This is the first in an 18-part series.
Lancaster’s pre-eminent 19th- and 20th-century architect, Cassius Emlen Urban, demonstrated a remarkable ability to successfully move between 21 different styles of architecture — including Queen Anne, Beaux Art, Italian Renaissance Revival, French Renaissance, Perpendicular Gothic, French Baroque Revival, Romanesque Revival, Gothic Revival, Greek Classical, Chateauesque, Norman Gothic, Tudor Revival, Colonial Revival, English Gothic, Eastlake, Shingle, Georgian Revival, Gothic Revival, Arts & Crafts, Edwardian Eclecticism and Art Deco.
Even more remarkable, his formal education did not include a degree in architecture!
C. Emlen Urban was born in Conestoga Township and educated at Lancaster Boys High School. After his graduation in 1880, he moved to Scranton for the first of two apprenticeships before returning to Lancaster in 1886 to begin his private practice. Urban’s second four-year internship with Philadelphia architect Willis G. Hale provided him with the confidence and courage to venture out on his own at age 25.
Every young aspiring architect dreams of the “big break” that will launch his or her career. Urban’s big break came in early 1886 when his father, with ties to The Farmer’s Southern Market House Co., was able to convince the selection committee to engage his young son as architect for the proposed new market house at the corner of South Queen and Vine streets.
This big break launched an unparalleled career of success that has delighted the inhabitants and passers-by of his work for the past 130 years. His reach may have been limited to Lancaster and Dauphin counties, but his portfolio included more than 100 buildings of private, public and institutional designs in nearly 24 of the most popular and progressive styles of architecture of the time.
- Did C. Emlen Urban work alone?
Urban had an office on the first block of North Queen Street in the former F.W. Woolworth building. We know his brother Christopher, son Rathfon and assistant Ross Singleton worked with him. Beyond that, we don’t know the extent of his staff.
- How did C. Emlen Urban secure his commissions?
Urban was a member of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, Hamilton Club and the Elks. These community organizations and others provided him with the business and personal connections he needed to grow his practice.
- What was his connection to Milton S. Hershey?
Urban designed Mr. Hershey’s private residence at 222 S. Queen St. in 1890, when Hershey still lived in Lancaster city. Their longtime friendship subsequently resulted in 20 years of commissions in Hershey.
- 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.