Millionaire's Row Historic District
Millionaire's Row is a string of about twenty mid-nineteenth-century mansions on West Fourth Street in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Most of the ornate homes, showcasing a variety of architectural styles, were built between 1860 and 1895, from fortunes earned from the region's lumber industry, centered in Williamsport. Most of the homes are not open to the public, but self-guided walking tours are available, as are trolley tours through the historic district. The Thomas T. Taber Museum, located one block north of Millionaires Row, has displays dedicated to the internal and external architecture of a few of these homes and reveals more of the history behind the fortunes that built them.
Backstory and Context
In 1847, the first "log boom" (a series of river piers strung with heavy chains to catch slow-moving floating logs) was established in the Susquehanna River, which runs along the south side of the city of Williamsport. The west branch of the river from Linden to Halls Station was referred to as the "long reach," an area of almost no fall in the elevation of the riverbed. This provided an ideal point to locate a log boom, and the region's burgeoning lumber industry spurred the growth of other industries related to lumber processing (saw mills, lumber storage facilities, rail yards) and by 1890 there were over 27,000 residents. One of the most remarkable was Peter Herdic. He owned large tracts of land and many businesses, including the finest hotel in town, the Herdic House (at 800 West Fourth Street). The major architectural survivals from this period are the rich and varied gems along West Fourth Street; within only a few blocks, visitors can see Italian Villa, Queen Anne, Victorian Romanesque, Second Empire, and Gothic Revival architectural styles. Lumber barons erected mansions designed to flaunt their wealth and impress their neighbors. They spent as freely on the interiors as they did on the exteriors, filling their homes with grand staircases, polished wood, intricate mantelpieces, and works of art.
Eber Culver, who built the Herdic House, is Williamsport's best-known architect. He arrived in the city in the early 1850s and worked as a builder/contractor and remained there for the rest of his life. Culver designed a great number of homes in the historic district, among the better known include the Hiram Rhoads house (522 West Fourth Street) which is a superb Eastlake home in excellent condition (c. 1879); the Embick Cottage (531 West Fourth Street) remains most of its eclectic stick style detailing (c. 1880); the Emery Home (535 West Fourth Street) is a handsome Queen Anne home (c. 1865); the Rowley House (707 West Fourth Street) is one most intact nineteenth-century buildings in the city with outstanding Queen Anne design (c. 1888); and the Mary White Gamble House (835 West Fourth Street) is a completely cut stone Romanesque structure (c. 1889).
These, and other houses, can be viewed exteriorly on a self-guided tour through the Millionaires Row district of Williamsport. An architectural walking-tour brochure is available at the Thomas T. Taber Museum or downloadable from the City of Williamsport Web site. Most of the homes on the walking tour are viewable only from the outside, as they are still single-family homes and not open for display. Others, however, such as some of the businesses or homes that are now museums or restaurants, are open for independent and guided tours.