Bloomberg Philanthropies Grant Creates Opportunity for Creative Traffic Interventions

The City of Lancaster has been awarded a $25,000 national grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, in partnership with the SoWe Neighborhood Group and the Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership to create a street mural at the intersection of West Strawberry, South Mulberry, and West Vine Streets in the Cabbage Hill neighborhood. Support is also being provided by Sherwin Williams. This project is supported by a grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Asphalt Art Initiative which helps cities use art and community engagement to improve street safety and revitalize public space. The focus of the initiative is asphalt art: visual interventions on roadways, pedestrian spaces, and vertical infrastructure. Lancaster is one of 16 cities to receive the grant. 

“To achieve the goals and programs outlined in our Ten-Year Plan for Public Art, we rely on grants like this. The support allows us to work directly with community members to create projects in their neighborhoods. An exciting part of this project is how it puts artists and neighbors together to solve design problems while working together with planners and engineers in our Department of Public Works. ” said Joanna Davis, City of Lancaster Public Art Manager. 

The project is in its early stages and set to develop through the summer of 2021 with the goal to install in early fall.  A steering committee consisting of Cabbage Hill residents, arts professionals and a member of the Public Art Advisory Board has begun to meet. The steering committee will help to move the project along by assisting in community outreach efforts, artist selection, and design review.  

“Public art has many useful definitions, but for our Lancaster community it needs to involve the public. This intersection [project] at Vine, Mulberry and Strawberry is about the decisions and process through which the art will come to be. It’s an exciting time–so get involved and make your voice heard!” said Mimi Shapiro, City of Lancaster resident, artist, and Steering Committee member. 

The artist call can be found here!

The community can send feedback or questions about this project to the project manager Yarlyn Rosario at yrosario@cityoflancasterpa.com.  

For additional information about other projects in the Asphalt Art Initiative, visit, https://asphaltart.bloomberg.org/.   

The Streets of Cabbage Hill

(Plus a Valentine’s Day request)

Jim Gerhart, February 2021

A quiz for Cabbage Hill residents: Which of the following five street names were actual street names on Cabbage Hill in the nineteenth century? (1) Buttonwood Alley, (2) Roberts Street, (3) West Washington Street, (4) Williams Lane, and (5) Slab Alley.

The answer to the quiz: All five were actual street names on the Hill. OK, maybe the question is a little unfair, even for old-timers. You would have to be well over 100  years old to have any in-person memory of some of the street names in the quiz.

The point is that the names of many of the streets on the Hill have changed over the past 200 years. Specifically, there are 12 main streets in the historic core of Cabbage Hill, which is bounded by Manor, West Strawberry, Fremont, and Fairview. Those 12 streets have had more than 30 different names.

Streets on Cabbage Hill in the mid to late 1850s, shown on an 1858 map. From T.J. Kennedy’s Map of Lancaster.

Manor Street, the oldest street on the Hill, was already a well-traveled Native American trading trail when Lancaster was founded in 1729. It was known as the Blue Rock Road in the mid to late 1700s, because it led to an early ferry across the Susquehanna at Blue Rock just south of Washington Boro. In the early 1800s, the southwestern stretch of the street was often called the Manor Turnpike, because of the toll levied on travelers as they crossed the southwestern city limits. Finally, in the mid-1800s, the street became known as Manor Street.  

West Strawberry Street is the second oldest street on the Hill, having been a dirt cowpath that marked the southwest edge of central Lancaster when James Hamilton laid out his building lots in 1729. It was known as Slab Alley as late as the 1840s and then in the early 1850s, it became West Strawberry, to distinguish it from its continuation known as East Strawberry on the other side of South Queen Street.

On the opposite end of the historic core of the Hill, Fairview Avenue has been around a long time as a connecting road to South Prince and South Queen at Engleside. From the mid-1800s to 1915, it was called Love Lane, and it has been Fairview Avenue since then. The change of name to Fairview makes sense because it runs along a ridge from which expansive views were possible. I can find no explanation for its first, more amorous, name.

High Street originated with the founding of Bethelstown in 1762 when building lots were laid out on either side of its first two blocks (400 and 500 blocks). By the 1850s, High had been extended southwest to Love Lane, bridging the small stream at the bottom of the hill where New Dorwart is today. Presumably it was called High because of the location of the 400 block on a high point known as Dinah’s Hill.

St. Joseph Street has a complicated naming history. The 400 block of St. Joseph was established in 1850 when St. Joseph Catholic Church was built. At the time the church was built, the street it fronted was called Union Street (not to be confused with today’s Union a few blocks to the southeast, which didn’t exist yet). Then, in the early 1850s, just to make things even more confusing, the street was sometimes referred to as Poplar Street (before today’s Poplar a block over was established). Finally, by the end of the 1850s, the 400 and 500 blocks were renamed St. Joseph. However, at that time, St. Joseph did not extend beyond what is now New Dorwart, and in the meantime the 700 block between Fairview and Laurel had been laid out, and the street there was known as West Washington Street. In the late 1850s, when the two streets were connected by the building of a bridge over the small stream at the future New Dorwart, the entire street became known as St. Joseph.

Part of an article establishing Block Committees in the Southwest Ward, in which the early names of some streets are referred to; from the Daily Evening Express, December 15, 1857.

Now that we’ve brought up Poplar Street……When St. Joseph Church was built in 1850, the small alley behind the church with no houses on it had no name. In the late 1850s, it became Poplar and it was extended to the stream at the bottom of the hill at about the same time the future 700 block of Poplar was laid out on the far side of the stream. In 1870, building lots were laid out on the east side of the 400 block of Poplar. A year later, on the other side of the stream, the 700 block was named Poplar Alley. In the late 1870s, the street was connected with a bridge over the stream, and the whole street was named Poplar Street.

Moving farther east, Fremont Street was established in the late 1850s, starting with the 700 block between Fairview and Laurel. In 1870, when the building lots were laid out along the 400 block of Poplar, so too were building lots on both sides of the 400 block of Fremont. In the early 1870s, the two ends of Fremont were connected by completing the street in between them. Like Love Lane, I don’t know the origin of the name of Fremont Street, although when the street was first laid out in the 1850s, John C. Fremont was a popular national personality who had been an explorer of the West and then the Republican opponent of James Buchanan in the 1856 presidential election.

Now heading back to the west……West Vine Street started as a narrow alley behind the Bethelstown lots that fronted on the southeast side of High in 1762. The first inkling of the street that would become West Vine was born between Fairview and Laurel, where Buttonwood Alley was established in the late 1850s. When the blocks to the northwest up to West Strawberry were established by the 1880s, they were called Buttonwood Street. Buttonwood was renamed West Vine in 1890 as the southwestern continuation of the older West Vine on the other side of West Strawberry.

Next, to a street that cuts across the Hill from the northwest to the southeast—Laurel Street. It was first named in the early 1850s when it was a private lane providing access to the 25-acre property of John Williams between Manor and St. Joseph, and naturally enough it was called Williams Lane. In the 1860s, it was briefly known as New German Street, and then just New Street, and by about 1870, it became known as Laurel Alley, possibly named for local vegetation. From about 1885 to today, it has been Laurel Street.

Part of an article describing the city’s plan for naming alleys in the 8th Ward; from the Intelligencer Journal, November 21, 1871.

Another northwest-southeast street is Filbert Street. From the establishment of Bethelstown in 1762, there had always been an alley where the first block of Filbert is now. In the late 1850s to early 1860s, it was known locally as Gougler’s Alley, so named because of the house of Jacob and Rebecca Gougler at its intersection with Manor. But it wasn’t until 1871, when the city named or renamed all its alleys, that it became Filbert Alley. About 1890, Filbert Alley was promoted to Filbert Street. Because of irregular property boundaries near the old St. Joseph Cemetery, Filbert had to be offset slightly at St. Joseph Street.

Another alley that eventually grew up to be a street is Lafayette Street. In old Bethelstown, the lots on the southeast side of Manor extended back to meet the lots on the northwest side of High. They met at a narrow alley that would eventually become Lafayette Alley. In the late 1850s, houses had started to be built fronting the alley and the 400 block of the alley was widened to become Lafayette Street. At the same time, the 700 block of Lafayette was established, with a gap in the street where the 500 and 600 blocks would soon be. By about 1890, the two developed ends of the street met in the middle, making one continuous Lafayette Street. The street may have been named for the Lafayette Hotel, which existed on Manor in the 1840s and 1850s, and backed to the alley that would become Lafayette.

All the streets that run from West Strawberry to Fairview had to contend with the small stream that used to run where New Dorwart is today. For most of those streets, the last segments to be built (the 500 and 600 blocks) were the ones nearest the stream. In the 1860s, it appears that a rough path that ran along the stream valley was known as Roberts Lane, likely named for Anthony Roberts who owned land nearby. In the 1880s, the city placed a 6-foot-high brick sewer under the stream, diverted the stream into it, and built New Dorwart on top of it. New Dorwart was first named South Dorwart, a name that faded gradually over time and was finally replaced with New Dorwart about the 1920s. New Dorwart had to be offset at Lafayette, and again at High, because of bends in the now-vanished stream around which early houses had to be built.

Now, if your eyes have not yet completely glazed over with all these street names………In honor of this month’s Valentine’s Day, if anybody has any ideas on why Fairview Avenue was originally called Love Lane, please comment with your ideas!

The Humane Hose Company on Manor Street

Jim Gerhart, January 2021

Cabbage Hill once had its very own volunteer fire company. From 1838 to 1882, it served the West King and Manor Street corridors. Starting very humbly as the Humane Hose Company, it fought many fires and was a source of much neighborhood pride.

The Humane Hose Company was established in 1838 by a group of civic-minded citizens of the west and southwest sections of Lancaster. In August of that year, they purchased a hose carriage from a company in Philadelphia and paraded it through the streets of Lancaster, with the “uniform of the members neat and appropriate” and its members “entitled to much credit for their zeal and public spirit.”

First location of Humane Hose Company on the north side of West King, just west of Concord Alley. From  Moody and Bridgens, 1850.

In March 1839, the charter of the Humane Hose Company was approved, limiting the company to 40 subscribing members and establishing its hierarchy of officers and directors. The company rented part of a lot on the north side of West King just above Concord, and built a small frame building in which to keep its hose carriage.

In the early 1840s, a few of Lancaster’s more established fire companies had their own horse-drawn, hand-pumper engines, but the Humane only had a hose carriage, which was simply a large reel holding a wound-up hose on a four-wheeled carriage. The members of the Humane would pull the carriage to the scene of a fire using ropes, unwind the hose and hook it to one of the city’s new fire plugs, and use the hose to fill the tanks of the hand-pumpers of the other companies.

Remains of the first house of Humane Hose Company on West King. Photo taken in early 1880s by George M. Steinman, Humane treasurer, some 30 years after the Humane had moved from the site, and just before the building was torn down in the mid-1880s.

In June 1853, for $225, the Humane purchased the rear portion of a lot on West King to be the site of their new larger hose house. The Humane’s lot fronted 21 feet on the northwest side of Manor and extended 30 feet in depth. The Humane built a two-story brick hose house on the site, approximately where the rear parking lot for Reveron Electronic, Inc. is today, across from 424 Manor. The hose house was topped with a bell tower from which fire calls would ring out.

Location of Humane Steam Fire Engine Company No. 6 on Manor Street. From Everts and Stewart, 1875.

At the time the Humane’s new hose house was built, the company boasted 75 active members. Only six were property owners; the others were minors or those “who earn their bread by hard labor”. Their hose carriage had become old and was in need of repair, eight sections of hose were deemed too old to function dependably, and the company was $550 in debt. Other volunteer companies also were struggling with hose problems, and in 1854, the city allocated $3,000 to be shared among the Humane and four other companies for the purchase of new hoses.  

Humane Steam Fire Engine Company No. 6 on Manor Street, about where the rear parking lot of Reveron Electronic, Inc. is today, across from 424 Manor. This house was built in 1853, and was the home of the company for about 25 years. Note the steam-pumper fire engine proudly displayed in front of building. The Humane bought their steam-pumper in 1867, so this photo was likely taken shortly after then. Photo from collection of George M. Steinman, treasurer of the company.

By 1857, the Humane’s situation had improved to the point that it was able to purchase its first engine—a used hand-pumper purchased from the Union Fire Company for $300. The hand-pumper engine was a metal tank mounted on a horse-drawn, four-wheeled carriage. In the tank, which was filled with water, was a set of pistons that were operated by long horizontal levers called brakes extending from either side of the carriage. Teams of men moved the brakes up and down in rapid succession to activate the pistons, drawing water in from a hose connected to a water source with one stroke, and then driving the water out under pressure through a hose leading to the site of the fire with the next stroke.

The Civil War had a major impact on the Humane. The call for soldiers drew on the same pool of young men who were active in the Humane. In early September 1862, about 10 days before the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam), the Governor of Pennsylvania asked for all able-bodied men to start military drills in their neighborhoods, as the Confederate Army was moving north to invade the state. As a result, a large number of men from the “Hill” met at the Humane’s hose house to get organized. One of the speakers noted that 69 of the Humane’s volunteers had become soldiers and that only 18-20 volunteers were still available locally to fight fires.

By the mid-1860s, the Humane decided that it should have a steam-pumper like the one the Union Fire Company had recently acquired. A steam-pumper consisted of a steam boiler mounted on a horse-drawn, four-wheel carriage. The steam boiler was used to pressurize the water, forcing a stream of water through a hose directed at a fire. In 1866, the members of the Humane began canvassing the neighborhood for subscriptions to buy a new steam-pumper.

In early January 1867, after enough money had been pledged, a committee was appointed to purchase a steam-pumper. The committee went to Philadelphia to purchase the new apparatus, and a couple weeks later the new steam-pumper was delivered to Lancaster. The steamer was purchased for $2,800 from the Undine Steam Fire Company of Holland, New York, and had been built by A.B. Taylor.

On a cold January day, a parade was held to deliver the new steamer to the Humane’s house on Manor. Six Lancaster fire companies were represented, in addition to 75 men from the Humane. After the parade was over, the men of the Humane were anxious to see their new engine perform, so they took it back down to the square, where they fired it up and threw a stream of water 200 feet up North Queen.

In the early 1870s, the Humane is said to have declined in membership, and was saved from folding only by a reorganization in late 1875. Hugh Fulton was elected President, and the company officially modified its charter in April 1876, taking on the unwieldy new name of the Humane Steam Fire Engine and Forcing-Hose Company No. 6.

Lancaster City Fire Department Station House No. 1 in 1918. This house was completed in 1880 as the engine house of the Humane Steam Fire Engine and Forcing-Hose Company No. 6. The building is now occupied by Station One Center for the Arts. Photo courtesy of Ryan Conklin, Lancaster City Fire Department.

The revitalized Humane decided to move out of its aging house on Manor. A lot was purchased for $2,100 not far away on the north side of the 400 block of West King, and the foundation for a new larger building was laid there in 1878. The new engine house cost almost $5,300, and was completed in 1880. It still stands at 411 West King and is currently occupied by Station One Center for the Arts.

The grand opening of the new West King engine house in October 1880 was marked by a ball attended by 150 couples. The ball was held in the large second-floor room of the new house, which measured 40 by 100 feet. The newly energized version of the Humane seemed to be on its way, but within about two years, it went out of business when Lancaster City decided to take over the firefighting services that had heretofore been handled by the numerous volunteer companies.

In April 1882, the new city fire department was established, and in June 1883, the city purchased the Humane’s three-year-old house on West King for $5,200. The city designated the house on West King as its Station House No. 1, which would remain in use for many decades.

The Humane Hose Company on Manor is now a forgotten ghost of old Cabbage Hill, but in its time it was a formidable firefighting organization that helped protect the Hill’s buildings for some 40 years, as well as an important part of the Hill’s social scene.

The History of 434 West King Street

Jim Gerhart, December 2020

One of the better-preserved one-story houses in Lancaster is the blue house with the red door at 434 West King Street. This four-bay, center-chimney, Germanic-style house is typical of the many hundreds of such houses, also sometimes known as one-and-a-half-story houses, that once dominated the architecture of the city during the Federal period of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The 550-square-foot house is located on the very northern edge of the SoWe project area, less than a block outside of Cabbage Hill.

434 West King Street. Photo courtesy of its current owner, David Aviles Morales.

How old is the house? Who built it? Who owned it over the years? There is not much information available to answer these questions, and what little exists is somewhat contradictory. Real-estate websites date the house as early as the 1790s and as late as 1880. A 1985 survey by the Historic Preservation Trust and a 1995 report by the City of Lancaster both refer to the property as the Geise House and date it to about 1840. But an old map and tax records show that a Barbara Geiss owned the house next door instead. To try to resolve these conflicts and answer the questions above, extensive research into historic deed, tax, directory, newspaper, and other sources was undertaken.

The result of that research indicates that 434 West King has an interesting and fairly complicated history. Construction of this venerable old one-story frame house probably was completed in 1817. The lot where the house is located was originally 64 feet wide along the south side of West King and 245 feet deep to what would eventually become Campbell Alley. The house’s early history is closely tied to the Eberman family, a prominent family in Lancaster in the late 1700s.

John Eberman III (1776-1846) probably began building the house at 434 in late 1816. John III, a cashier and bank treasurer, was the son of John Eberman, Jr. (1749-1835), a famous clockmaker whose clocks are highly valued today. John, Jr. also was a prominent Lancaster citizen who served as Chief Burgess and Justice of the Peace, and as a sergeant in the Revolutionary War. John, Jr. made and installed the four-dial clock in the steeple of the second courthouse in the square about 1785. John, Jr.’s father, John Eberman, Sr. (1722-1805), was a soap boiler and tallow chandler who immigrated to Lancaster from Germany in the mid-1740s. The Ebermans were a prolific family: John, Sr. had 12 children, John, Jr. 13, and John III 10.

Part of the Lancaster County tax list for Lancaster Borough for 1817, the first year that 434 West King was on the tax rolls. Note that John Eberman, the owner,  had taken in “P. Sugar’s” as a tenant in his “unfinished” house. The four numbers at the end of the entry denote 1 house, 1 lot, 63 shillings ground rent, and $250 assessed value.

Several members of the extended Eberman family owned 434 from 1816 to 1838. Before John III had even completed the house, his first tenant moved in. Tax records show that John III rented the house “unfinished to P. Shugar’s” in 1817. (Presumably John III and/or Shugar completed the house shortly thereafter.) Peter Shugar was related to John III through marriage; he had married John III’s aunt, Elizabeth Eberman, in 1796. Upon marrying into the Eberman family, Shugar took over the aging John, Sr.’s soap and chandler business. The Shugars had six children.

Unfortunately, Peter Shugar, whose surname was later anglicized to Schucker, died a couple years after moving into 434. Immediately after Peter’s death, his wife Elizabeth bought the house, which was valued at $250, from her nephew, John III. A few years later, in 1823 or 1824, Elizabeth divided the lot into two, keeping 434 on the western half of the lot for herself and selling the vacant eastern half of the lot back to her nephew, John III. By 1829, John III had built a one-story frame house on the eastern half of the lot, the house number for which would eventually be 430. (This house, which had a brick front and was a little larger than 434, was torn down around 1900 and replaced with the three-story building that now stands to the east of 434.)

In 1830 or 1831, the ownership of 434 became more complicated. Elizabeth Shugar sold the house to Jacob Eberman, a shoemaker who was Elizabeth’s nephew, the son of her older brother Philip. Jacob was also Elizabeth’s son-in-law. He had married his first cousin, Peter and Elizabeth’s daughter Sarah Shugar, in 1824. Jacob’s ownership of 434 did not last very long. By 1832, Jacob and Sarah and their children had moved to Wooster, Ohio, selling 434 to Jacob’s cousin William Eberman, the son of John, Jr., the clockmaker, and the younger brother of John III. (Jacob and Sarah would return to Lancaster about a year later, and live in a one-story house on West King across from 434.) William Eberman, who bought 434 from Jacob, was a tinsmith and an innkeeper. William also bought the house at 430 at the same time.

Advertisement in the Lancaster Examiner, August 16, 1838, describing the public sale of William Eberman’s two houses, one of which was the house at 434 West King. 

William Eberman owned 434 and 430 until 1838 when he apparently ran into financial trouble and was forced to sell the two houses to pay off his debts. Dr. Charles Herbst, a pharmacist, bought both houses at a public sale in September 1838. In a newspaper advertisement for the sale, the houses were described as “two one story frame dwelling houses, one of which has a brick front a wood shed etc.” on a “full lot of ground on the south side of West King Street.”

Charles Herbst sold both houses on April 1, 1840. The house at 430 was sold to Barbara Geiss, a widow with a young son, for $475. The house at 434 was sold for $425 to Margaret Gantz, a widow who had two children. At about the same time widow Gantz bought 434, she remarried, to Joseph Kunkle. Joseph Kunkle was a peddler, and he and Margaret had four more children together over the next decade.

1850 map showing  the house at 434 West King and its owner J. (Joseph) Kunkle. Also shown is the house next door at 430 West King and its owner Mrs. (Barbara) Geiss (misspelled Dise).  From Moody and Bridgens.

Joseph Kunkle died in the mid-1860s. His wife Margaret continued living in 434 until her death in 1890. Margaret’s will stipulated that her daughters Mary and Rose were to continue to live in 434 as long as they wished. The two sisters lived there following Margaret’s death for five years until Rose came down from the attic level one day to discover her sister Mary dead in the summer kitchen.

Rose Kunkle continued living in 434 until she married Leo Myers in 1909 and moved with him to St. Joseph Street, where Leo ran a grocery store. (Leo Myers’ grocery was located in the recently-painted light green house on the corner of Filbert and St. Joseph Streets, with “Welcome to Cabbage Hill” painted on its side.) When Leo died in 1913, Rose moved back to 434, living there alone until her death in 1929.

After Rose’s death, the administrator for Margaret Kunkle’s estate sold the house at public sale to Sarah and Jack Winkoff, who paid $4,380 for the house and half lot. An advertisement for the public sale stated that the “Lot fronts 33 feet on the south side of West King street…” and “The improvements consist of a 1 ½ story frame house, with six rooms.”

The Minkoffs rented out 434 until 1965, when they sold it to Ronald Cook, who lived there until 1973, when he sold it to Carol Miller, who lived there into the 1980s. The current owner is David Aviles Morales, who has maintained it without changing its basic historical appearance. The house is now available for booking as an Airbnb rental.

So, to answer the earlier questions: 434 West King was built about 1817 by John Eberman III. For a 203-year-old house, it has not had very many owners, with the Eberman, Kunkle, and Minkoff families accounting for nearly 150 of those years. A good name for the house might be the Eberman-Kunkle House, in honor of its builder and the family that owned it the longest.

As a survivor from an earlier time in Lancaster’s history, 434 West King reminds us of what much of Lancaster used to look like. Hopefully, it will continue to have owners dedicated to its preservation, and serve as a reminder of our history for many years to come.

Helvetia Leather Company: A Ghost of Cabbage Hill Past

Jim Gerhart, November 2020

1887 advertisement for Helvetia Leather Company.

Cabbage Hill has been home to many successful businesses over the past 150 years, some of which have succeeded over several generations. Kunzler & Company, Inc. may be one of the first to come to mind. But not all successful Hill businesses lasted that long. One of the most successful businesses was the Helvetia Leather Company, which is largely forgotten today. However, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, working out of a large lot on Poplar Street, the company achieved nationwide recognition for its unique products, but it was in business for only about 30 years.

In the mid-1870s, Albert Wetter, a Swiss immigrant living on West Strawberry near South Water, began experimenting with a new way to make leather. By 1879, he had patented his new method, which used hot air instead of tannin to make leather from animal hides. Soon Wetter’s new method attracted several investors and together they started to manufacture “Helvetia leather”, a tough but pliable leather that was well suited to manufacturing applications. (Helvetia was the Roman name for Switzerland, Albert Wetter’s native country.)

The new venture, known by the names of its largest investors, Potts, Locher, & Dickey, needed a place to conduct its business. In 1879, Wetter purchased a large lot on the southeast side of the 500 block of Poplar, where the houses at 520-538 are located today. The lot extended 202 feet along Poplar, and 87 feet to an alley that is now South Arch. Later, the company would purchase another lot adjacent to the first, this one fronting on Fremont 100 feet and extending 85 feet to the same alley from the opposite direction.

Wetter and his partners built a large two-story brick factory and associated frame and brick buildings in which they started producing leather using Wetter’s new method. The factory was powered by a steam engine using coal as its fuel source. Wetter purchased the house next door at 518 Poplar in 1880 and he, his wife Lizzie, and their son Robert moved in beside the factory. In 1882, Wetter enlisted the noted Lancaster inventor, Anthony Iske, to design machinery that would make the hot-air method of producing leather more efficient, and together they patented that machinery. The company began to make a name for itself in the heavy-duty leather field.

Diagram from patent application for “Machine for Treating Leather with Hot Air”, U.S. Patent No. 266,695, October 31, 1882, by Anthony Iske and Albert Wetter.

Ever since its founding in 1729, Lancaster had always had numerous tanneries. Tanning leather was a difficult and messy process. Fresh animal hides had to be purchased from butcher shops and farms, and they had to be cleaned, de-haired, cured, and dried for several weeks before they were ready to be tanned. Tanning usually was accomplished through the use of tannin, which was obtained from tree bark through a time-consuming process, but with Wetter’s new hot-air method, that part of the process could be avoided.

Even so, the tanning that took place on Poplar must have been a dirty, noisy, smelly activity, becoming especially bothersome as that block of Poplar was built out with houses in the 1880s. Also, tanning no doubt resulted in some nasty waste products that were drained off downhill into the small stream that ran where New Dorwart is located today. Following the burial of that small stream in a sewer under New Dorwart by the late 1890s, the company built their own sewer to connect to the one under New Dorwart, and discharged their waste that way.

Unfortunately, due mostly to bad management, the first incarnation of Wetter’s business failed after a few years. Wetter and his partners were forced to sell the Potts, Locher, & Dickey business in 1882. The business was bought by a different group of investors headed by John Holman and Philip Snyder. After a few years of gradual success under its new management team, the business went public on September 7, 1886, sold shares, and became a corporation called the Helvetia Leather Company. (Wetter was not part of the newly incorporated business; in fact, he seems to have left Lancaster.) The growing company, chartered for the purpose of “tanning and manufacturing leather by patented or other process”, soon became famous for its leather, which was ideal for belts in machinery, laces for boots and shoes, industrial aprons, and similar uses.

1897 map showing the Helvetia Leather Company complex at 520-534 Poplar Street; from Sanborn fire insurance map

The nationwide recognition of the company was mainly due to its belt leather, that is, belts used to run heavy-duty machinery in sawmills, cotton mills, silk mills, printing plants, iron forges, railroad shops, and similar factories. Helvetia leather was made only from the high-quality centers of the animal hides, with the edges being cut off and sold to other manufacturers of different leather products. The company’s leather belts were said to be strong yet pliable, no matter their thickness, and they could run machinery with less tension required than with other types of leather belts. The company’s belts performed equally well in cold and hot temperatures, and did not slip as much as others.

The Helvetia Leather Company made heavy-duty leather belts for factories as far west as South Dakota, as far south as the Carolinas, and as far north as Massachusetts. Companies such as the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company, the Nonotuck Silk Mills, the Lancaster New Era, and the Clark Mile End Spool Cotton Company installed belts made by the Helvetia Leather Company. In fact, the Clark Mile End Spool Cotton Company in Massachusetts used nearly two miles of Helvetia belting in its factory, with one single belt being more than 2,100 feet long, a record for the time.

Throughout the 1880s and the 1890s, the Helvetia Leather Company on Poplar flourished under the leadership of John Holman and Philip Snyder, as well as several other prominent Lancaster businessmen. Robert Houston was President for most of those years, and local businessmen Allan Herr, Abraham Rohrer, Charles Landis, Elmer Steigerwalt, and Benjamin Atlee played important roles in officer positions. Gustavus Groezinger, owner of Groezinger’s Tannery at the foot of West Strawberry, also was an investor and officer. For many years, John Zercher was the factory superintendent, until he died suddenly at his desk one morning in 1906.

Advertisement for public sale of Helvetia Leather Company in 1909.

By the first decade of the twentieth century, Helvetia Leather Company had trouble paying its shareholders their annual dividends because of high prices for raw materials. By the end of the decade, the company struggled to meet expenses, no doubt partly because of the rising popularity of rubber belting. As a result, the company was put up for public sale in 1909, but the reserve amount was not met. It was finally sold in 1910 to Henry Schneider, and its buildings were almost immediately razed to make room for new houses. Within two years, eight two-story brick houses had been built at 520-534 Poplar.

Building at 536-538 Poplar that was once part of the complex of buildings of the Helvetia Leather Company tannery and factory. The eight two-story houses at 520-534 Poplar, just uphill from 536-538, were built about 1911 where the factory and other buildings once stood.

Two small, unusual  houses at 536-538 Poplar are all that remain of the Helvetia Leather Company’s complex of buildings; these two houses used to mark the southwestern extent of the tannery property. Looking at the row of eight tidy houses just uphill from 536-538 now, it is difficult to imagine that, in their place, a large, busy, noisy tannery once produced machinery belts and other products that helped run factories all around the country. Today, the Helvetia Leather Company is just another ghost of Cabbage Hill past.

The Long History of Schools on South Mulberry Street

Jim Gerhart, October 2020

The five-point intersection of West Strawberry, South Mulberry, and West Vine Streets, which is the gateway to Cabbage Hill from downtown Lancaster, has witnessed a lot of history. On the northeast corner of the intersection, bounded by South Mulberry and West Vine, a large school building now stands on a lot where 170 years ago some of the very first schools of Lancaster’s public-education system once stood. Let’s peel back the layers of school history at this site, starting with the first layer (today) and working back to 1850, with the emphasis on the fourth (earliest) layer, about which less is commonly known.

Layer 1, 1992-2020–The first and most recent layer of school history at this intersection covers 1992 to the present. Housed in the large Victorian-era brick building on the northeast corner of the intersection is the Intensive Day Treatment Program run by Catholic Charities of the Harrisburg Diocese. The program offers a five-day-a-week program of counseling, therapy, and life-skill education for at-risk Lancaster County children between the ages of nine and fifteen.


The Victorian-era school building on the northeast corner of South Mulberry and West Vine. Photo taken in 2020.

Layer 2, 1939-1992–The second layer of school history, just beneath today’s surface layer, covers 1939 to 1992. Many long-time residents of Cabbage Hill will remember this layer, when the current large brick building was the home of St. Joseph Catholic School. The Harrisburg Diocese bought the building on behalf of St. Joseph Catholic Church on July 10, 1939, and established a parochial school for the education of Catholic children on the Hill. The diocese purchased the building from the Lancaster City School District for $22,500 and renovated it to meet St. Joseph Church’s needs. The purchase was made to ease the crowding of the school located next to St. Joseph Church a block away. Many Cabbage Hill children received their primary-school education at St. Joseph School.

Layer 3, 1892-1939–Peeling back the second layer of school history, we expose the older third layer, which covers 1892 to 1939. No doubt there are a few old-timers who remember at least the later years of this layer, which begins with the completion of the current large brick school by the School District of Lancaster in 1892, and ends when the building was sold to the Harrisburg Diocese in 1939. The building currently at the site, then known as the South Mulberry Street School, was part of the City of Lancaster’s public-school system for nearly fifty years, and served as both a primary and secondary school. It was built to accommodate the growing numbers of students that resulted from increased immigration to the Cabbage Hill area in the late nineteenth century.

The architect who designed the South Mulberry Street School (1892) was James H. Warner, who also designed several other prominent buildings in Lancaster at about the same time, including Central Market (1889) and Christ Lutheran Church (1892). It is not surprising that the exterior of the South Mulberry Street School bears a strong resemblance to the exteriors of these other two buildings, in that all three are built in similar Victorian style with red brick highlighted by decorative brownstone accents.

Also built about the same time and in similar style was the three-story Victorian-era brick building on the corner across West Strawberry that until recently housed the Strawberry Hill Restaurant, and was originally the Centennial Hotel. In addition, the grouping of three three-story brick houses diagonally across the intersection, and directly facing the intersection on the south corner, was built in the 1890s. The late Victorian makeover of the intersection was complete by the late 1890s.

Layer 4, 1850-1892–Finally, way down in the layers of school history at this site is the fourth and earliest layer. It begins in 1850 and ends in 1892, when the large school building now on the site was completed. To clear the ground for the large current building, the School District of Lancaster razed two older school buildings built in 1850 and a third school building built in the late 1860s. All three of the earlier buildings were one-story brick buildings, with the third building being slightly larger than the first two.

Map showing the three school houses in 1874. The third, slightly larger, school house had just recently been built. Note that West Strawberry was still a narrow lane, and the southern West Vine extension was just being laid out. From Roe and Colby, Map of the City of Lancaster, 1874.

The first two of these early school buildings were among the very first public-school buildings built in Lancaster following the implementation of the city’s common (public) school system in the early 1840s. The first two buildings—essentially double one-story brick houses—were built in 1850. They were built on Hamilton lot 386, one of the original building lots laid out by James Hamilton in 1730. Lot 386 had been purchased by the Board of Directors of the Common Schools from Margaret and Catharine Yeates, daughters of Judge Jasper Yeates, on June 26, 1849, for $300. The lot was 64 feet on West Vine, extending 242 feet to Mifflin.

Map showing the first two one-story brick school houses on the north side of West Vine in 1850. Mulberry had not yet been extended south past West Orange, and West Vine had not yet been extended across West Strawberry. St. Joseph Catholic Church had just been built. From Moody and Bridgens, Map of the City of Lancaster, 1850.

At the time the Board of Directors purchased lot 386 and built the first two school houses, South Mulberry did not yet exist; Mulberry’s southern extent ended at West Orange. As a result, the two school houses were referred to as the West Vine Street School until Mulberry was extended in the mid-1850s. Also, when the school houses were first built, West Vine did not exist south of West Strawberry. Therefore, today’s distinctive five-point intersection was only a three-point T-intersection with the north part of West Vine truncating at West Strawberry, which was still a narrow dirt lane. In addition, in 1850, the foundation of the first St. Joseph Catholic Church was just being dug, and today’s Christ Lutheran Church was still several decades in the future.

Lot 386 was near the top of Dinah’s Hill and it looked out on downtown Lancaster to the north and was bounded on the south, in 1850, by pasture land of the still undeveloped central part of Cabbage Hill. Across West Strawberry to the south was Christopher Zell’s one-story frame blacksmith shop that would soon be enlarged into the Centennial Hotel and Saloon. There were only a few other buildings within a block of the two school houses, including the small log cabin across West Vine where 113-year-old ex-slave and fortune-teller Dinah McIntire had lived several decades before, giving her name to the hill on which lot 386 was located.

Enlargement of an 1852 lithograph showing the first St. Joseph Catholic Church and the first two school houses on West Vine. The flattened perspective makes it seem that the school houses  are across the street from the church, but they were actually a half block past the church across West Strawberry. Drawing by Charles R. Parsons.

When the first two small school buildings opened in 1850, they served both primary- and secondary-age children, mostly of German heritage. It didn’t take long for the two school buildings to become crowded as Cabbage Hill began to grow. Anticipating and reacting to that growth, the Lancaster School District acquired two more pieces of land adjacent to lot 386—a 16-foot strip of land between lot 386 and the recently extended South Mulberry to the west in 1860, and a 24-foot strip of land on the east side of lot 386 in 1878. Both strips of land extended to Mifflin.

The third school building was added to the south of the first two in the late 1860s to serve as a primary school for both boys and girls. It was a little larger and sat a little closer to South Mulberry, taking advantage of the strip of land added in 1860. By the late 1880s, the three small school houses were again becoming crowded as well as outdated, prompting the School District to plan for their replacement by a larger, more modern building—the one that is on the site today.

It would, of course, be historically interesting to have a photograph of the three early public-school buildings before they were torn down in the early 1890s, but it seems there are none devoted to just the three buildings themselves. However, partial images of the first school houses on the site were inadvertently captured in the corners of two other photographs before the early school houses were forever lost to history.

Photograph of Rose Bros. & Hartman Parasol & Umbrella Factory on South Mulberry in the late 1880s. The factory is now the rear one-third of the Umbrella Works Apartments. From LancasterHistory photo archive, no. A-13-01-28.
Enlargement of the lower right corner of the photograph to the left, showing the two one-story brick school houses (built in 1850), prior to them being torn down.

First, in the late 1880s, a few years before the current building was built, a photographer from the Fowler Gallery took a picture of the Rose Bros. & Hartman Parasol & Umbrella Factory in the first block of South Mulberry. This factory would soon be expanded down to West King and become the Follmer, Clogg & Company umbrella factory, and today the Umbrella Works Apartments. On the right edge of the photograph one can see the fronts of the first two small, one-story, brick school houses built in 1850.

South Mulberry Street School, at the completion of construction in 1892. Note the old one-story brick school house, built in 1850, on the left edge of the photograph, and the old one-story brick school house, built in the late 1860s, on the right edge. Photo from Riddle, 1905.

Then, in 1892, when the current larger building had just been finished, a photograph was taken to commemorate its completion. On the left edge of the photograph can be seen the side of one of the first school houses built in 1850, and on the right can be seen the front edge of the third school house built in the late 1860s. It seems that only the middle school house had to be torn down to build the new larger school, and the other two were used for classes while the new larger school was being built. Then, when the new school opened, the remaining two old school houses were torn down.

One can learn a lot about the evolution of schools at this iconic five-point intersection just by using historical records and photographs to peel back the layers of history.

The Origin of the 400 Block of Poplar Street

Jim Gerhart, September 2020

The 400 block of Poplar Street, one of the most picturesque blocks on Cabbage Hill, dates back to October 5, 1872. On that date, at 2:00 p.m., a public sale of building lots was held as part of the estate settlement of Henry C. Locher, the developer of the lots, who had died the previous year. 

First, by way of a little background…..In 1872, the central part of Cabbage Hill was in the midst of a development boom, spreading from Manor Street eastward. In the west, the 400 and 500 blocks of Manor and High Streets in the Bethelstown neighborhood were almost completely built up, with the former Lafayette and Buttonwood (West Vine) Alleys beginning to be built on as well. Moving east, the 400 and 500 blocks of St. Joseph Street had acquired houses on about half of their lots. But on Poplar Street, although St. Joseph Catholic Church was on the northwest side, the southeast side of the 400 block was devoid of houses. With the October 1872 sale of Henry C. Locher’s lots, that was about to change.

Thirty-one lots on the southeast side of Poplar had been staked out by Locher and his family in early 1870. All but two of the lots were 20 feet wide by 100 feet deep; the exceptions were the two end lots that were a little wider at 30 and 27 feet. All the lots backed to an alley that would eventually become South Arch Street. The lots were numbered from 7 to 37. Bidders on the lots could bid on single lots or as many as three contiguous lots.

The sale took place across Poplar from the rear of St. Joseph Catholic Church and the adjoining cemetery, which had been established less than 25 years earlier. According to an announcement of the sale in the Lancaster Examiner and Herald: “These lots are pleasantly situated, on high ground, and in an improving and rapidly growing part of the city, and very desirable for building lots…”

The land had been purchased by Henry C. Locher and his wife Cecelia Margaretta from Daniel Harman just two years earlier in 1870. Locher laid out building lots shortly after buying the land, and first tried to sell the lots privately, without success. When Henry died in April 1871, Charles A. Locher was assigned to be the guardian of Henry’s and Cecelia’s youngest daughter, Laura, who was 10 years old and still a minor. The public sale of lots was arranged to generate enough funds to provide for Laura’s share of her father’s estate, to be managed by her guardian until she became of age.

Henry C. Locher was able to invest in real estate because of his successful tannery located at the corner of West Strawberry and South Water Streets, where the wading pool in Culliton Park was until recently located. He and his wife Cecelia and their four daughters lived in a house next to the tannery. The tannery was established by Henry C.’s father and from the late 1830s to the early 1870s, it produced a specialized leather known as Moroccan leather that was made from goatskin.

The public sale of Locher’s building lots on October 5, 1872 went well. A dozen lots on the southeast side of Poplar were sold that day, ranging in price from $48 apiece for lots 11 and 12, to $69.25 for lot 7 (the widest lot). The purchasers were required to pay half the price by April 1, 1873, and the other half, with interest, by April 1, 1874. The twelve lots that were sold that day in the 400 block of Poplar were:

The building of houses on the recently purchased lots began shortly after the public sale. Most of the new lot owners kept their lots at the original 20-foot widths, but a few lot owners subdivided their lots before houses were built. Lot 7, with an original 30-foot width, was divided into two 15-foot wide lots. Also, two pairs of 20-foot wide lots, each pair having a total of 40 feet of width, were each divided into three lots a little over 13 feet wide. Lots 8 and 9, and lots 10 and 11, were combined and then subdivided in this way, so that four 20-foot wide lots became six 13-foot wide lots. The result was that thirty-four houses could be built on the original thirty-one lots. 

The first two houses to be built were completed by 1874 (see 1874 map). They were built by Frantz Siebold (lot 12) and Henry Bertschi (lot 13). Today those houses are 424 and 426 Poplar, across the street from the SoWe office in the rear of the St. Joseph Church annex. The third house built was that of Martin Kempf, who bought lots 36 and 37 for $475 about six months after the public sale. Kempf built a larger house on lot 37 on the corner of Poplar and Filbert, where he opened a beer saloon on the first floor. Kempf’s house and saloon is now 476 Poplar. 

The purchase of lots from Locher’s heirs, and the building of houses on the lots, continued for another fifteen years. In 1880, eight years after the public sale, eight houses had been built (416-424, 476). Just six years later, in 1886, another twenty houses had been built (412-414, 426-430, 434-436, 442-448, 456-472). Finally, by 1888, sixteen years after the public sale, all thirty-one lots had been sold and all thirty-four houses had been built (see 1897 map). Every house was a 2-1/2-story brick Victorian house.

In a little more than fifteen years (1872-1888), the southeast side of the 400 block of Poplar Street had gone from boundary stakes in the ground to fully built out, testifying to the intense development of the Hill that was occurring at that time. Today, the same thirty-four houses that were built more than one hundred and thirty years ago are still present, making the 400 block of Poplar perhaps the only block on Cabbage Hill where all the original houses pre-date 1890 and are still in use.

Today’s residents of the 400 block of Poplar are living with a lot of history just waiting to be discovered. If you live in one of those houses, the history of your property dates back to the lots laid out by Henry C. Locher in 1870. That would be a good starting point from which to develop the rest of your house’s history to the present. If you are interested in researching your house’s history, you can contact me at SoWeCommunicate@sowelancaster.org, and I will try to point you in the right direction.

Pigeon Racing on Old Cabbage Hill

Jim Gerhart, August 2020

Oscar Shane’s pigeon arrived at its loft behind the Shane house at 608 High Street at 4:44 p.m. on June 10, 1908. The pigeon had been released, along with fellow competing pigeons, in Concord, North Carolina, at 5:10 that morning. It had averaged almost 35 miles per hour over its 400-mile journey back to Lancaster, winning the competition arranged by the members of the Lancaster District of the International Federation of Homing Pigeon Fanciers (IFHPF).

The breeding, raising, training, and racing of homing pigeons became a popular hobby on Cabbage Hill in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The sport of pigeon racing had been imported from Europe in the 1860s, with most of the bred-for-speed and bred-for-homing-ability pigeons coming from Belgium. In the U.S., it first blossomed in the big East Coast cities of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, but by the 1880s pigeon racing had found its way to Lancaster.




Article about the formation of the first homing pigeon club in
Lancaster, The Lancaster Examiner, February 20, 1889.

The first organized group of homing-pigeon owners in Lancaster was established in early 1889. It was called the Lancaster Homing Pigeon Club and it was made up of nine members owning some 200 pigeons. By the early 1890s, at least several pigeon owners from Cabbage Hill had joined the club—the aforementioned Oscar Shane (556 Manor), William Paulsen (560 Manor, the author’s great grandfather), and Adam Danz (606 High). In 1894, a second racing club was formed, the Hillside Homing Pigeon Club, possibly named so because it was headquartered on the Hill.

How did pigeon racing work? The clubs organized races on weekends during the spring, summer, and fall, with the participating members shipping their pigeons in crates by train to wherever the starting point of the race was. Most of the starting points were southward, usually in Virginia or the Carolinas. Each racing pigeon would have a metal band on one of its legs inscribed with the owner’s initials and a unique identifying number. At a designated time, usually in the early morning, all the pigeon contestants would be released and the trek home to Lancaster would begin. The pigeons would use their acute sense of smell and their uncanny ability to discern minute differences in the Earth’s magnetic field to find their way home to where they knew they would be fed and reunited with their mates.




Results of a race of the Red Rose District of the IFHPF, in The Intelligencer
Journal, May 18, 1908. The average speeds are given in yards per minute.

Back in Lancaster, an official judge would be stationed at each loft where a competitor made its home, ready to read off from synchronized clocks the exact time at which each pigeon would alight at the door to its loft. The judges would then compare the times, and award a prize to the owner of the winner and runners-up. The prizes were often of significant value, and an owner with an especially accurate and fast-flying pigeon could offset the expense of his hobby.

But it was not always easy or pleasant for the pigeons. Often, some would not make it home, especially when flying through bad weather. In one particularly bad storm in 1911, only 15 of 73 pigeons made it home to Lancaster within four days of being released in Newberry, South Carolina. Others would finally arrive long after the race was over. For example, in at least two extreme cases, Hill pigeons returned nearly two years after their release.

On the other hand, there were some feel-good stories as well—for example, after one loft owner’s death, his many pigeons were sold to a place in New York for butchering. A few days after their arrival in New York, two of the condemned pigeons were found back at their original loft, “strutting around the old coop, contented and cooing”, having escaped and found their way home. One hopes double jeopardy ensured them a long happy life.  

Perhaps the high tide of early pigeon racing in Lancaster occurred in the latter part of the first decade of the twentieth century. In 1908, there were three clubs in Lancaster, each with at least ten members and many hundreds of pigeons. The Lancaster District of the IFHPF, with about half its members being from Cabbage Hill, and the Red Rose District of the IFHPF, with nearly all of its members being from the Hill, were two of the clubs. The third club was the Keystone Homing Pigeon Club, which was not affiliated with the IFHPF and which had no members from the Hill.

To give an idea of the makeup of these clubs, here are nine Cabbage Hill members of the Red Rose District, with their 1907 addresses:

            Gustavus F. Lutz                     529 High                                 

            Herbert J. Henkel                    436 West Vine            

            Henry P. Keller                         636 Lafayette             

            William Paulsen                      560 Manor                 

            Elias E. Herr                             638 Lafayette                                     

            Charles J. Fritsch                     812 High                                 

            Adam J. Danz                          826 St. Joseph            

            Philip Etter                              725 High                                 

            Otto Hecht                              530 Lafayette             

Of these nine club members, six of them lived on High and Lafayette. Their average age was about 35, and all of them were tradesmen, with six of them working in the cigar industry. Only two of them had been born in Germany, but the majority of them were sons of German immigrants.

In the decade from 1910-1920, which included World War I, the Red Rose District of the IFHPF continued to actively compete. Even during the war, the club continued racing, but the number of Hill members dwindled to just four—Oscar Shane (657 High), Charles J. Schill (618 West Vine), Frank Wechock (420 High), and Frank Martin (710 St. Joseph). Perhaps this had something to do with the members of German heritage wanting to avoid the spotlight during the intense anti-German sentiment directed at Cabbage Hill during the war.

In 1917, Red Rose member Charles Schill was elected Secretary of the entire IFHPF, and in his official capacity he was asked by the Army to provide an inventory of all the homing pigeons affiliated with the IFHPF. The inventory was essentially a draft registration for homing pigeons, because there was a need for their service at the European war front. The pigeons were expected to be “doing a bit as a patriot, to help our country in this great crisis.” In fact, in May 1918, General Pershing directed 3,000 homing pigeons and 100 trained handlers to be dispatched to the European front.




A dispatch rider taking homing pigeons to the
trenches in WWI, The Inquirer, May 18, 1918.

Once at the front, homing pigeons were used to deliver messages back from the front lines. As a 1918 newspaper article noted, “They did work which the wireless, telegraph and telephone could not do under certain conditions.” Homing pigeons with rolled messages in containers banded to their legs would circle up from the trenches, dodge through the shells, bullets, and poison gas, and deliver their messages to military headquarters miles behind the battle lines. They were said to have a 97% success rate, and there was at least one pigeon who was hit by German fire and still was able to deliver its message.

Back on Cabbage Hill after the war, pigeon racing continued for many years. As just one example, Charles Schill, the Secretary of the IFHPF during WWI, went on to own race-winning homing pigeons well into the 1940s. However, about ten years ago, due to complaints of unsanitary conditions in backyard lofts, Lancaster was forced to ban the keeping of pigeons within the city limits. That ended more than 100 years of the homing-pigeon sport in the city, but many rural clubs still exist, and a large national network of racing aficionados still compete in much the same way as before.

Today, if you stop on Cabbage Hill and listen carefully, especially around High and Lafayette, you might be able to pick up the last echoing coos from the golden age of homing-pigeon racing on the Hill.

The Heyday of Hotels on Cabbage Hill

Jim Gerhart, July 2020

In the mid-19th to early 20th centuries, Cabbage Hill boasted numerous hotels. Most didn’t look like the typical hotels of today, but instead looked like larger houses, with saloons on the first floor and rooms for rent in a rear wing. The proprietor and his family usually lived on the second floor above the saloon. Often hotels had a main front door for the saloon and hotel, and a second door off to one side for the proprietor’s upstairs living quarters. Most old hotels were on corners at intersections.

By far the earliest (1745) hotel near Cabbage Hill was the Golden Plough (later the Plow Tavern) at West King and Charlotte, just north of the Hill proper (razed in 1928). Probably the earliest hotel actually on the Hill was the Lafayette Hotel operated by George Hinkle in the 400 block of Manor Street in the mid-1840s (no longer there). After the Lafayette went out of business in the early 1850s, there were no more hotels on the Hill until after the Civil War, although there were always a couple saloons.

Between the Civil War and the beginning of the 20th century, eight iconic hotels were established in the historic core of the Hill, bounded by Manor, West Strawberry, Fremont, and Fairview. Each of these eight hotels flourished at least until the back-to-back challenges of Prohibition and the Great Depression, which put several of them out of the hotel business. The saloon part of their business, however, persisted through Prohibition, with many of them becoming speak-easies and occasionally running afoul of the Volstead Act. After World War II, many of the saloons in the old hotels were transformed into cafes, taverns, and bars through the late 1900s. Although none of the eight iconic hotels is a hotel anymore, all eight hotel buildings survive, and some still house successful businesses.

In their heyday, the eight hotels were the hubs of many Hill activities. Political meetings, speeches, and rallies often took place in the hotels, sometimes drawing hundreds of people. Many of the hotels served as polling places as well. Special events and celebrations often took place at the hotels, and music and dancing were common on weekends. Athletic, shooting, and other competitions between different hotel were frequently arranged. And, of course, Hill residents spent many a night gathered around the long bars drinking locally brewed beers. Occasionally, fights would break out and the police would be called.

The eight iconic Hill hotels are briefly described next, starting with the oldest:

Centennial Hotel, 128 West Strawberry—Established by Samuel Erisman in 1865, and named in 1876 during the Nation’s 100th birthday, the Centennial started out as a saloon in a one-story frame building. In 1892, the old building was replaced with a 3-story brick one (the current building) with 15 rooms, one bath, and a large bar room. Edward Kirchner ran the hotel and saloon during the challenging Prohibition years. Obie Miller’s Steak House operated in the building from the mid-1940s to the mid-1980s, and then Strawberry Hill Restaurant from the mid-1980s to 2012. The scars of two large saloon windows remain near the angled front door.

Victoria Hotel, 450-452 High—In 1865, Christian Diehl built a 2-story frame building and opened a saloon in it. When he died in 1877, his wife Victoria took over running the saloon, added a hotel component, and named it Victoria Hotel. She replaced the frame building with the current brick one about 1890. Joseph Fritsch ran the hotel and saloon until Prohibition in 1920. The hotel business closed in 1937, and Ziegler’s Café operated here in the 1940s. The outline of the old hotel entrance is still visible in the brick pattern on the façade.

La Pierre House, 476 Poplar—Martin Kempf built the current building and opened it as a saloon in 1873. After Kempf’s death, John Snyder took over in the 1880s and 1890s and added the hotel business, calling it La Pierre House. Lancaster brewer Charles Wacker bought the hotel and saloon in 1900 and Charles A. Kirchner ran it for him until 1930. At that time, the hotel business closed, and Albert Karch ran Fibber’s Café in the old saloon until 1953. Since then, it has been Danz Café, Brau House, Farrell’s Café, and My Linda’s Tavern, which closed in 1992.

White Horse Hotel, 653-657 Manor—Albert Kohlhaas opened a saloon at this location in 1874, and built the current building as the White Horse Hotel about 1880. He sold the hotel to Frank Rieker of Rieker’s Brewery in 1899. John Kirchner ran the hotel for Rieker for about 20 years, followed by Thomas Goodhart for 15 more. Since the 1940s, the hotel has been closed, but numerous drinking and eating establishments have used the building—Noden’s Café, Bishop’s Café, Bartnichak’s Café, and most recently, O’Henry’s, which closed in the 1980s. Kunzler’s now uses the old hotel as its corporate offices. Multi-colored formstone now covers the original brick exterior.

Stumpf’s Hotel, 464-466 Manor—Started as Charles Vogt’s saloon in 1874, the original building became William Schneider’s Manor Street Hotel in the 1880s and 1890s. John Stumpf built a new hotel (the current building) on the site in 1902, with 16 rooms, hot and cold running water, and a huge cherry bar. Stumpf ran his hotel until 1937. After Stumpf’s Hotel closed, a series of owners operated cafes, taverns, and bars there, including Pat & Denze Café, Manor Bar, Gold Brick Tavern, Manor Tavern, and Cosmos Bar & Grill, which closed in 2011.

Eighth Ward Hotel, 552-554 St. Joseph—Alexander Gerz built the current building about 1874 as the new Green Cottage Hotel. Gerz’ heirs sold the hotel to Lucas Fritz, who ran it as the Eighth Ward Hotel until the late 1880s, when it was taken over by Fritz’ son Charles until about 1900. William Hoenninger, Jr., ran the hotel and saloon until about 1915. During Prohibition, Albert Hall sold soft drinks (at least) out of the dormant saloon. The hotel part of the business closed during the Great Depression. John Lermer and his wife Fannie ran Lermer’s Café from about 1940 to 1970, and from the late 1970s to 2012, it was the Starting Gate Inn. Formstone now disguises any covered-up doors and windows from the old building.

Fair View Hotel, 764-766 High—In 1894, Frank Schwarz bought a relatively new store and house on the corner of High and Fairview and a few years later he opened the Hotel Schwarz. Next, Casper Kirchner ran the hotel until 1910, naming it the Fair View Hotel. Matthew Miller, Carl Koenig, and Albert Bishop were the main proprietors of the Fair View for the next 30 years. From 1947 to 1990, William Steinbaecher took over, naming it Steinbaecher’s Hotel and expanding it farther along High. From the early 1990s to today, it has been O’Halloran’s Irish Pub. Formstone covers up any remnants of doors and windows from the old hotel and saloon.

Glen Hotel, 558 High—The current building was built in the early 1890s as a grocery store for John Kaetz. By 1903, it was the Glen Hotel licensed to George Kirchner, and one owner later, William Kirchner was the proprietor until 1909. Several different men operated the Glen from 1909 into the 1930s, when the hotel closed and a series of cafes and taverns and other businesses took over, including Hammel’s Café, Koenig’s Café, Armand’s Tavern, the Glen Tavern, Tan Hoa Grocery, Peniel Church, and currently Sunshine Nursery Daycare Center.

The golden age of Cabbage Hill hotels is long past, but the buildings remain to remind us of how important they were to the social lives of Hill residents. Now the rooms in the old hotel buildings are apartments, as are many of the proprietor’s quarters on the second floor. But many of the old first-floor saloons have been converted for businesses, which is key to maintaining some of the neighborhood atmosphere of the old days on today’s Hill.

One last thing: Did anybody notice while you were reading this how many of the hotel proprietors were Kirchners? Edward, Charles, John, Casper, George, William—the Kirchners must have had the hospitality business in their genes!

Smallpox and Typhoid Fever on Old Cabbage Hill

Jim Gerhart, June 1, 2020

Life on old Cabbage Hill had many qualities worth waxing nostalgic about—neighborhood solidarity, a wide range of owner-operated neighborhood businesses, and vibrant social, cultural, and religious institutions, among others. But life in the good old days on the Hill also had its serious drawbacks, some of the worst of which were frightening outbreaks of infectious diseases, including smallpox, typhoid fever, cholera, diphtheria, and consumption (tuberculosis), in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Scientific understanding of the causes of contagious diseases, and therefore their proper prevention and treatment, was just in its infancy in the late 1800s. Ignorance and misinformation were rampant, as were fraudulent prevention and treatment recommendations. Doctors did the best they could, some heroically, but in many cases all they could do was try to alleviate the victims’ suffering.

Today, these once feared diseases have been eradicated in the U.S. through the implementation of public-health measures, including sanitation and vaccines. Because we are no longer threatened with these diseases, it is hard for us to imagine how frightening and panic-inducing they used to be. But the impacts on communities could be truly devastating.

Cabbage Hill was often hard hit when these diseases visited Lancaster. In some outbreaks, many dozens of Hill residents came down with the disease, and numerous residents died. The city Board of Health did its best to monitor and control the diseases, and there are records of the statistics and public-health responses related to each outbreak. It is important to remember, though, that behind the faceless statistics were real families that were changed forever.

In the late spring and summer of 1883, Lancaster endured a smallpox outbreak that severely impacted a family on the slope of Dinah’s Hill, on the northern edge of Cabbage Hill. On May 8, Charles Carr, a 20-year-old bill poster, was committed to the county prison for 45 days on a charge of drunkenness and disorderly conduct for breaking a transom window at the Seventh Ward Hotel. Charles lived with his parents, David and Kate Carr, and seven siblings in a 1-1/2-story frame house at 330 West King Street.

Charles’s family immediately began the process of trying to get him released through a writ of habeas corpus. In the meantime, six inmates of the prison, including Charles, had come down with what appeared to be the early stages of smallpox, a highly communicable disease caused by the variola virus. The early symptoms of smallpox are fever, back pain, and red spots on the face, arms, and legs. The prison-keeper was reluctant to acknowledge this threat to his prison, and despite the warning symptoms, Charles was released on bail to his family on May 22, just two weeks after he had been committed. Two of Charles’s older sisters, Annie and Katie, took on the job of nursing him back to health at their crowded home on West King.

But unlucky Charles was soon beyond help, and he died on June 4. By then, Annie and Kate had contracted the disease. Katie, age 25, died June 10, and Annie, age 26, died June 18. By that time, several of their siblings also had contracted smallpox, and the disease took brother John, age 18, on June 21; sister Ida, age 17, the next day; and brother Elmer, age 22, on July 2. In less than a month, six of the Carr’s adult children had died from smallpox. Of the eight children who had still been living at home, only George, age 23, and Emma, age 15, survived, and Emma would die the next year from a “lingering illness”, possibly related to the same outbreak of smallpox that had devastated her family.

Many neighbors chipped in to provide support for the Carr family during their crisis, although David Carr refused to accept any donations. Unfortunately, however, one person saw an opportunity to take advantage of the family. On the night of July 9, just a week after the sixth Carr child had died, someone broke into the Carr’s fenced backyard and stole nearly 100 chickens, prompting the local newspaper to editorialize that “the thief deserves to be shot”.

The Carr family was the hardest-hit family, but throughout Lancaster, 85 people contracted the disease, and 15 people died. The prison-keeper, the prison doctor, and the lawyer and judge who had overseen Charles Carr’s release, were all criticized in the local newspapers, as was the Board of Health for not acting sooner and more forcefully. A new position of Health Commissioner was added to the city government, and three special police officers were assigned to guard the houses that were under quarantine during the outbreak. The new Health Commissioner led a sanitary cleanup and free vaccination effort in the hardest-hit areas of the city. Slowly, the city went back to its normal routines, but for the Carr family, life would never again be normal.

Eight years later, in the spring of 1891, a different scenario involving an infectious-disease outbreak unfolded right in the center of Cabbage Hill. The disease was typhoid fever, and the location was the neighborhood around the intersection of New Dorwart and High Streets. This time, the disease was transmitted by way of water from a polluted backyard well.

In September 1890, John Dinges, a carpenter living at 434 High Street, bought a house (602 High) on a large lot on the south corner of the intersection of High and New Dorwart Streets. Behind the house was a shallow well that had been dug when the house had first been built, at least 20 years earlier. The well was in the floodplain of a small stream called the Run, which in the 1870s and early part of the 1880s ran where New Dorwart Street is today.

The well also was only about 12 feet away from the house’s cesspool, making it likely that human waste from the previous residents of the house had made its way to the well. Typhoid fever is caused by a Salmonella bacterium that is found in human excrement. The bacteria that cause typhoid fever are easily transmitted in water. The symptoms of typhoid include fever, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, and eventual delirium.

When Dinges acquired the lot and house, the well had been abandoned for some time, but he installed a pump on it and put the well back in use. He did not move his family into his new house, continuing to live at 434 High, but his family started using the well behind the new house. Dinges also allowed a few other families to use the well, including neighbors around the corner on New Dorwart—Andrew Braungart and his wife and seven children. Braungart’s wife was the sister of Joseph Hildmann, who lived at 414 Poplar with his family, and Hildmann’s family was permitted to use the well also. At least two other families who were neighbors of Dinges also began using the well.

Soon after Dinges and his neighbors began using the well, many of them came down with typhoid fever. Dinges was the first to contract the disease, and he died on May 24. At the time of his death, a local newspaper reported that 20 other people had become sick with typhoid. This number included Dinges’s three children, all nine people in the Braungart family, and Joseph Hildmann and his wife and children.

When Dinges died, the city Health Commissioner directed the well to be shut down. Dinges’s widow refused to do so, so the Commissioner had the pump handle removed and announced that anybody using the well would be prosecuted. Although some 20 people had already contracted typhoid fever, no new cases would appear after the well was shut down.

One more person died in the typhoid outbreak. David Hardy, a 30-year-old tobacco packer and shortstop on the “Ironsides”, a city baseball team, was admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital on May 28 and died on June 2. Hardy had been boarding on Fremont Street with his wife and one small child.

All the others recovered eventually, but not without a disturbing incident involving the Braungart family. Andrew Braungart and three of his children were sick enough to be admitted to the hospital in late May. On June 5, Braungart was given permission to leave the hospital for a few hours to visit the rest of his family at home, including a young daughter who had been too sick to be taken to the hospital. On his way home, Andrew stopped for whiskey and arrived home drunk, where he “abused his family”. The authorities were called, and the sick daughter was removed to the hospital for her own safety.

In this 1891 typhoid fever outbreak, the city was better prepared than it had been in the smallpox outbreak in 1883. The Health Commissioner position that was established in 1883 was right on top of the typhoid outbreak as soon as the first death was reported, and his quick actions put a halt to any further spread of the disease. Also, while the crisis was still evolving, the city Water Committee decided to install a 6-inch water pipe under New Dorwart to replace the lost water supply of the polluted well. The testing of water in all the wells in the city also was begun. However, as efficient and effective as the city’s response had been, it was still too late for the Dinges and Hardy families that were forever impacted by the typhoid outbreak.

Today, sadly, we continue to be plagued by outbreaks of new infectious diseases caused by viruses and bacteria. Each new outbreak has some distinctly unique features, but our reactions and behaviors often seem to follow the same sequence of steps and missteps as we try to deal with them. Revisiting past outbreaks like the ones in 1883 and 1891 can perhaps help us make better decisions about what to do and what not to do during new outbreaks. Reviewing past outbreaks like these two also reminds us that the good old days on Cabbage Hill and the rest of Lancaster included some pretty bad moments.