Cassius Emlen Urban (1863-1939) Was Elizabethtown’s Architect
Posted by email@example.com at October 23rd, 2017
By Jean-Paul Benowitz
Cassius E. Urban, a native son of Lancaster County, was the community’s leading architect from the 1890’s through the 1920s. Born in Conestoga Township, he descended from a long line of country carpenters. His family moved to Lancaster City in 1873 opening a planing mill on South Prince Street manufacturing window sashes, doors, and millwork. He graduated from Lancaster’s Boys High School in 1880, and then apprenticed as a draftsman at the E.L. Walter architectural firm in Scranton. In Philadelphia he worked as a draftsman for architect W.G. Hale. In 1886, he returned home to Lancaster and opened a private practice.
He designed over 100 of Lancaster’s notable buildings including the Farmers Southern Market (1888), Watt & Shand Department Store (1898), and the Greist Building (1924). His office was in the Woolworth building on North Queen Street, which he designed in 1899 for Frank Woolworth as a memorial to his first store. These iconic buildings define Lancaster’s historic past as well as its present urban context. His designs were stylistically eclectic, reflecting the influence of Queen Anne, French Renaissance, Gothic Revival, Beaux Arts, and Colonial Revival periods.
His work forms a bridge between the Victorian Era and the Modern Age. Over the span of a 45-year career Urban’s designs included major commercial and public buildings, churches, hotels, schools, industrial buildings, and private residences. Among those private residences was the mansion of Aaron Kreider in Palmyra and perhaps the Kreider Shoe Factory in Elizabethtown. urban designed the private homes and department stores of the Watt and Hager families.
Through membership in the Hamilton Club, Urban knew Milton Hershey and designed his Lancaster City home and his estate High Point in Derry Church Township. Hershey hired Urban to design all of the main buildings in his community constructed between 1903 and 1926, including the Hershey Chocolate Company offices and factory (1903), Hershey Trust Company (1914), Community Building and Hershey Theater (1915) and Convention Hall (1915).
Today, Urban’s buildings are timeless contributions to our urban architectural heritage. How appropriate this forward-thinking man in the life of Lancaster’s city and towns was himself named “Urban.” The architectural legacy of Urban continues to enrich Lancaster’s unique historic character. His buildings illustrate the range of his abilities and the breadth of his skills.
In Elizabethtown, Urban designed the Allegheny House at the Masonic Village, the telephone company building on North Market Street, the public high school on South Poplar Street, and the Loyal Order of the Moose Lodge No. 596 on the Square (northwest). This fraternal organization was established in 1888 by John H. Wilson in Louisville, Ky. Lodge No. 596 was chartered in Elizabethtown in 1911 at H.T. Horst hall on the Square (southwest). In 1912, the Moose Lodge moved to Boll’s Hall 45 W. High St. In 1922, the Moose fraternity purchased and razed the Greenawalt Hotel on the Square (northwest). Moose Lodge director D.C. Kreider hired Urban to design the theater, which opened in 1924 and followed by the lodge opening in 1928. It was built by Elizabethtown’s Hoffer Brothers. The property is currently for sale and its fate is unknown.
Elizabethtown, with the exception of the Lancaster and Hershey communities, probably has the most buildings designed by Urban. In his book “A History of Lancaster County” (1924), Franklin & Marshall College professor H.M.J. Klein wrote of Urban: “Few men of Lancaster County can point to a finer array of useful and beautiful work… whose skilled hand and artistic talent mean much to the civic dignity of this and other municipalities.” In 1905, at the dedication for Lancaster’s Boys High School, Urban spoke of the requisite use of high-quality materials and workmanship, “to build strong and substantial,” in order to produce solid and enduring architecture.
The Moose Lodge building defines Elizabethtown’s architectural landscape. It is an example of how Urban’s designs were contemporary and classic, innovative and practical, beautiful and durable, elegant and functional. It is the centerpiece of Elizabethtown’s Square, designed by a prominent local architect whose legacy has been preserved within Elizabethtown and throughout Lancaster. The Elizabethtown community should recognize the significance of this property and work in a spirit of historic preservation to find a contemporary and relevant use of this building for the future of Elizabethtown.
Jean-Paul Benowitz is a historian and the director of student transition programs at Elizabethtown College.
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