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.

Lancaster’s Edison: Anthony Iske of Cabbage Hill

Jim Gerhart, May 2020

What do an extension table, a dumping coal wagon, a hospital bed, a meat slicer, a reclining chair, a burglar alarm, and a fire ladder have in common? They were all patented right here in Lancaster, on Cabbage Hill!

Their inventor was Anthony Iske, who is said to have held some 200 patents for a wide variety of devices from about 1860 to 1910. Iske, who was known as the Edison of Lancaster, was a skilled and industrious immigrant who led a remarkable life, greatly contributing to the vitality and culture of the Hill and the rest of Lancaster.

Antoine (Anthony) Iske was born in Alsace, France, in April of 1831. When he turned 14, he became an apprentice in his grandfather’s cabinetmaking business. He quickly learned the trade, and by the time he was 18, he was in charge of his grandfather’s shop, which had an excellent reputation for fine furniture, with a specialty in church altars.

In the spring of 1853, Anthony received an invitation to cross the Atlantic to build an altar for a new church in Lancaster, New York. Upon his arrival in New York City, he was directed to the wrong train and arrived here in our Lancaster instead. Luckily, our Lancaster also had a new church that needed an altar, and Iske was hired to build the high altar, two side altars, and a pulpit for the new St. Joseph Catholic Church, a task he completed in 1854 at the age of 23.

Less than a month after arriving in Lancaster in 1853, Anthony married Felicite Ruhlman, another immigrant from Alsace who had traveled on the same ship. Soon, Felicite gave birth to a daughter who unfortunately died four days later. Over the next ten years, they would have five more children, three of whom—Albert, Emma, and Laura—would survive to adulthood.

By 1858, the Iskes were tenants in a house in the middle of the 400 block of High Street, and Anthony had set up his furniture business there. He not only made furniture of all types, but by the beginning of the Civil War he also made coffins and ran an undertaking business in his workshop on High (see 1864 ad). In addition, he continued to be sought after for church furnishings. One example was a 25-foot-tall pulpit he built in 1864 for St. Augustine Catholic Church in Pittsburgh.

He also began to invent, and seek patents for, a wide variety of wood and metal devices, some of which were the first of their kind and others that were improved versions of existing devices. Some of his inventions from these early years included an extension table, a dumping coal wagon, a washstand, a fire escape, and a hospital bed.

In 1860, Anthony built a frame house on a lot at 452 High, and lived and worked there for six years. When he moved out, the house he built was replaced by the new owner with a larger brick house that is now 450 High. In 1866, he bought a house on a lot at 412 High, where he and his family lived for 15 years (see 1874 map). He built a workshop at the end of his backyard, where he worked on his furniture and inventions. The house at 412 High still stands, although the workshop has been replaced by a house facing West Vine.

Anthony’s time at 412 High was very productive. He was granted several dozen patents for a cigar press, a reclining chair, a meat slicer, and numerous other devices. In the late 1870s, his son Albert, who showed a similar aptitude, began working alongside his father, and Albert’s name began appearing on patents in addition to his father’s.

By the 1870s, Anthony held dozens of patents, and had numerous other ones in progress. Keeping track of the status of each, and managing the required financial obligations among investors, lawyers, agents, salesmen, and manufacturers was challenging. Anthony frequently was called to civil court to defend himself against charges that he had not properly paid one party or another. In 1879, amid several simultaneous lawsuits involving patent and payment disputes, he was forced to sell his lot, house, and workshop at 412 High to help pay off his debts.

The Iske family soon bounced back. In March 1881, Anthony purchased a property along the first block of West Strawberry, extending from Manor to Lafayette. The property contained an old 1-1/2-story brick house on its northwest end facing West King, across from the Plow Tavern. The deed of sale was actually in the name of his son Albert, probably because of Anthony’s recent financial troubles.

Within a year, Anthony and Albert had built two additional buildings on the West Strawberry lot—a 2-1/2-story brick workshop (12 West Strawberry) in the middle of the lot, and a 2-1/2-story brick house (20 West Strawberry) on the southeast end of the lot (see 1886 map). Albert and his young family moved into the old brick house (356 West King) on the northwest end of the lot. Anthony and Felicite moved into the new house on the other end of the lot. The workshop was between the two houses, and through the 1880s, Anthony and Albert collaborated there on many patents, including ones for a heat motor, a fire ladder, and a combination hay rake and tedder.

In August of 1889, the Iskes sold the northwest part of the lot, where Albert’s house at 356 West King was located, to Christ Lutheran Church for its new church building. Albert and his family had to move into the upper floors of the workshop at 12 West Strawberry. Inventions continued rolling out of the Iske workshop at a steady pace, including a doorbell, a trolley fender, a trolley repair wagon, and an elevator.

Albert’s family continued growing, with several more children arriving by 1896, and soon the workshop and the rooms above it at 12 West Strawberry were no longer big enough. The Iskes enlarged the workshop into a double 3-story building, the larger side (10) of which was for Albert’s family and the smaller side (12) of which was for the workshop.

Unfortunately, the Iskes soon ran into financial difficulties again. In September 1897, they had to sell their remaining property along West Strawberry. Fortunately, the new owner of the property rented the houses and workshop back to the Iskes to use, and Anthony and Albert continued to work on inventions there, but the flow of inventions was slowing down. Only a handful proceeded to the patent phase, two of which were a reversible window sash and an intermittent motor.

Anthony’s wife, Felicite, died in August 1898. Anthony’s daughter Emma married George Heim in 1900, and the newly married couple purchased back the former Iske house at 20 West Strawberry, allowing Anthony to board there with them. In September 1906, the double 3-story house and workshop at 10 West Strawberry was sold to Christ Lutheran Church. Albert and his family rented back the house and workshop from the church until 1910 and then moved as tenants to 644 Fourth Street.

With the workshop now closed, Anthony retired from active inventing. While in his 70s and 80s, he continued tinkering at 20 West Strawberry, mostly trying to develop his heat motors into perpetual-motion machines. Anthony fell down the basement stairs at 20 West Strawberry in early January 1920, and died from internal injuries 10 days later, virtually penniless.

If Anthony Iske had been only an inventor, his life would still be noteworthy. But he did not just seclude himself in his workshop. He was a member of St. Joseph Church for more than 65 years, and sang in the choir there for 50 years. He served as the first President of Lancaster’s German Democratic Club, and President of the Schiller Death Beneficial Society for more than 30 years. He helped found the Fulton Death Beneficial Association and served as its President for seven years. He represented the Eighth Ward on the Town Council of Lancaster, and also on the Select Council. In addition, he served as a School Director, and was a member of the Lancaster Liederkranz and the Germania Turn-Verein.  

Iske was described in an 1894 biographical portrait as a man who “bears a high reputation among his fellow-townsmen for honesty of purpose and straightforward conduct in everything he undertakes”. Arriving in Lancaster by mistake, he certainly made the most of his accidental home. Although he never became rich, Anthony Iske’s remarkable life is a testament to the importance of immigrants to the vitality and success of the Hill and the rest of Lancaster.

Notes: This piece was researched and written with the input of Gail Dowle, who lives in Wales in the United Kingdom. Gail is the great-great-granddaughter of Anthony Iske. The full story of Anthony Iske’s life and inventions will be published later this year in The Journal of Lancaster County’s Historical Society.

The Catharine Yeates Cottage on Cabbage Hill

Jim Gerhart, April 2020

There’s a good chance you have walked or driven by the three-unit apartment house at 613 Fremont Street without thinking twice about it. It’s really not much more remarkable than other nearby houses, except that the lot is larger than most and there is a privacy fence around it. But the house has a long remarkable history. In fact, it was the first house built in the central part of Cabbage Hill.

The two-story, frame house with a gambrel roof, now clad with modern siding, was built in 1838 as the summer cottage of Miss Catharine “Kitty” Yeates. The house has had many owners and tenants over the last 180 years. I will briefly trace its history here, with closer looks at two of its most interesting owners—Miss Yeates, a wealthy philanthropist, and Alexander J. Gerz, a Civil War veteran and entrepreneur.

The house’s first owner, Catharine Yeates (1783-1866), was the daughter of Jasper Yeates, a famous Lancaster lawyer and State Supreme Court Justice. Starting in 1820, after she had inherited part of her father’s considerable estate, Catharine bought several tracts of land in what is today the heart of Cabbage Hill. Her property totaled almost ten acres and, in terms of today’s streets, was centered on the 500 blocks, and part of the 600 blocks, of St. Joseph, Poplar, and Fremont.

In 1838, Catharine built her summer cottage (now 613 Fremont) on the southernmost corner of her property. At that time, there were no other houses in the area, and there were no streets, only tree-lined dirt paths separating fenced pastures. A stream starting near Manor Street and ending at South Water Street, ran in front of her house. The setting was perfect for what she wanted—a cool place where she could escape from her family’s mansion on South Queen Street near the square when the summer heat and city life got too oppressive.

Catharine, who never married, lived in her cottage during the summers for the next fifteen years. She sometimes rented out rooms on the second floor to various tenants. The property required maintenance, and she had a caretaker to tend to the lawn and flower beds, the fruit trees and grapevines, and the fenced pastures where her horses and cattle were kept. The stream in front of her house, which flowed where New Dorwart is today, supplied her house, livestock, and chickens with water.

In 1855, Catharine deeded the cottage and all of its surrounding acreage to her nephew Jasper Yeates Conyngham. Catharine died in 1866, and in her obituary in a Lancaster newspaper, she was praised as “…one of the most estimable ladies that ever resided in the city…” Perhaps her most consequential act of philanthropy was the founding and endowment of the Yeates Institute, a private school in Lancaster intended to prepare students for the Episcopal ministry.

Catharine’s nephew Conyngham did not live in the cottage, renting it out instead. In 1869, he sold the house and its property to David Hartman, who was a city tax collector and wealthy real-estate investor. Hartman later was elected county sheriff. He bought the Yeates property as an investment for $5,500, and sold it the following year to Alexander J. Gerz for $7,000.

Gerz (1826-1876) was an immigrant from Lorraine, near the border of France and Germany, who was part of a successful family pottery business in Lancaster. He enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War, serving in the 79th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers. Shortly after returning from the war to Lancaster, he moved with his wife to Mexico, where he enjoyed success in the pottery business there. He was forced to leave Mexico during a revolution, and enroute back to Lancaster, his wife died of yellow fever in New Orleans. Back in Lancaster, he resumed his pottery business, ran the Eagle Hotel on North Queen, remarried, and had four children.

In 1870, Gerz bought the former Yeates property, where he opened a hotel and saloon in the summer cottage, calling it the Green Cottage Hotel. He held events on the property, including dance parties and reunions for his fellow Civil War veterans. The one-acre lawn around the hotel and saloon consisted of well-kept grass, flower gardens, and fruit and shade trees. Next to the hotel on the northwest side was a large pond stocked with a wide variety of fish. (The site of the pond was an abandoned, short-lived quarry that Gerz had dug when he discovered marble under his property in 1870.) Also on the grounds were a small deer park and a large wooden platform (thirty-two feet square) for dancing. The grounds could be accessed by a bridge over the stream that ran in front of the hotel.

Gerz died at the age of fifty in 1876. His widow, Margaret, sold his remaining property, including the cottage, at auction in November 1878. Henry Haverstick bought the cottage property for $2,100. For the sale, the lot on which the cottage was located was reduced in size to 200 feet square, bordering on New Dorwart and Fremont.

In 1884, Haverstick sold the property to John Snyder, who was a hotel proprietor and tobacco merchant. The Snyder family would own the property and live there for the next forty-five years, with son Michael Snyder taking over ownership when his father died in 1930. John Snyder built a tobacco warehouse on the opposite corner of the lot from the cottage, at the intersection of Poplar and New Dorwart.

A year after John Snyder’s death, his son Michael sold the property to Harry M. Stumpf. Stumpf was a building contractor and Michael Snyder’s cousin. He built garages on the property between the cottage and Poplar, and ran his contracting business from there. He converted the cottage into two apartments and rented them out. The Stumpf family was prominent on the Hill and in Lancaster for many years. Harry’s father, John, owned a hotel in the 400 block of Manor Street, and Harry’s brother, Edward, owned a service station and garage in the 500 block of Fremont, and also was the owner of Stumpf Field along the Fruitville Pike.

In 1952, Harry Stumpf sold the lot with the cottage to Samuel Lombardo for $15,000. Lombardo and his wife Elsie got divorced in 1956. Elsie got the cottage, remarried to Maurice Brady, and lived in the cottage until her death in 1991. Elsie and Maurice added a third apartment to the house, living in the main apartment themselves and renting out the other two. The house remains divided into three apartments to this day.

To be sure, Miss Yeates’ 1838 summer cottage has changed a lot over the years. It no longer sits all by itself in the middle of pasture land. It doesn’t have a stream in its front yard. It has been added to and modified numerous times. But the basic structure of the cottage is still intact. The next time you pass the house at 613 Fremont, try to visualize it as it was 150 years ago, when it was a hotel and saloon surrounded by well-kept grounds that were home to a fish pond and a deer park. It’s just one more example of all the history hiding just below the surface on Cabbage Hill.

The Rise and Fall of Cabbage Hill’s Movie Theater

Jim Gerhart, March 2020

Movies, or moving pictures as they were first known, were invented in the 1890s. Within ten years, theaters devoted to showing movies began to proliferate. The first four large movie theaters in Lancaster were built between 1911 and 1914. They were the Colonial, Hippodrome, and Grand on North Queen Street, and the Kuhn on Manor Street. The three downtown theaters were more opulent and charged higher prices than the Kuhn, which was established to serve the working-class southwest Lancaster neighborhood.

The Kuhn Theatre, also sometimes known as Kuhn’s Theatre, opened in March 1911. Adam Kuhn was a German immigrant who attended St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, and who for many years, ran a successful bakery on East Chestnut Street. After much of his bakery was destroyed in a fire, he decided to retire from the baking business and venture into the new movie-theater business. He sold the damaged bakery in September 1910 and a month later he used the proceeds to buy a large lot in the 600 block of Manor Street for $1,950 (the lot was actually purchased in the name of Mary, his wife). On that lot, Kuhn built the Kuhn Theatre, which would eventually become the Strand Theatre and continue showing movies until 1962.

The Kuhn was located at 605-609 Manor on a large lot that extended to Reiker Avenue, and it stood nearly alone on that part of the block when it was first built. The brick theater had 40 feet of frontage on Manor, widening to 70 feet where the screen and stage were at the rear of the building. The building was 205 feet long, with a two-and-a-half-story brick house attached to the rear of the theater, in which the Kuhn family lived. The original theater, which could seat 400 people, was heated by steam and had both gas and electric lights. (The former site of the now demolished theater is a parking lot next to B&M Sunshine Laundry.)

Adam Kuhn’s new career in the movie-theater business did not last very long. He died in the fall of 1912. Edward J. Kuhn, Adam’s son, took over ownership of the theater. Like most movie theaters in the early days, it not only offered movies, but also offered other types of entertainment such as vaudeville acts and band music. Kuhn also rented out the theater for use by others; one example was the Salvation Army for evangelistic services in 1914.

The movies shown at the Kuhn were quite primitive, black-and-white, silent movies that featured exaggerated acting and were usually about 15-45 minutes long. Each movie consisted of one to three reels of film; if there was more than one reel, the projectionist had to rewind and change the reels while the audience waited. The movies were accompanied by live piano music. Kuhn charged a nickel for most movies, and a dime for special events.

Edward Kuhn operated the theater through 1913, but in early 1914, he put the theater up for sale at auction. The advertisement for the public sale, held in the theater in February 1914, noted that the theater had been “a good money maker”. The highest bid was $15,000, but that was less than Kuhn thought it was worth, so the theater was withdrawn from sale. Kuhn tried again two weeks later, but again the theater was withdrawn from sale. Six months later, in August 1914, the theater was seized and sold to cover Kuhn’s debts. The Northern Trust Company bought the theater for $7,300. A couple months later, in October 1914, the Northern Trust Company sold it to two theater operators from Philadelphia for $8,300.

The two new owners, Peter Oletzky and Michael Lessy, changed the name of the theater to the Lancaster Theatre, and continued to offer movies and other forms of entertainment while remodeling the theater and increasing the seating capacity to about 900. By January 1916, a new theater manager had been brought on from Philadelphia. While movies were still the theater’s mainstay, other large events were held to augment the theater’s income. One such event was an April 1916 show put on by the Eighth Ward Minstrels accompanied by the St. Joseph’s Church orchestra and choir that attracted more than 1,000 people.

A big change in the program of the Lancaster Theatre was the addition of boxing matches. A boxing ring was set up on the stage for these events, and well-known local and regional boxers would stage matches that attracted packed houses. One example was a bout between Cabbage Hill’s own Leo Houck and Dummy Ketchell of Baltimore.

The Lancaster Theatre got another new manager in October 1916, and he announced a new policy of “musical comedy playlets of the higher class and unexcelled photoplays”. The opening act under this new policy was Rowe and Kusel’s Big Girlie Musical Review, an act that may have indeed been a change for the family-oriented audiences of the Hill. Prices were 5, 10, or 15 cents, depending on the seats. On the downside, because of competition from other attractions in the summer months, the Lancaster Theatre closed down for the entire summer in 1917.

By the spring of 1919, the theater had changed hands again, and was doing business under the name of the Manor Theatre. Movies and boxing matches continued to be the two main draws. Movies had become much more sophisticated in the eight years since the theater had opened. They were still silent, but they had become longer, with more natural performances, and instead of anonymous actors, they now had recognizable stars who drew people to their movies. They also were now being made in Hollywood, California, instead of New York and New Jersey.

Other attractions drew crowds as well, such as a 7-foot eel caught by George Schaller, a neighborhood cigarmaker, in January 1920. Schaller put the eel in his backyard to freeze it solid, and then put it on display in the Manor Theatre. However, a monster eel was apparently not enough to meet the Manor’s profit expectations, and the theater was sold again in the spring of 1920, this time to George Bennethum of Philadelphia for $15,000. He remodeled the theater, updated its projection equipment, and changed the name of the theater to the Strand, a name it would keep until it closed 40 years later. Movies were still the staple, but boxing and other events also were staged. For instance, in the winter of 1921-22, the Duquesne Boxing Club leased the theater for its winter season of matches.

In 1928, the Strand Theatre was sold to Harry Chertkoff, a Latvian immigrant who would own it until he died in 1960. Chertkoff went on to own numerous other theaters in Lancaster County, including the King Theater and the Sky-Vue and Comet drive-ins. His first infrastructure improvement at the Strand was to outfit it for sound to accommodate the industry’s switch to movies with soundtracks. Chertkoff also made major renovations to the Strand in 1933 with the addition of improved acoustics and speakers, and again in 1939 with air conditioning and new seats. He also continued the practice of keeping prices as low as possible. In 1948, when Lancaster City instituted a 10% amusement tax, Chertkoff upped his prices to a still modest 37 cents for adults and 15 cents for children.

After Chertkoff’s death in 1960, his son-in-law Morton Brodsky took over his business interests. The Strand had been losing money for several years, probably related at least partly to the rising popularity of television. In 1962, the theater stopped showing movies, and Brodsky decided to sell the property. While searching for someone to buy the lot and building, Brodsky proceeded to sell the seats, projection equipment, and screen. When the theater building didn’t sell, he decided to just tear it down, and in November 1964, the Strand was demolished. Brodsky stated that he was exploring several options for the site, but in the short term it would be graded and used for parking, which turned out to be the long-term plan as well, as the site is still a parking lot today.

The Kuhn/Lancaster/Manor/Strand Theatre was Lancaster’s only neighborhood theater; all the others were downtown. It was the entertainment center of the Hill, providing movies and other amusements at reasonable prices to Hill residents for more than 50 years. Many a child had his or her early movie experience in the theater, including yours truly in the early 1960s. The 1964 demolition of the last incarnation of the theater, the Strand, not only left a physical gap in the 600 block of Manor, but also a gap in the social and cultural environment on the Hill.

Schoenberger’s Park and the Meadow Gang

Jim Gerhart, February 2020

Before Farnum (now Culliton), Rodney, Brandon, and Crystal Parks in southwest Lancaster City, and before larger regional parks such as Rocky Springs, People’s, and Maple Grove, there was a large park known as Schoenberger’s Park on the eastern edge of Cabbage Hill. It was a popular place for various family and social gatherings in the 1870s and 1880s. Unfortunately, it also was home to a gang that plagued the park and all of southern Lancaster for many years.

William August Schoenberger was three years old in 1851 when he immigrated to Lancaster from Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany, with his parents, August and Catharine Schoenberger. His father was a wealthy brewer, and William learned the brewing trade working in his father’s saloon on the east side of North Queen Street above Orange.

In 1869, when William was 21, he purchased a little more than nine acres of rugged land on the eastern slope of Cabbage Hill just west of Hoffman’s Run. Hoffman’s Run was a stream that ran north-south along Water Street until its last surviving reach was buried in a sewer in the late 1800s. The nine acres that Schoenberger bought was a mixture of meadows and woods, and was bounded on the west by what is now the southern leg of New Dorwart Street, on the north by the old gas works, on the east by Hoffman’s Run, and on the south by Hazel Street.

By the early 1870s, Schoenberger had built a two-story brick hotel with six rooms and a saloon, which became known as Schoenberger’s Hotel. The hotel was on a level spot on a slight rise on the west bank of Hoffman’s Run, behind what is now the Spring House Brewing Company. A boarded-up, cinder-block warehouse stands near the site now. Schoenberger built a large beer vault that was used to store his beer, as well as the beer of other Lancaster breweries, most notably Wacker Brewery. The beer vault was 68 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 14 feet high, with an arched ceiling. Schoenberger left the rest of the land in meadows and woods, creating a park-like setting that would attract the residents of Lancaster.

The entrance to Schoenberger’s Park was a bridge over Hoffman’s Run about 200 feet south of Conestoga Street, due south of what is now Conlin Field in Culliton Park. An avenue shaded by planted trees wound its way through a meadow along the west bank of Hoffman’s Run and then up a slight rise to the hotel. The hotel, which had gardens of flowers planted around it, was on the edge of the more rugged, steep, forested part of the park to the west. A wooden dance floor encircled a large tree near the hotel. An old-timer, Charles A. Kirchner, recalled in 1938 that “people went for walks and picnics in the park”, and that it was “a beautiful place with grass and trees—some fruit trees…”

In addition to a place for people to take walks and enjoy picnics, the park quickly became a popular spot for larger gatherings. In the 1870s, various clubs and other organizations held events there. Many of the events were “sociables” that involved music and dancing, organized by groups such as the Eighth Ward Club, the Sun Steam Fire Engine and Hose Company No. 1 (William Schoenberger was a member), and the Keystone Drum Corps. Daniel Clemmens’ City Band, the Fiddlers Three, and Godfried Ripple’s String Band were some of the providers of dance music. Other events included political rallies (the Meadow Reform Club of the Fourth Ward), pigeon shoots with turkeys as prizes, and Temperance Mass Meetings. One well-attended event was an ox roast in honor of the visiting Allentown Cornet Band.

William Schoenberger was deep in debt by 1876, and his park, along with his hotel, had to be sold at auction to repay his debts. Benjamin Greider bought the property at a sheriff’s sale. Schoenberger moved back in with his widowed mother at his late father’s saloon on North Queen and helped run the saloon there for a few years. Eventually, he had a long career as a bank messenger for the Lancaster Trust Company, dying at the age of 73 in 1922. The park continued to be known as Schoenberger’s Park for another 15 years after Schoenberger last owned it, but the hotel became known as Snyder’s Saloon when Greider brought on Michael Snyder, and then Michael’s son Adam, to run it, which they did into the late 1880s.

The park and its hotel had a good run in the 1870s and 1880s, but the combination of wayward young men, a secluded wooded setting, and beer, often led to violence and criminal activities. As early as 1875, drunken fights broke out and people were injured, thieves broke into the beer vault and stole kegs, and passersby were harassed and assaulted. The saloonkeepers didn’t always help their cause, as both Schoenberger and the Snyders were charged with selling beer on Sundays, which was against the law.

Things got even worse with the rise of the Meadow Gang in the late 1870s. A group of several dozen young troublemakers took advantage of the relative remoteness of the park to make it their hangout. By the mid-1880s, incidents were happening with increasing frequency. The city police could spare little manpower to the “suburbs” of southern Lancaster, but they tried to respond when they could. Often when the police were summoned, by the time they got to Schoenberger’s Park, the Meadow Gang was long gone.

Some of the nefarious activities of the Meadow Gang included:  Saloonkeeper Michael Snyder was injured when hit by a chair in a fight with the Meadow Gang. A large amount of lead was stolen by the Meadow Gang from a plumbing shop on South Queen. A young man was seriously injured in a fight between the Meadow Gang and some young men from the Schiffler Fire Company. The Meadow Gang threatened to kill a man who had leased part of the park for grazing his cattle. Five members of the Meadow Gang were arrested for breaking into a railroad car near Hazel. The Meadow Gang ran a plow through a nearby field of tobacco and potatoes, damaging the crops.

One particularly nasty incident caused an uproar among the people of the city, and probably had something to do with the decline of the park. In the summer of 1885, a young girl 16 or 17 years of age claimed to have escaped from the Meadow Gang after having been held by them for two months in the area of the park. She claimed that she had been poorly fed and assaulted numerous times. Subsequent investigation into her claims revealed some inconsistencies in her story, to the point that it was not clear exactly what had actually happened. However, the damage had been done, the public was outraged, and the reputation of Schoenberger’s Park suffered.

The Meadow Gang was active in the park and the rest of southern Lancaster well into the early 1900s, with some of the same men staying active in the gang for more than 20 years. Even as late as the early 1920s, the Meadow Gang was still causing sporadic trouble. By the late 1920s, however, the gang disappeared from the scene. Strangely, as time passed, memories of the Meadow Gang seemed to soften, with their less severe antics remembered somewhat fondly and their more serious crimes downplayed.

In 1931, one Lancaster newspaper even did a feature story on the old Meadow Gang, with a headline, “Meadow Gang 1880s Flaming Youth”, comparing them to the harmlessly rowdy youth of the Roaring Twenties. In the article, an original member of the Meadow Gang was interviewed and claimed that the more serious crimes attributed to the gang had not actually been committed by its members. According to him, they were just young men acting out, with no serious offenses to their name. True or not, the Meadow Gang was instrumental in changing the park from a nice place to visit to a dangerous adventure.

The park was purchased by Stephen Owens in 1889, and a small limestone quarry was opened on its western edge, on the lower slope near the hotel/saloon. Owens then sold part of the park to the Lancaster Gas Light and Fuel Company in 1895 to expand the gas plant. By the mid-1890s, the hotel was gone, and much of the land was subdivided for building lots. Streets were laid out and houses began to be built on the slope above where the hotel had been. The 25-year run of Schoenberger’s Park was over. By then, new city parks had been established, and memories of Schoenberger’s Park began to fade.

Today, the site where bands once played and people once danced, and where the Meadow Gang once roamed, has become the home of Spring House Brewing Company and the first blocks of New Dorwart and Hillside off Hazel. It’s hard to visualize now, but there used to be a “beautiful place with grass and trees” called Schoenberger’s Park in southwest Lancaster more than 125 years ago.

Extreme Sledding on Dinah’s Hill

Jim Gerhart, January 2020

“The narrow, icy path in the middle of the long and very steep grade was as smooth as glass and the sleds dashed down the icy incline at a speed which nearly took one’s breath.” (January 1892) 

Coasting, or sledding as many of us know it today, was once a major form of entertainment during winters in Lancaster, drawing both hundreds of participants as well as thousands of spectators. It was mostly done in the evening, using a variety of sled types, on all the hilliest streets in the city. The steepest and most dangerous coasting spot, and therefore the most popular among Lancaster’s more adventurous young people, was Dinah’s Hill on West Vine Street, on the northeast edge of Cabbage Hill. 

Dinah’s Hill, named for Dinah McIntire, an old African-American fortune teller who lived there, is the northernmost of Cabbage Hill’s two hills, with its highest point along West Strawberry Street between Lafayette and West Vine Streets. West Vine drops steeply from West Strawberry to South Water, at a grade of about 12%, which makes it an ideal street for fast coasting, especially when the snow gets packed down and becomes like ice. It’s no wonder that Dinah’s Hill was the hill of choice for Lancaster’s young coasters, and for the many spectators who came to watch them risk their lives and limbs. 

Coasting down West Vine was a dangerous sport. Lancaster’s newspapers carried numerous stories of injured coasters every winter from the early 1870s to the late 1920s. The injuries ranged from bruises to deep cuts to concussions to broken bones. More than once, particularly violent accidents left young coasters unconscious and word would spread that they had been killed. One young coaster actually did die from his injuries in 1875. Doctors in the vicinity of Dinah’s Hill were kept busy on the evenings following snowfalls and ice storms. 

The dangers of coasting on Dinah’s Hill were several. The most serious risk came at the intersections of streets that crossed West Vine, such as Arch, Water, and Prince. Wagons and carriages, and later cars and trucks, crossing West Vine often were the cause of coasting accidents. Pedestrians crossing West Vine also were hit by coasters. But the most serious crossing risk was at Water Street, where trains of the Quarryville Railroad would rumble across West Vine. Other obstacles were lampposts, telegraph poles, trees, and other coasters. Following a spill, the riders strewn across the street were at risk of being run over by the next sled coming down. 

A wide variety of sleds were used. Many coasters used small one- or two-person bent-wood sleds with iron rails, but they were sometimes outnumbered by larger sleds such as toboggans and bobsleds. These longer sleds often carried six, and as many as 12-15, riders. One particularly large toboggan-like sled reportedly used in the southeast part of the city was 22 feet long and carried 30 riders. A popular form of the longer sleds used in Lancaster was the “modoc”, which could carry as many as a dozen riders. 

On evenings with favorable coasting weather, more than 500 spectators would line West Vine between Strawberry and Prince. On at least one occasion, a crowd of 2,000 onlookers was reported. On evenings like these, coasting was especially dangerous due to the number of people who might be standing and walking along and on the street. Pedestrian involvement in accidents was not uncommon. 

Young people being young people, there was usually some competition to see who could go the fastest, and races would be staged, adding to the risk on a narrow street. The slight rise in Water Street where the railroad tracks were located provided a chance for a sudden bump and jump for the most daring coasters. At times, coasters would turn around after reaching Queen and start coasting back down to Water, against the flow of sled traffic, but the danger of head-on collisions was too high and the police would usually prohibit this practice. 

There was a constant struggle between coasters and city authorities to maintain some sort of balance between entertainment and safety. Several times, after particularly close calls or serious injuries, the mayor would impose a curfew, have ashes spread on the icy roads, or temporarily close down coasting altogether. But each year the coasters would be back and the struggle would be renewed. It was difficult to police hundreds of young people on numerous hills throughout the city over several hours each evening. Residents who were affected by the coasting, as well as businesses and the railroad, complained each year until the mayor had to get involved once again. 

The newspapers seem to have covered the coasting scene with a bit of a sensationalistic approach. The accidents were usually the reason for the articles, and the headlines were almost always about the injuries. One can picture eager reporters near the bottom of the hill rushing out into the street to accident scenes to record the names of the injured and their injuries. And the language used in the newspaper articles was typically breathless, if not sometimes downright lurid. 

Here are a few snippets from newspapers that provide a flavor of the coasting phenomenon on Dinah’s Hill in its heyday from the 1870s to the 1920s, starting with the earliest newspaper story I could find: 

“From time immemorial, ‘Dinah’s Hill’, located in the Southern part of this city, has been quite a resort, in sledding seasons, for juveniles. Its length and gradual declivity gives it preponderance, and hence the rush. Last evening the hill was crowded with smiling urchins, male and female.” (January 1871) 

on some nights the number of persons who came to ‘Dinah’s Hill’ merely to look on, ran into the thousands! It was one of the “sights of the town” and afforded more thrills per minute to onlookers or participants in the fun than any boxing match(April 1929) 

“A collision was then inevitable, and the sled struck the team (of horses) with terrific force. Both boys were hurled to the ground, and by many believed to be killed. Both were unconscious and lay bleeding in the street.” (December 1902) 

”A very painful accident occurred last night to a young man of about twenty years of age, named Martin Metzroth, while coasting down Dinah’s Hill. By some means the sled ran against a tree, striking the young man’s knee with great force against the latter, and knocking the knee-cap off.” (January 1873) 

four boys on a sled shooting down ‘Dinah’s Hill’ almost ran into a Quarryville engine. They escaped by throwing themselves off. The driving wheel hit their sled and broke it.” (January 1903) 

“John Kane, aged 12 years, and son of Patrick Kane, residing on West Vine Street, met with a serious accident on Tuesday evening. While coasting on Dinah’s Hill, he was run into by a sleigh and his heel was struck and badly bruised. Dr. A.J. Herr dressed the wound, but the boy may be permanently crippled.” (December 1880) 

“We have heard of many strange accidents. We know of cases of boys, who, in coasting on Dinah’s Hill, have gone under railroad trains without injury. Others have hit automobiles, or, in avoiding them, they have struck trees and pedestrians.” (January 1925) 

Mrs. R. Frank.stepped directly into the path of a bob-sled speeding down Dinah’s Hill with over a dozen boys and girls aboard. The woman was knocked down and sustained lacerations of the forehead and chin.” (January 1925) 

one of the coasters, Francis Suter, who, in coming down Dinah’s Hill at a fearful rate of speed, ran his sled and his head against a lamp-post with so much force, that it is feared he will lose one of his eyes.” (February 1872) 

a badly-frightened motorist reported to police that he had narrowly escaped colliding with a big bob-sled that had streaked across South Prince Street right in front of his car. After the close shave, he said, he stopped the car and was immediately surrounded by a group of angry sledders, who claimed he hadn’t sounded his horn.” (February 1924) 

several yards before the crossing, the locomotive hove into view. The youths desperately rolled off the sled, tumbling over and over and picking up a variety of ice burns as their vehicle slammed into the wheels of the train and was ground to bits.” (January 1903) 

“While Oscar Erb, aged ten years, was coasting on Dinah’s Hill on Thursday evening, he fell off his sled and the sleigh following him, struck the lad. His head was cut open, and he was otherwise bruised about the body.” (February 1914) 

“Yesterday afternoon about 5 o’clock as three boys were descending Dinah’s Hill on a sled, they came in collision with a six-horse team that was coming up Prince Street. The sled struck the lead horse and frightened him, rendering him for a moment unmanageable. The boys fell headlong under the horse’s feet, and were in imminent danger of being trampled to death by their hoofs, or crushed beneath the wheels of the heavy wagon. Luckily they escaped unhurt, but the sled was smashed all to pieces.” (February 1873) 

“John Kress, the young man who had his leg shattered several weeks ago while coasting on Dinah’s Hill, and who has suffered terribly ever since the accident, died of lock-jaw about 5 o’clock on Saturday afternoon.” (February 1875) 

After the 1920s, the increasing number of cars driving on the streets and parked along the curbs, as well as more and more safety precautions on the part of city officials, put a gradual end to the glory days of street coasting in Lancaster. Today, coasting doesn’t seem to be as popular, and most of those who do go coasting do so at parks and other open areas, rather than on city streets. For many years, though, the youth of Lancaster had their fun, and risked their lives, coasting down the best hill in the city—West Vine Street on Dinah’s Hill. 

The Early Years of St. Joseph Catholic Church

Jim Gerhart, December 2019

St. Joseph Catholic Church was founded in 1849, when a group of German parishioners from St. Mary’s Catholic Church convinced the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that a second Catholic church was needed in Lancaster to serve the growing German population on Cabbage Hill. The new church quickly became the spiritual, cultural, and social hub of the Hill, roles that it continues to fill today. Here, in honor of the church’s 170th anniversary, are nine factoids about the church’s early years, some of which may be familiar and others which may not.

Lot purchase: The lot on which St. Joseph Church was built was purchased for $260 from Casper Hauck on January 8, 1850, by Bishop Francis Patrick Kenrick of the Diocese of Philadelphia, on behalf of “the German Catholics of the City of Lancaster”. The lot, which was on the southeast slope of Dinah’s Hill, was 137 feet wide and 191 feet long, and had no buildings on it. In fact, at the time the lot was purchased, there were no buildings at all on the first two blocks of the streets that would soon become West Vine, St. Joseph, Poplar, and Fremont. The lot and the land surrounding it were pastures.

Church and street names: The original St. Joseph Church, the first ethnic Catholic church in the U.S., was built in 1850. Although it was St. Joseph Church from day one, it was commonly known around Lancaster as the “German Catholic Church” for its first few years. Also, when the church was built in 1850, the street on which it fronted was known as Union Street (not to be confused with today’s Union Street, which didn’t yet exist in 1850). Then, for a brief time, the street appears to have been known as West Washington Street. Finally, by the mid-1850s, at about the time the church became commonly known as St. Joseph Church, the street became St. Joseph Street.

First building: The original church was 50 feet wide and 105 feet deep, and it seated about 350 people. Its cornerstone was laid in May 1850, it went under roof in the fall of 1850, and it was consecrated in December 1850. It was made of brick, had a slate roof, and had five tall windows on each long side. There was a basement for the school and society meetings, and a small tower at the front entrance. By 1852, the tower had been built taller and a wooden spire had been added. By 1854, the finishing touches were completed—adding pews, finishing the basement, installing an organ, adding the altar, installing bells in the tower, and adding a clock with four faces in the tower.

Pastor conflict: St. Joseph’s had five pastors in its first five years. The third pastor was John Dudas, a young Hungarian priest who turned out to be a controversial choice. He had only served about five months when his pastoral assignment was revoked by the Diocese of Philadelphia because he had taken sides in political matters and had consorted a little too freely with Lutherans. In March 1852, he was asked to vacate the rectory next to the church, but refused to do so until the church paid him some money he was owed. Dudas then refused to open the church for a funeral, and when he left the locked church and went downtown for breakfast, a group of church founders broke into the building and threw his belongings out on the street. Dudas pressed charges against the offending parishioners but a verdict of not guilty was delivered. He quickly left his post at St. Joseph’s, and within a few years he had become a pastor of a Christian congregation in Constantinople, Turkey.

Cemetery: The lot purchased in 1850 did not include the cemetery that is now southwest of the church. Early burials took place in a narrow strip along the northeast side of the church where the driveway to the left of the church is today. The current cemetery lot next to the rectory seems to have been acquired by the late 1850s. The early graves on the northeast side of the church were moved to the larger cemetery on the southwest side in 1881 to make room for a new school building.

Political dispute: The German immigrants on the Hill had always been staunch Democrats, and were not shy about voicing their views on political matters. In early July 1863, just days after the Battle of Gettysburg, President Lincoln, a Republican, declared a new military draft to replenish the Union troops. Many members of St. Joseph Church, including a small group of about a dozen vociferous German women, disagreed with the draft and a large demonstration took place at the Courthouse on July 16, as draftees were about to start signing up. The demonstration was led by the German women, and a major riot was just barely averted. In his sermon the following Sunday, Pastor Schwartz of St. Joseph’s admonished his parishioners, especially the women who were “a disgrace to their womanhood”, making it known that good citizens of this country must obey its laws whether they agree with them or not.

Unique construction approach: By the early to mid-1880s, the growing number of St. Joseph’s parishioners necessitated a larger church. To avoid missing any Masses, a clever approach was taken to replace the old smaller church with a new larger one. The new church was to be 15 wider, 54 feet longer, and significantly taller than the old one. The church leaders decided to build the new church around the old one, enabling the congregation to continue to have Mass in the old church while the new one was being built. When the external structure of the new church was completed, the basement of the old church was set up for Mass, and the congregation then worshipped in the basement while the old church was dismantled and taken out from inside the new one. When the old church had been removed, Mass was held in the new church while the finishing touches were completed on the interior. Even the extensive painting and frescoing in the upper reaches inside the new church did not prevent the use of the church for Mass. Scaffolding that would have interfered with Mass was not required, as the artisans doing the high decorative work did so from scaffolds hung from ropes through holes in the roof. When the new church was completed in 1885, the only vestige of the old church that remained was the tower and spire, and even that had been modified a bit to harmonize better with the taller roof.

The builders: The new 1885 St. Joseph Church building, which seated more than 1,100 people, was designed by William Shickel, New York City. The principal contractor for the construction of the building and the finishing of the interior was Dionysius Rapp. John Mentzer and William Westman supplied the stone. The stone-cutting was done by Zeltman & Cron. Krieg & Streiner did the stone steps. Henry Drachbar laid the bricks and the lumber was provided by Sener & Sons and Baumgardner, Eberman, and Co. William Wohlsen provided the millwork. The plumbing was done by L.H. Bachler, and George M. Steinman & Co. provided the hardware. Jerome Dosch & Son did the plastering and Leonard Yeager did the painting.

German craftsmen: Tradition has it that the craftsmen and artisans who built the larger St. Joseph Church in the mid-1880s were German immigrants who lived on the Hill. This is mostly true. Indeed, nearly all of the principal contractors and companies were of German heritage, and about half of them had been born in Germany. Dionysius Rapp, Krieg & Streiner, Jerome Dosch & Son, and Leonard Yeager had their businesses on the Hill, while the remaining contractors were from other parts of Lancaster City. Most of the laborers on the contractors’ crews were no doubt Germans from the Hill. The gravestone of superintendent Dionysius Rapp and his wife Rosina still stands near Poplar Street in Old St. Joseph’s Cemetery.

There is much more to the story of this venerable old church on the Hill. Another 135 years of history has happened since the mid-1880s when the present-day church was built. The gravestones of the Old St. Joseph Cemetery adjacent to the church represent many interesting stories of the church’s founders, some of which may be explored in future posts on this site.

As many of you know, St. Joseph Church has willingly allowed SoWe to occupy office space in one of its buildings, and to hold monthly Board meetings in another of its buildings. Happy 170th anniversary from SoWe to the centerpiece of Cabbage Hill!

The George Moser Family of Cabbage Hill

Jim Gerhart, November 2019

We are all familiar with stories of immigrants who arrived in America with nothing and ended up being very successful. In fact, Cabbage Hill has had its share of German immigrants who were very successful through some combination of talent, ambition, hard work, perseverance, and luck. But no less important to the progress of the Hill were the many hundreds of German immigrants who struggled for years just to get by.

The great majority of German immigrants to the Hill in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were only able to achieve modest success, and for many, the fruits of their struggles only accrued to their children or grandchildren, who often succeeded because of the foundation laid by their parents’ and grandparents’ struggles. The small successes of these struggling immigrants, in aggregate, helped build a strong, resilient neighborhood. Their stories, as painful as some of them are, are an important part of the history of Cabbage Hill.

One such story is that of Georg Friedrich Mosser (George Moser), who arrived in New York City from Bavaria, Germany, on May 8, 1906. He was a single, 23-year-old laborer with $25 in his pocket. He was quickly processed through Ellis Island and got on a train to Lancaster, where he came to meet up with his friend Frank Bernauer on St. Joseph Street. George got a job as a laborer at a brewery, and started what he hoped would be a successful life in America.

Back in Bavaria, George had fathered two children (Theresa and Alphonse) with Rosa Reitberger, a woman five years his senior, who also had relatives and friends who had immigrated to Lancaster. A year later, in 1907, Rosa followed George to Lancaster, leaving her two young children with her widowed mother in Bavaria. On November 19, 1907, George Moser and Rosa Reitberger were married at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

In 1909, as they were getting settled in their new life on the Hill, George and Rosa brought daughter Theresa and son Alphonse to Lancaster from Germany, along with Rosa’s mother, Anna. One month after Anna, Theresa, and Alphonse arrived in 1909, George and Rosa bought a two-story frame house at 662 Poplar Street for $1,050. George and Rosa had two more children (Mary and George Henry) in 1908 and 1910. The Moser family unit had been established. Things were going according to plan.

George became an American citizen in 1912, and for the next eight years, he worked in various capacities at breweries in Lancaster, including laborer, brewer, and delivery wagon driver. He was arrested but found not guilty of assaulting a strikebreaker at Sprenger Brewery. He was elected vice-president of the Brewery Workers labor organization. By 1920, he was working at Empire Brewery on Locust Street.

Although George was having some success in the brewery business, he and Rosa had to borrow money several times in the 1910s, and each time they were unable to keep up with payments on the resulting debts. They were sued by their creditors and were just barely keeping up with the required payback plans handed down by judges in civil court.

Then, Prohibition took effect in January 1920, and it became illegal to make, sell, or transport alcoholic beverages. The Empire Brewery closed and George’s income from the brewery industry was suddenly gone. Out of necessity, George started his own business—peddling ice. He had a wagon and two horses (Jim and Dick) to pull it, and he and his 16-year-old son Alphonse began selling blocks of ice around Lancaster. His was one of eighteen ice-peddling operations delivering ice from the Lancaster Ice Manufacturing Company at Engleside. He ran his ice business out of the rear of the Moser house at 662 Poplar. To augment the family income, daughter Theresa worked as a weaver at the Conestoga Steam Cotton Mills on South Prince Street.

The ice business must have seemed promising. In 1921, George and Rosa purchased another two-story frame house and three lots at 615 Fremont Street for $1,500. They likely had to borrow money to make the purchase, but they must have thought the investment would pay off in the long run. When their daughter Theresa married Charles Kirchner in 1922, the new couple moved into the house on Fremont. George and Rosa continued to live with the rest of their family at 662 Poplar, and George and his son Alphonse continued to peddle ice. Soon, the youngest son, George Henry, was old enough to help in the ice business as well. Alphonse also worked for a while at the Conestoga Steam Cotton Mills, and daughter Mary took a job at the Follmer-Clogg silk mill on Manor Street to help out.

Despite all the hard work, the Mosers still struggled financially. Several times between 1920 and 1925, they were again unable to pay back various loans, and they were taken to civil court and ordered to pay off the loans, which they seem to have somehow done. Then, in 1924, their son Alphonse left Lancaster, and George lost a key pair of hands to help in the ice business. Again, out of financial necessity, George and Rosa decided to start a second new business—a café.

By 1927, they had established a café in the first floor of their house at 615 Fremont, and sold “light lunch and tobaccos”, as their sign on the front door stated. Daughter Theresa and her husband Charles continued living upstairs, and an extra room was rented to boarders. George brought on Philip Kirchner, a cousin of son-in-law Charles, to run the day-to-day café business. When Theresa and Charles moved out of the upstairs living quarters, George and Rosa rented out their rooms as well and the café became known as a hotel. George continued to peddle ice, with his son George Henry’s help, and daughter Mary continued to work at the silk mill. It seemed that George and Rosa and their family were finally going to be able to make ends meet, but things were about to take a turn for the worse.

George had purchased a touring car and in April 1927, he had a serious accident on Lincoln Highway East near Bridgeport. His car was demolished and he was taken to the hospital with what was feared to be a fractured skull, a broken jaw, and broken ribs. Fortunately, his injuries turned out to be only severe cuts and bruises. In October 1927, he had another accident in which his car was broadsided and overturned at the intersection of Manor and Filbert Streets. Again, he was not badly injured. Adding to the family’s problems, George, who had been a drinker for a long time, began to drink too much. Prohibition was in full effect, but George seemed to be able to acquire illegal beverages. In the same year, 1927, that he had his two car accidents, he was cited for being “drunk and running a car”.

Then, in December 1928, the police raided the café/hotel on Fremont and confiscated three cases of “high-powered beer”. It seems the Moser establishment had become one of the numerous speak-easies in Lancaster, and that George was manufacturing illegal beer for sale to his café customers. As a result of the raid, George was charged with violating the Prohibition liquor law, a crime that often carried a large fine and substantial jail time. A mid-January trial date was set, and George was released on $500 bail put up by his close friend and neighbor on Poplar, Albert Scheuchenzuber. But just two weeks before the case made it to trial, George suddenly died on January 3, 1929, at the young age of 45. The doctor attending him attributed his death to chronic alcoholism complicated by influenza.

Following George’s death, Rosa tried to make a go of the café and hotel business, but within a few years, the business had closed. Their son Alphonse, who had come back to Lancaster after his father’s death, teamed up with his younger brother George Henry to keep the ice business going, moving it from 662 Poplar to where Alphonse was living at 615 Fremont. This last of the Moser family’s two business enterprises lasted until the early 1940s.

In the less than 25 years since George Moser had immigrated to Lancaster, he had accomplished a lot. He had gotten married, bought two houses, raised four children, worked in the brewing industry, and started two businesses of his own. On the other hand, he had failed to repay loans, violated the liquor laws, and become addicted to alcohol. Although George’s immigrant experience was certainly not an unqualified success, he had accomplished enough to allow his four children to succeed. All four of the children of George and Rosa Moser got married and all four owned their own houses on the Hill by the 1940s.

George Moser’s story, with different details, has been repeated many hundreds of times over the years on Cabbage Hill, and the true history of the Hill cannot be told without those stories. Today, new immigrant families are creating their own stories of struggling to succeed on the Hill. A much more diverse group of immigrants are now calling the Hill their first American home, but their language, housing, and employment struggles are not all that different from those of German immigrants more than 100 years ago. SoWe is helping today’s new immigrants overcome their struggles, by trying to create a neighborhood that is safe, clean, and welcoming, and by providing services that facilitate their transition into their new community on the Hill.

Postscript: This story of George Moser and his family was prompted by correspondence with Robert Moser, Ph.D., former Executive Director of Catholic Charities, Diocese of San Diego. Bob, who was raised on Manor Street , contacted me after reading a history piece on the SoWe website, and expressed an interest in learning more about his grandfather George Moser’s business enterprises on the Hill. I thank him for allowing me to present this story of his grandfather’s immigrant experience. Appropriately enough, Bob’s position with the Diocese of San Diego involved helping immigrants—in this case refugees—start new lives in California.

The Run That Ran Through Cabbage Hill

Jim Gerhart, September 2019

The title of the 1992 film, “A River Runs Through It”, once applied to Cabbage Hill. Up until the early 1880s, a stream flowed where New Dorwart Street is today. It was a tributary to a larger stream that drained a watershed that covered about two-thirds of Lancaster City. The entire stream system has long since been buried in sewers that run under some of the major streets of the city.

When Lancaster was founded in 1729, James Hamilton named one of its north-south streets Water Street, and with good reason. A stream ran from near the intersection of West Walnut and North Arch in northwest Lancaster, southward down most of Water to Engleside, where it emptied into the Conestoga River. The stream was called Roaring Brook in the mid-1700s; Bethel’s Run from the late 1700s to early 1800s; Hoffman’s Run from the early 1800s to late 1800s; and finally Gas House Run around the turn of the 20th century, before it completely vanished.

There were several tributaries to the larger stream that flowed down Water, including one along West King between Christ Lutheran Church and Water; one along West Vine between what is now the Convention Center and South Water; and one from Union through Brandon Park to South Water. But the largest tributary was the one in Cabbage Hill that used to flow where New Dorwart is now, which was sometimes referred to as simply “the Run”.

The Run began at several springs and seeps northwest of Manor between Dorwart and Caroline. From there, it flowed southeast a little more than a half mile before it reached the larger stream on South Water. The area of the Run’s watershed was about 250 acres, covering most of Cabbage Hill. The bedrock beneath the Run was limestone, like under the rest of the city, and the stream banks were lined with trees and wetland vegetation.

Comparing the Run to same-sized streams in similar settings in Lancaster County today, it is possible to estimate its flow characteristics. The Run was likely only a few feet wide and less than a foot deep most of the time, but probably reached more than twenty feet wide and several feet deep during heavy rains. Between storms, the flow rate was probably only a couple hundred gallons per minute, but during storms, the rate would have reached several thousand gallons per minute, enough to flood adjoining streets and basements. High flows would have made it difficult to cross the Run by foot, horse, or wagon, without a bridge.

In the early days of development on the Hill, the building lots containing or adjacent to the Run were among the most desirable lots to own. The Run provided not only water for drinking, cooking, washing, and conducting business, but also a conduit for carrying away the wastes generated by residents and businesses. The first house built in the central part of the Hill—Catharine Yeates’ summer home, known as Green Cottage, now 613 Fremont—was built fronting the floodplain of the Run, taking advantage of the benefits of being located near flowing water (see 1850 map). However, when Lancaster’s public water supply became available in the mid-1800s, the problems of flooding, insects, rodents, odors, and pollution associated with the Run soon outweighed the benefits.

In 1878, the city developed a plan for the addition and extension of numerous streets. On the Hill, the plan included many street improvements, including the opening of Fremont and Union and the extension or widening of Filbert, Laurel, Hazel, and Wabank. The plan also included the opening of a new street, soon to be called New Dorwart, which was to be built from Manor to Union, where the Run and its floodplain were located. In 1880, a trench was started down the middle of the street to contain the stream. In 1883, the construction of a six-foot-high brick sewer was started in the trench. By the late 1880s, the sewer had been completed from Manor to Poplar, the new street had been built over it, and new houses had begun to spring up on both sides.  By the early 1890s, the sewer had been completed all the way to Union. The Run had disappeared from view, a casualty of development.

But, before it was diverted underground, the Run had a major impact on the establishment of the streets on the Hill. Manor Street, which had existed in the early 1700s as the road to Blue Rock on the Susquehanna River, had long required a bridge over the Run (see 1850 map). High Street, on the other hand, did not extend beyond the Run in 1850, being truncated by the difficulty of crossing the Run during high flows. The newly constructed Poplar Street also was truncated by the Run in 1850.

As the Hill developed rapidly from the late 1860s to the mid 1870s, additional streets were extended to the Run and required bridges. By 1874, in addition to a bridge having been built to carry High over the Run, Lafayette and St. Joseph had bridges over the Run as well (see 1874 map). But the recently proposed West Vine and the fledgling Poplar and Fremont did not have bridges. Instead, they had to be forded when the flow was low enough to safely do so.

Prior to being buried in a sewer, the Run also affected the geometry of the design for New Dorwart.  Due to the slightly northeast-bending shape of the Run east of Manor, and the resulting widening of the floodplain northeastward, New Dorwart was offset from the first to the second block, and again from the second to third block. The resulting stair-step pattern along the northeast edge of the first two blocks of the street remains today. Also, the wider floodplain where the Run curved to the northeast is probably the reason that New Dorwart between Lafayette and High is about twenty feet wider than elsewhere.

Another way that the Run affected early development was that the northwest side of Manor between Caroline and Dorwart was the last stretch of Manor to be developed (see 1874 map). The wetlands associated with the springs and seeps at the head of the Run made that area perpetually wet and difficult to build on. Even as late as 1897, almost two decades after the Run had been diverted underground, this stretch of Manor was still not heavily developed due to wet ground.

The Run that once ran through Cabbage Hill last saw the light of day almost 140 years ago. But it clearly had a significant impact on the development of the Hill, an impact that can still be seen if one takes the time to look for it on historical maps and in today’s arrangements of streets and houses. And, although its time on the land surface has long since passed, the Run still trickles along in the large brick sewer beneath New Dorwart, albeit a mere subterranean shadow of its former self. Now…”a river runs under it”.