At the turn of the 20th century, C. Emlen Urban was dividing his time equally between significant commissions in Hershey and Lancaster. Milton S. Hershey’s decision to relocate his business and residence to Derry Township, and to subsequently invite his Lancaster architect to join him, meant Urban would learn new skills in client management and in the art of commuting.
Records indicate that he divided his work equally between both Dauphin and Lancaster counties during a 25-year span, in which he produced some of his best work.
Urban’s portfolio of work continued to grow and diversify as his reputation developed, but it wasn’t until two decades into his practice that he secured his first of several ecclesiastical commissions.
In 1906, the Grace Lutheran Church council retained him to design a new church at 501 N. Queen St. One year later, St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Harrisburg commissioned Urban to design a two-story combination school-and-church building at Fifth and Maclay streets. In 1908, Unitarian Church members entrusted Urban with designing their new worship center at the corner of West Chestnut and Pine streets in Lancaster. In 1913, First Presbyterian Church on East Orange Street commissioned him to design a new facade and entrance to its 200-year-old building. Finally, in 1914, Urban was retained by St. Paul’s United Methodist Church to design a new worship center at 202 S. Queen St.
In less than eight years, Urban worked with five congregations, requiring knowledge of five different liturgies, and designed the projects using five separate architectural styles.
For Grace Lutheran Church, he chose the Gothic Revival style, using Hummelstown brownstone with a distinctive asymmetrical bell tower. For the St. Mary’s school-and-church building in Harrisburg, he chose a two-story Roman Revival style. A one-story Norman Gothic style with Arts and Crafts detailing was Urban’s choice for Lancaster’s Unitarian congregation. For the facade of First Presbyterian, he chose to use Greek Revival to complement the existing structure. Finally, for the St. Paul’s United Methodist congregation, he chose the English Perpendicular Gothic style with a prominent corner tower and entrance.
Despite the condensed time frame in which these commissions occurred, Urban’s designs for each of these churches were distinctive and unique, reflecting an impressive breadth of styles and diversity.
Did Urban design the former St. Paul’s UCC Church at North Duke and East Orange streets?
The 1903 Perpendicular Gothic Style church, which no longer stands on the site, was designed by the Philadelphia firm of Bolton & Co. Urban was retained as the local consultant.
Does the St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church & School still exist in Harrisburg?
No. The structure has been demolished. The existence of the church and school was only recently discovered through newspaper research.
Did Urban design the church he attended?
No. Philadelphia architect Thomas P. Lonsdale designed The First United Methodist Church at 29 E. Walnut St. in 1890.
This column is contributed by Gregory J. Scott, FAIA, a local architect with more than four decades of national experience in innovation and design. He is a member of the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows. Email GScott@rlps.com.