Klein’s history of Lancaster (1890-1910)


In his story of Lancaster County at the turn of the 20th century, former F&M Professor Klein describes the transformation of this small country town into an increasingly urban and economically developed one. During this time, industrial development flourished in Lancaster, manifesting itself through great increases in manufacturing production and consequently opening the door to many other industries that would benefit the town. Brick, tool, shoe and chocolate manufacturing, brewing and tobacco industries were booming along with the strong agriculture that remained the key wealth generating business of the region. Much of this progress was thanks to the Lancaster Board of Trade, an association of local businessmen who worked intensely on bringing additional investments, jobs and factories to their city. The results were astonishing. Lancaster was growing rapidly and so was its population and wealth. Numerous companies, encouraged by the positive business atmosphere, were opening up their factories and stores in Lancaster so that virtually everyone who wanted a job could have found one at the time. This fostered large migrations of farmers into the city and Lancaster’s population experienced sudden and quite remarkable expansion. Had it continued with its growth at such pace, Lancaster would have a population of more than a million these days.

Economic development increased the general opulence of the region and allowed for the greater incomes of Lancaster’s inhabitants. This gave rise to the phenomena of consumerism that was fostered by new (city) life-style and various advertising games that businesses started to engage in. Lancaster residents found themselves earning more and very soon they were given lots of options to choose from on how to spend this extra money. This was an era of the first cars in Lancaster and Professor Klein talks in his research about how rapidly everyone wanted one of these new machines that were adding additional exclusiveness to the comfort of city life. Many new stores opened up along the main downtown streets and each and every one of them was giving its best to interest the potential customers in the various products they were offering for sale. Klein mentions in his writing Watt and Shand’s store, which “employed fifty clerks and salesladies, and emphasized their attention to latest Paris styles and fashions”, as the prime example of an institution that made shopping popular among Lancastrians. Big retail stores, such as this one were very popular at the time. One of the most noteworthy was definitely the Woolworth 5 and 10 ç Store, of which I talked about in my first blog post. The Woolworth building (work of local architect C. Emlen Urban) was at the time the biggest office building and, according to the Intelligencer Journal, “the prettiest business in town.” This magnificent structure with two of its 45-feet towers and many other astonishing elements, including the roof garden, attracted more than 11000 people for its grand opening in 1900. The building continued to attract numerous customers over the years and Frank W. Woolworth’s large investment seemed to be paying off. As for the smaller stores in town, they had to find their own (more modest) ways to attract customers. Professor Klein writes about the various forms of advertising that were practiced, including the “squeaking, swaying boards of black and gold” that the merchants used to highlight their stores. However, once everyone started using these extravagant signs, they both: lost their initial function and started hurting the looks of the business streets. For this reason, they were at some point prohibited. Schaub’s shoe store that I examined in my second blog post used its ingenious design to advertise its products and attract the customers in a very unique and clever fashion. The architect created a visually attractive but still very functional front part of the building in glass so that everyone could see some of the products offered for sale straight up from the street. Moreover, he gave up a substantial front part of the store to create a dented entrance that subtly “sucks in” customers. This clever use of space and new materials resulted from an imperative to make the store appealing to the members of the shopping nation that was rising.

The Woolworth Building, 21. North Queen Street


As I said before, Lancaster’s industry and economy were thriving at the switch from 19th to 20th century. Professor Klein’s research indicates that some of the local businesses were often handling millions of dollars and were making equally prodigious profits by exporting large output of their produce to the whole of nation and even some foreign markets. Tobacco industry and agriculture were particularly lucrative businesses as the Lancaster County was national leader in farming and the produce of cigarettes. According to Professor Klein, Lancaster farmers were taking an annual profit of million dollars on a stock alone and several more on their other products. As expected, such prosperous development attracted numerous banks to Lancaster County, which naturally saw an opportunity in this situation for their own success. There used to be about 11 banks in Lancaster in the early 1900s but the truly big players were: Farmers Trust Company (formerly – Farmer’s National Bank of Lancaster), Lancaster Trust Company and The Lancaster County National bank. It might be interesting to note that all of the Lancaster banks at the time were located either on E. King or N. Queen Street. To get their own piece of cake, these institutions for start had to demonstrate their strength and longevity in the eyes of the late 19th century Lancastrians, who were not easily going to entrust their savings to a third party. The architecture of the bank buildings played an important role in the process of sending such message to the public and installing the trust in banks among the Lancaster’s businessmen and successful farmers. The architect of the Farmers Trust Company building, as I argue in my most recent blog post, used the classical orders to make this bank associated with ancient everlasting structures. The intention was to make the citizens of Lancaster confident about putting their money into the bank, because they could be sure that it will stay safe there for as long as it’s necessary. Surprisingly or not, this clever strategy helped its cause. The people of Lancaster gained the confidence in banks and banking business started to flourish along with everything else in this transforming town. In words of Mr. W. U. Hensel, who Professor Klein cites at the end of his writing about this era: “In all this there has been a spirit not only of commercial activity, but of integrity – a confidence that when a man puts a dollar in the bank he will get a dollar out.”

Farmers Trust Company, 52. East King Street


Finally, there seems to be an interesting juxtaposition of these two phenomena, which developed out of Lancaster’s immense growth in the early 20th century. On one hand, Lancastrians were turning into a shopping community and were spending much more under the influence of commercial marketing. On the other hand, for the very first time, they were saving up some of that money in newly formed banks. In both cases, these social issues were clearly reflected in the architecture of Lancaster, including those few buildings I examined in my earlier blog writings.


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