mansions. Middle-rank executives occupied the less opulent houses on Fountain Hill, strengthening the association between two dominant local companies and Fountain Hill.
Fountain Hill remained a bastion of the powerful into the beginning of this century. The families of Fountain Hill intermarried, creating a closely knit community on Bethlehem's south side actively involved in civic and church activities. These families founded and liberally supported Nativity Episcopal Church on the east edge of Fountain Hill.
Fountain Hill ceased to be the principal residence of Bethlehem's financial and social elite in the early 20th century. Although eight more houses were erected in Fountain Hill between 1906 and 1925, the great majority of houses were completed by 1905. A shortage of available land on Fountain Hill and a desire for more modern dwellings encouraged development elsewhere, however. In the second decade of the 20th century, Mount Airy, a West Bethlehem suburb, became the new fashionable neighborhood for senior managers. With the growing significance of Mount Airy, Fountain Hill lost its pre-eminence. Mansions became apartment buildings, clubs or fraternity houses. Wilbur's baronial manor became a Masonic temple, and a large Art Deco hall was added to it in 1924.
Although several mansions have been converted to other uses, Fountain Hill remains the best preserved and largest collection of later 19th century high-style residential architecture in Bethlehem. East Market Street is the only other section of Bethlehem with a similar aggregation of ornate houses in such late 19th century styles as Colonial and Queen Anne Revival and Second Empire. The East Market Street collection is smaller, however, than Fountain Hill's and is interspersed with modest vernacular houses, so the area appears much less uniform than Fountain Hill. Mount Airy rivals Fountain Hill in its consistently high-style architecture, but consists primarily of early 20th century houses. Thus, Mount Airy features French Renaissance, Georgian and Tudor Revival styles that do not appear on Fountain Hill. Despite common features shared with the mansion communities of East Market Street and Mount Airy, Fountain Hill is architecturally significant in the size and integrity of its collection of high-style, late 19th century houses.
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