A Brief History about famed Lancaster architect C. Emlen Urban

C. Emlen Urban
February 26, 1863 — May 21, 1939

C. Emlen Urban – Architect

C. Emlen Urban was born in Conestoga Center, known today simply as Conestoga, Pennsylvania. His parents were Amos Sylvester and Barbara Ann Hebbel. His wife, Jennie McMichael, passed away in 1953 at 91. Their children were Miriam (1889-1976) and Rathfon (1893-1973). Urban is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Lancaster, where he also designed the beautiful Greenwood Cemetery Mausoleum once heralded as “Lancaster’s Westminster Abbey.” Click here to read more about it.

Urban graduated from Lancaster’s Boys High School and apprenticed as a draftsman in Scranton for the E. L. Walter firm. He first worked at the office of Willis G. Hale in Philadelphia. He returned to Lancaster in 1886.

Southern Market

His first significant work was the Southern Market, (click here to read more about Southern Market), completed when he was 25 years old. Urban’s work changed the landscape of Lancaster. Included in the list of his work just near Lancaster’s Penn Square is the Watt and Shand department store (click here to read more about Watt and Shand) (now the Marriott Hotel and Convention Center), the Griest Building, and the former Hager’s Department Store, to name a few.

Watt & Shand

Milton Hershey also returned to Lancaster to establish his Lancaster Caramel Company. Both men were members of the newly created Hamilton Club for prominent men of Lancaster. This is where their friendship grew. Subsequently, Urban was hired to construct many significant buildings for Hershey in the town of Hershey. Urban released a promotional portfolio in 1896 to showcase his work and client base. This helped cement his career in Lancaster and establish his name as a prominent Architect.

In this photograph, renowned architect E. Emlen Urban is shown on the far right; businessman Frank W. Woolworth at the far left.

Urban embraced and adapted many styles such as Queen Anne, Beaux-arts, Colonial Revival, Gothic Revival, and French Baroque Revival Style. He was known for his precise renderings and creating beautiful drawings, even as general construction documents. His ability to borrow and move ideas fluidly in an eye-pleasing manner made him a successful architect.

He was a quiet and reserved gentleman. His children and relatives knew Urban as a humble person who did not seek the limelight.

In 1905, at the dedication ceremony for the Boys High School, the speaker made reference to using high-quality materials and good workmanship. This is where the phrase “To build Strong and Substantial” was first used to describe Urban’s work. The buildings that remain are a testament to what must have been his credo.

Shortly before his death on May 21, 1939, Urban took an ocean cruise on the Italian liner, Roma, from February 14 — 29, 1939. The archival piece at The Ephrata National Bank is from this period. Urban was also known to make his job sites his home address if the job was extensive and consuming of his time. This archival piece may have been used for this purpose also.

Lastly, Lancaster, Hershey, and Ephrata are blessed by the work of this talented Lancaster County architect. More than 100 buildings remain his best honor.

The signature on the correspondence of architect C. Emlen Urban.

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Ephrata Tour booklet

Celebrate Ephrata 2016: A Tour of Historic Places

This was an edited excerpt from the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County’s 2016 Celebrate Ephrata: A Tour of Historic Places tour book.

In 2016, the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County hosted a guided tour of the historic and beautiful Ephrata, PA. The tour featured 30 historical sites, including the Connell and Andrew Baker Mansions, the Ephrata High School, the Ephrata Main Theater, the Lincoln House, Henry Miller Home and Tavern, and the Hackers Store Building, plus many other beautiful properties. Each featured property in the book has photographs and a brief history.

Purchase your copy of the tour book today and enjoy learning about the exciting history and architecture of Ephrata, PA.

Ephrata Tour booklet

Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County

The Trust was established in 1966 to help “stem the rapid destruction of historic properties in Lancaster County.” Through the years, the Trust has been active in helping to preserve many historic properties in Lancaster County that contribute to their respective communities as unique places for people to live, work, and play.

Our equation for success has been working for over 50 years. Look around you and know that our advocacy and direct action have resulted in saving hundreds of historic structures and other sites throughout the county. The flip side is that not everything can and should be saved. The Trust continually faces this delicate balance and works closely with all parties involved to reach an equitable decision for all. Sadly, it sometimes takes an irreplaceable loss to a community before preservation moves higher on the priority list.

Consider joining the Trust today.