Northwest York Historic District
The Northwest York Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. 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 Northwest Historic District is an irregularly outlined area located one block northwest of the present York Historic District. Approximately four blocks by six blocks, the District is bounded by working class row housing to the east, the industries associated with the rail lines to the south, the open space of the York Fair Grounds across the City line in West Manchester Township to the west, and modern residential developments to the north where the hills begin to rise from the flat plain. Speculative real estate developers parceled lots for residential construction between the mid 1880's and 1930 and the houses display traits from this 40 year period of York's architectural evolution. The progression of vernacular styles begins with Queen Anne/Eastlake and progresses westward through Colonial Revival to semi-Bungalow and American Foursquare. The broad, tree-lined streets, substantial setbacks, graceful park and large homes reflect the upper and middle class population targeted by the speculators. Few alterations have compromised the integrity of this handsome 146 acre residential district. In fact, only 11 intrusions mar the district of 815 contributing structures.
In the 1880's the real estate entrepreneurs of the West End Improvement Company, a division of the York Bank and Trust Company, started the development of this area at the edge of the booming city. They purchased the land "long regarded as the finest building land in the city" from an estate. (Dispatch West End Improvement Co.) The eastern section of the district, sloping down the side of Farquhar Park hill toward the flat plain to the west, was closest to the city and, therefore, developed first. The application of a grid pattern of streets and alleys was facilitated by the relative flatness of the land. The grid in the Northwest Historic District was set at approximately a 45 degree angle to the grid of the center city; its streets paralleled the access roads of Carlisle Avenue and West York Street (now called Roosevelt Avenue) and the York Street Railway which extended out North Hartley Street.
The entire plot of the West End Improvement Company had been divided into town and cottage lots, fronting on broad, level street with alleys to the rear to accommodate carriage houses. Along the sidewalks, the company planted trees which now provide a shady canopy and add to the material beauty of the area. The avenues were made 70 feet wide and extended to Carlisle Avenue. Hartley Street was extended and widened to 60 feet. The lots on Linden and Madison Avenues were made to have 50 foot frontage and the length ran a distance of 160 feet to 200 feet. The lots on Hartley, Lincoln, and Park Streets were made with smaller frontages and less depth. The West End Improvement Company sold some of the lots vacant and constructed substantial dwellings in others. Intended for use by more affluent people, the structures are set back on their lots behind 10 to 25 feet of green space. In all, appearance of the District is that of an upper middle class suburb.
Presently, the District encompasses a progression of dwelling styles popular between the 1880's and the 1920's. In the oldest section to the east, there are 2 1/2 story clapboarded. Queen Anne structures, irregular in plan and massing, with multi-paned windows, slate roofs and large brick chimneys. Another grouping of free-standing frame dwellings on Linden and Carlisle Avenues was influenced by Charles Eastlake. These structures, similar in scale and shape to the Queen Annes, are highlighted by slate-roofed polygonal turrets, curved brackets, and rows of spindles forming openwork balustrades and friezes on the wrap-around porches. As development continued westward, the grand styling gave way to more modest but still well-constructed semi-Bungalows and double brick American Foursquares. This collection of Foursquares is notable in that they are not scattered among other styles but erected repetitively on both sides of several blocks. It is the semi-Bungaloid houses that are occasionally interspersed on Maryland Avenue. The brick rowhouses in the district are larger than many of their counterparts in the York Historic District and their setback from the street echoes the concern for open space expressed in West End Improvement Company's development strategy advertising. There is a mixture of rowhouses and duplexes. Stylistic variations in these houses also progress westward from Queen Anne and Eastlake features through Colonial Revival influences such as Doric porch columns and Palladium dormer window motifs. Today, despite the intervening years, the cohesive district retains its turn of the century appearance.
The significance of the Northwest York Historic District is that it exemplifies the architectural evolution of residential construction from the 1880's through 1930, the street railway era. This city neighborhood contains York County's best collection of Queen Anne/Eastlake homes and very few intrusions mar this planned residential expansion of the city. The speculative development of the District, targeted for the upper classes, incorporated such community planning concepts as the integration of transportation systems, recreational amenities and design standards.
York experienced its greatest change as an industrial town at the conclusion of the 19th century. The whole character of the city was transformed from a small, rural-based, county seat into a moderately-sized industrial town. As the industries prospered, the town grew and the demand for labor rose dramatically. York's population tripled- between 1870 and 1900, from 11,000 to 33,000 people. To meet the demand for housing, entire new neighborhoods were developed and a series of annexations of adjacent communities took place. With this new industrial prosperity came a new look in York's architecture and its streetscapes. In this part of town, annexed by the city in 1913, the large, expensive homes of York's industrialists, businesmen, and merchants were constructed. These attractive and ornate Victorian houses were erected as a direct result of this new prosperity.
Development in the area began in 1822, when A. B. Farquhar purchased 26 acres known as "Farquhar's Addition" and laid out lots measuring 20' x 125' for rowhouses. In the same year, 1882, William H. Lanius purchased 52 acres of land adjoining the Farquhar tract for larger lots. The Captain, as he was called, a Civil War veteran of local note, was a highly successful businessman who was made president of the newly established West End Improvement Company. This arm of the York Bank and Trust Company was the prime developer of the east end of the district. Residents could purchase speculatively-built structures or could erect their own homes on vacant lots. The Company deeds stipulated the houses were to be set back a distance of not less than 25 feet from the sidewalks, not only securing uniformity in the line of construction but also furthering the adoption of the cottage building system.
Farquhar Park is an integral part of the planned residential community. In 1897, "A. B. Farquhar presented to the city of York a tract of nearly an acre on the summit of a hill in the northwest part of York. Soon afterward, the York Improvement Company, composed of enterprising citizens, set apart for the purpose of a park 32 acres of land surrounded the gift of Mr. Farquhar. The pleasure resort, since known as Farquhar Park, has been laid off into walks and drives and beautiful grass plots and parterres." (Prowell, History of York County, VI p 70). The park is still imposing as it covers a cascading hill, and its age is reflected in the mature trees which shade the entire park. The handsome Victorian gazebo situated atop the hill on A. B. Farquhar's plot has recently been stabilized and restored. The park and the surrounding residential development have been historically associated as one neighborhood and represent the desire of the benefactor to combine open space and good design. Although the fountains were removed, and in the 1960's tennis courts were added, the park still maintains its Victorian grace and character.
As in the streetcar suburbs of Boston, the wealthy of the late 1880's and 1890's in York built their large detached residences along the streetcar lines for ease in transportation into the center of the city. Cooperation between the area's real estate developers and the founders of the York Street Railway Company, chartered in February 1886, is evidenced by the location of the largest residential lots along the streetcar lines. Such regionally prominent figures as William H. Lanius, a lumber baron who was president of the Baltimore and Harrisburg Railway Company from 1888-1906 and Thomas Shipley, founder of the international Shipley-Humble Company, erected homes on the West York Street (Roosevelt Avenue) line while John H. Rudy, one of America's pioneer craftsmen in stained glass, and Daniel K. Trimmer, a judge in the Superior and Supreme Courts of Pennsylvania and the U. S. District Courts, built their frame Queen Anne homes on the Linden Avenue line, a circumferential track which later became a loop off the main line.
Thus, the planning of the area is obvious. The real estate and streetcar entrepreneurs cooperated to create a desirable setting tor the clustered construction of homes for the well-to-do. The overlap in principals of the street railway and the area real estate developments is striking. William Lanius organized the York Street Railway Company and retained the presidency tor twenty years. In addition, he was President of the York Trust, Real Estate and Deposit Company which advertised real estate for sale in all parts of the city. Other Railway Directors like Grier Hersh, George S. Billmeyer, W. A. Himes, George P. Smyser and J. W. Steacy, also sat on the York Trust Board. Hersh and Smyser also made their homes in the Northwest Historic District.
It is interesting to note the location of the rowhouses is opposite the sites of the car barns constructed between 1885 and 1894 and the industries which border the district. Thus, the developers were able to accommodate mixed use within the residential neighborhood by identifying the prime lots and marketing them to a wealthier clientele while reserving the less desirable tracts for those of more moderate income.
The Northwest Historic District displays a spectrum of residential architectural styles, punctuated by several period churches and schools, which progress chronologically from east to west. The earliest structures dating from the 1880's, upper middle class Queen Anne row homes and mansions, represent the burgeoning of York's industrial economy. The later semi-detached units and row homes toward the west present more modest architecture styling and reflect the stabilized economy. The east end of the area contains a significant number of well-executed Queen Anne/Eastlake structures, in fact, the largest collection in the country. The collection is still impressive although several of the pattern book structures are aluminum sided, most are not of elaborate Queen Anne styling, and all are painted white, a York tradition.
To the west, beyond the substantial homes of the wealthy, rows of brick worker's housing and semi-detached structures were speculatively developed. Some of these were built during the boom era of the 1880's-1900 but most date from the early twentieth century and represent a more modest period styling reflective of the return to a normalized local economic climate.
To conclude, the significance of the District lies in its planned residential character where aesthetic, recreational, and transportation needs were addressed. The neighborhood cohesively demonstrates the city's architectural evolution and its integrity is impressive. Alterations to individual structures are generally limited and reversible. Intrusions are few: a small two story apartment building, a six story Art Deco apartment building camouflaged by trees, a 1960's church, a bowling supply dealer, the aluminum-sided recent addition to the 1914 Madison School, a modular home, and two modern houses. The overall appearance of the District is one of planned order which has been well-maintained and cared for since its 1880's-1920's development era.
Gibson, John. History of York County, Pennsylvania. Chicago; F. A. Battey Publishing Company, 1975, pp. 64-67, 123.
Industries, Trade and Commerce of the City of York, Presented by the West End Improvement Company of York, PA, York, PA Evening Dispatch, job print, 1886, pp 35,39,40,43.
Deeds and Records, Recorder of Deeds Office, York County Court House, York. Pennsylvania.
Prowell, George. History of York County, Pennsylvania. Chicago: J. H. Beirs Company, 1907, VI, pp 3, 780.
Roe, Frederick B. Atlas of the City of York Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, 1903, plates 3, 5, 6.
Rohrbeck, Benson W. York County Trolleys. West Chester, PA: Ben Rohrbeck Traction Publications, 1978, pp 9-14, 60.
A Book of Views Illustrating York County's Sesquicentennial Celebration. York, PA: C. M. McElhinny, Horace G. Elicker, York Daily Press, 1899.