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Lancaster History & Architecture Preserved through the Montgomery House

Built in 2006, the Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square and Lancaster County Convention Center are relatively new to the Lancaster City landscape. However, the construction of these modern buildings led to the magnificent preservation of a few historic Lancaster City landmarks. While it’s likely that most people know that the Marriott’s current façade is the original, albeit rehabilitated, Beaux Arts façade of the former Watt & Shand Department Store, fewer know the rich history of the Montgomery House – another building preserved and integrated into the new building.

wmh4The circa-1804, three-story brick mansion was designed by architect Stephen Hills in Federal style, which favored details originating from ancient Roman architecture, and often included circular, oval and elliptical forms, found in fanlights over doorways, windows, dramatic curving stairways with continuous handrails, and oval or apsidal-ended rooms.

The home was built for prominent local attorney William Montgomery. Born in 1762, William Montgomery’s family settled in what is now known as Fulton Township. He fought in the Revolutionary War as a teenager, and later was educated at the Academy in Newark, Delaware before studying law. He then moved to Lancaster, where he was admitted to the bar in 1784. A year later, he married Fidelia Rogerson of Dover, Delaware, and the couple went on to have six children.

Montgomery was considered to be one of the leading lawyers of his time in Lancaster County, and was also distinguished in other facets of regional commercial and economic development. Montgomery passed away at his residence on January 3, 1826. Although he was wealthy and influential, Montgomery’s name did not make its way into local history.

wmh3The property changed hands several times and the building used in a variety of ways over the years. Montgomery’s son sold the property, which included a circa-1798 two-story brick building on the north end of the lot, to Dr. Frederick Muhlenberg in 1844. Muhlenberg turned the two-story brick building into a pharmacy sometime between 1851 and 1860. By 1872 the two-story brick building from the Montgomery’s original property had been separated from the mansion, and Adam Ringwalt bought the three-story brick mansion in 1873. In 1880, prosperous hardware merchant Isaac Diller and his wife Anna M. Frey Diller purchased the mansion, where they lived for 12 years. This was the last time the building was used solely as a residence by the owner.

WMH2In 1899, the Lancaster YWCA bought the home, listed as 19 South Queen Street, from the Lancaster Trust Company, where they established their first headquarters, and the attic space was used as a gymnasium. The YWCA sold the building to the People’s Trust Company in 1912, who then sold it to Alden F. Pontz in 1914. By 1917, the building was listed as the hardware store of A. W. Pontz & Co, located at 21 South Queen Street. At that time, the large first floor hall was occupied by a barber shop, and the upper stories were converted into apartments. Pontz sold the building, described in the deed as a three-story brick mercantile and apartment building, to Alphaeus S. Gross in 1947. Watt & Shand purchased the house in 1960, but then was vacant after the store closed in 1995. Even through the extensive changes in ownership and varied use, much of William Montgomery’s elegant mansion somehow survived.

Interesting as he may be, Montgomery was not historically important, so the architectural history of the Montgomery House is what makes it truly notable. The Montgomery House is one of very few existing large buildings erected in Lancaster City between 1799 and 1812, when Lancaster was the seat of state government. It is also the best Early Federal Period (c. 1795-1810) house surviving in Lancaster City, and the only Federal Period dwelling with oval rooms surviving in Lancaster County. No Federal Period houses with oval rooms are currently known in Center City Philadelphia, Reading or York, making the Montgomery House a rare find in Pennsylvania. The house is also the only documented building in the area by Stephen Hills, who is by no means a household name but is significant, having designed the first Capitol building in Harrisburg. All of this has earned the historical home a spot in the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.

WMH5This designation ensured that the landmark was properly restored and integrated into the interior and exterior of the Marriott and Convention Center. The rehabilitation returned original elements of Federal style, like the elliptical sitting room and resulting bowed rear of the exterior, to their former glory. The renovation created 3 floors of flexible space perfect for meetings, receptions, dinners, holiday gatherings and events, and this architectural gem adds a historic charm and uniqueness to the Marriott and Convention Center that makes it so distinctly Lancaster.

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