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Armchair Explorer: Make your reservation today for the Pequehanna Inn – Pennsylvania’s Crown Jewel answer to Lake Placid

The Seeing Lancaster County from a Trolley Window

While researching my article about the now defunct Pequea Trolley, I read a book entitled Seeing Lancaster County from a Trolley Window. The book, published in 1910, provided a first-hand account of riding the various trolley lines that radiated from Lancaster City to the seven corners of the County.

Towards the end of the book, something grabbed my attention. It was a two-page prospectus for the “Pequehanna Inn.” It boasted that the 384 room hotel would be the largest “inn” in the United States and possess the most elegant dining room in the state. However, what I found most fascinating was the location of the “magnificent structure”—a five-minute walk from the Pequea Railroad Station.

Artist's rendering of the Pequehanna Inn from the 1910 prospectus.
Artist’s rendering of the Pequehanna Inn from the 1910 prospectus.

If I interpreted the advertisement correctly, this super luxurious hotel was to be the crown jewel of an ambitious plan to transform Pequea into the “Lake Placid of Pennsylvania.”

I wanted to know more.

I’ve driven through the village of Pequea enough times on my way to Wind Cave to know there’s no 384 room hotel sitting on the hill there. Perhaps the Pequehanna shared the same fate as the nearby River View Hotel—demolished by a controlled fire in the trough of an economic downturn during the 1970s.

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I performed the obligatory Google search and got only two hits. Both referenced the Seeing Lancaster County from a Trolley Window text. It looked as if the Pequehanna might have been little more than a pipedream that never left the drafting table.

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When was the last time you performed a Google search that yielded only two results?

I wasn’t ready to call it quits, though. I tried my luck with Lancaster Newspapers’ archives, and a more complicated story began to emerge.

John K. Hartman

Planning for the Pequehanna Inn began as early as 1906 when prominent Lancaster City builder and contractor, John K. Hartman, formed the Universal Cooperative Association.

According to the 1903 Biographical Annals of Lancaster County, by the age of 30, Hartman was one of the most extensive contractors in Lancaster County. He had already built 145 houses and was in the process of constructing 96 more. Before Hartman turned 40, his firm had erected an additional 309 dwellings, including 60 in the 300 block of South Ann Street alone.

The Biographic Annals praised Hartman for embodying in his work the latest ideas of building art and constructing houses that were unsurpassed for their convenience and architectural beauty.

The Pequehanna Inn Prospectus

Hartman sought financing for the project by placing advertisements similar to the one in the Seeing Lancaster County from a Trolley Window up and down the East coast.

The two-page prospectus for The Pequehanna Inn from the Seeing Lancaster County from a Trolley Window tourist book.
The two-page prospectus for The Pequehanna Inn from the Seeing Lancaster County from a Trolley Window tourist book.

Here’s a transcript of the 1910 prospectus:

The Pequehanna Inn is in the course of erection by The Universal Cooperative Association on its farm of 100 acres in Conestoga Township, Lancaster County, Penna., where the picturesque and historic Pequea Creek empties itself into the broad and beautiful Susquehanna River.

This magnificent structure will be unique and superbly featured in several particulars. It will cover one of the largest areas of ground of any inn in the United States. It will be of concrete block construction and as nearly fireproof as can be. It will absorb more sunlight than any other inn. Every room (384) will be sun lit. It will be fully ventilated with pure hill top air. It will be quadrangular in form. Each of its four frontages will have special landscape features. It will have a beautiful interior courtyard or garden. It will have the largest and finest dining room in the state.

The allotment or concession of living or lodging rooms to guests is both unique and commendable. To cover the cost of construction and some part of maintenance, the rooms are valued in proportion or relative to location, and at a fixed schedule of prices. Concessionaires may secure the privilege of occupying one or more rooms perpetually.

Concessionaires complying with reasonable rules and regulations may finish and furnish their rooms to suit their ideal and purse. They may sublet the rooms to other mutually agreeable persons. They may negotiate at any time with the Universal Cooperative Association to use the rooms or to surrender the concession.

The following is a condensed schedule of location and prices of rooms to
concessionaires:

First floor—in addition to the Administrative apartments, the (50) lodging
rooms are reserved for transient guests, etc.
Second floor—108 rooms may be engaged at prices varying from $650 to $250.
Third floor—108 rooms at prices varying from $750 to $250.
Fourth floor—108 rooms at prices varying from $850 to $300.

Payments may be made in monthly installments. There will be ample facilities for out-door recreations, and an auditorium for conventions, concerts, reunions, and entertainments.

For other particulars, write or apply “Pequehanna Inn” 55 N. Queen St., Lancaster, Pa.

Hartman’s plan was for the hotel to be a cooperative venture similar to condos today. Rooms would be sold on 100-year leases, and owners would have the option to sublet their apartments. Depending on their location, rooms would cost between $250 to $850 with additional fees for service and maintenance.

The building would have cost approximately $100,000 (or roughly $2.6 million in today’s money) and been the property of the Association.

Principal Backers

Hartman was able to gather a group of financial backers, which included William Wohlsen, John M. Groff, Frederick Shoff, Paul L. Heine, C. A. Burrowes, John G. Zook. Jacob O. Buckwalter, L.L. Bixler, and George Atlee from Philadelphia.

Many of these men were very influential in Lancaster County, especially in the southern end. For example, both Paul Heine and Frederick Shoff were instrumental in turning Pequea into a resort town.

Shoff operated a sawmill and lumber yard in Pequea and organized the York Furnace Power company. In fact, before the town was called Pequea, it was known as Shoff’s P.O., as shown in this 1899 map.

ShoffPO
Can you guess who Shoff’s P.O. was named after? The Pequea Station is also listed on the map and gives you an idea of the Pequehanna’s proximity.

Shoff built the River View Hotel in 1902-1903, and Heine purchased it from him the following year in 1904.

In fact, at one time, practically all the riverfront on the Lancaster County side of the Susquehanna was owned by Shoff and Heine. Heine alone held five miles of river frontage to the south, including the York Furnace Springs area, where there was a dance Pavillion.

These two men, together with John Myers, organized the trolley system in 1904, which operated until 1925 when it was replaced by a bus. Heine also owned the water company which supplied the Pequea area.

During Heine’s ownership of the Rivet View Hotel, the hotel saw visitors from as far away as Chicago and New York. The River View also had its share of celebrities, which may have included the President of the United States and a heavyweight boxing champion. There were tennis courts, croquet courts, swings with canopies, and other recreational facilities. The boat landing attracted craft from near and far. Heine also owned The Brunswick Hotel in Lancaster City.

Heine even owned, and his heirs still own (as of 1949 at least) the charter for a bridge across the Susquehanna, which was never built.

Needless to say, Hartman had some influential backers for his Pequehanna Inn project.

Construction Update

A brief article from the August 19, 1911 edition of The Inquirer reports that construction on the Pequehanna was underway. Historian Larry Hess in his history of Martic Township book from 1980, indicated that construction may have started as early as 1907.

Article from The Inquirer on Saturday, August 19, 1911.
Article from The Inquirer on Saturday, August 19, 1911.

Another article from September 1949 in the Intelligencer Journal further detailed the project’s progress stating that the stone foundations were completed and some of the iron-work installed. Concrete block and brick making machinery had also arrived at the job site.

Beginning of the End

However, misfortune struck around 1910 when an ice freshet—the sudden overflowing of a river caused by heavy rain or melting snow—wiped out a bridge over the Pequea on the route Hartman used to transport building supplies. Making matters worse was a two-year delay in replacing the bridge as a jurisdictional dispute between the County and the power company raged over whose responsibility it was to pay for it.

During the interim, Hartman attempted to move hardware across the creek via barge but no not permitted to do so. Hartman’s bad luck continued once the bridge was completed. County officials prohibited him from using it, citing concerns that his building materials were too heavy.

While there’s no proof, one can’t help but get the feeling that Hartman or the Pequehanna Inn was less than popular with at least one influential person given the roadblocks he faced.

The scheme fully collapsed when principal financial backer George Atlee committed suicide on September 3, 1911. Atlee was the senior member of a Philadelphia based banking and brokerage firm. He was also a prominent figure in Lancaster County owning the Lancaster and York Furnace Railway Company, the Lancaster and Southern Railway, a short trolley line connecting Rawlinsville with the York Furnace line at Martic Forge, the Colemanville power plant, the Pequea Land Association, and several boats on the Susquehanna.

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The September 4, 1911 edition of the Lancaster New Era announcing Atlee’s suicide.

Adding insult to injury was the fact that Hartman had pre “sold” most of the 384 rooms. Unfortunately, the payments for these rooms were pending the completion of the project. Historian Larry Hess has also suggested that a “money panic” at around this time “intervened and ended” Hartman’s dream.

In an attempt to recoup some funds, Hartman sued Lancaster County in January 1912 over their denial to use the new bridge. He sought $10,000 in damages.

Article from the January 13, 1912 edition of The Inquirer.
Article from the January 13, 1912 edition of The Inquirer.

Without financial support, Hartman saw his net worth implode as he had put most of the money up himself to start the project. With the project permanently halted, Hartman sold most of the iron and lumber on the job site in an attempt to recoup some of his expenses.

Despite all of this, Hartman never gave up his dream. He lived on the “future” hotel’s property in a one-story cottage as late as 1949. He busied himself by mowing the grass and cultivating flower gardens for guests who would never come.

Hartman died in 1957 and is buried in Lakeland, Florida.

Photo of Pequea with Wise Island in the distance. Hartman Hill, where the Pequehanna Inn would have sat, is highlighted in the upper right-hand corner.
Photo of Pequea with Wise Island in the distance. Hartman Hill, where the Pequehanna Inn would have sat, is highlighted in the upper right-hand corner.

What Might Have Been

Had the Pequehanna Inn been built, it would have been the climax of Hartman’s impressive building career. Imagine a magnificent 384 room five-story turreted hotel sitting on a towering crest high above the mouth of the Pequea Creek with a sweeping view of the Susquehanna River. Here’s a 3D rendering of what the Pequehanna Inn would have looked like using historical descriptions and drawings.

The hotel would have included a 100-acre tract of land located on the Conestoga Township side of the Pequea Creek called Hartman Hill. The grounds would have included tennis courts, croquet courts, parks, pavilions, lookouts, and sunken gardens.

This map shows the approximate boundary line for the Pequehanna's 100-acre property. The town of Pequea is directly south.
This map shows the approximate boundary line for the Pequehanna’s 100-acre property. The town of Pequea is directly south.

First floor plans for the Pequehanna called for administrative offices and 50 rooms for short term visitors. The next three floors each had 108 rooms for permanent guests. All rooms were sunlit and ventilated by pure hilltop air. A roof garden would occupy part of the fifth floor along with a balcony, which would have extended around three sides. The view of the river would have been amazing!

The Pequehanna was designed to have three main wings forming the three sides of a square. Each arm would have been 40 feet wide and 212 feet long. In the center, there would be a beautiful interior courtyard and garden.

3D rendering of the Pequehanna Inn as it would appear today on Hartman Hill viewed from Pequea.
3D rendering of the Pequehanna Inn as it would appear today on Hartman Hill viewed from Pequea.

Double verandas would have extended around the three sides of the proposed hotel, which was designed with an imposing facade and numerous windows.  Constructed entirely of concrete block and brick, the hotel’s goal was to be as fireproof as possible. The building’s frontages would have special landscape features.

The dining room would be a separate building and form the fourth side of the quadrangle. It was designed to be 40 by 180 feet, with glass domes at either end. Inside the dining room, there was a hanging basket-like mezzanine in the center, where the orchestra would play.

Here's the Pequehanna Inn shown on a topographical map on Hartman Hill.
Here’s the Pequehanna Inn shown on a topographical map on Hartman Hill.

What Remains Today?

According to the Intelligencer Journal in 1949, the Pequehanna’s massive stone foundations still existed. Rock retaining walls, which created a series of terraces, were also visible. In the photo below from 1949, 75-year-old Hartman is seen standing next to the foundation of his unfinished dream.

Nearly forty years after construction stopped, Hartman stands next to the foundations of the Pequehanna Inn in 1949.
Nearly forty years after construction stopped, Hartman stands next to the foundations of the Pequehanna Inn in 1949.

At this point in my research, I am left with one last question. More than 100 years later, does anything remain of the Pequehanna Inn’s stone foundations and rock terraces?

I first reached out to Lancaster Conservancy as they own about 12 of the original 100-acre tract; however, I was doubtful the foundations were inside their Pequea Nature Preserve. Topography maps showed a significant elevation change making it a poor location for a large hotel, but I thought I would ask anyway.

Lancaster Conservancy's Pequea Nature Preserve on
Lancaster Conservancy’s Pequea Nature Preserve on Hartman Hill.

A representative from Lancaster Conservancy, confirmed my suspicions—no foundations were inside the preserve. However, she thought if any did remain, they “would be on private land at the end of the private road.”

Using the app onX Hunt, I identified the various property owners on Hartman Hill. The trick became contacting any of them. I suddenly realized why you should keep the free phonebook you get every year. Online whitepages are deceptively not free. I did some sleuthing on Facebook and finally connected with the owner, who was kind enough to give me a tour of the grounds.

While none of the terraces were visible, the Pequehanna foundations were very much so. It was a fantastic experience to climb inside what would have been the basement of the luxury established. Despite more than 100 years of vegetative growth, this 40′ x 212′ wing of the Pequehanna was still an impressive sight.

The westernmost segment of the Pequehanna Inn includes this 40' x 212' foundation. Unfortunately, this photograph doesn't do the experience justice.
The westernmost segment of the Pequehanna Inn includes this 40′ x 212′ foundation. Unfortunately, this photograph doesn’t do the experience justice.

The most identifiable architectural element was the curved foundation in the northwest corner. These stones would have supported the hotel’s front left turret. The property owner said there use to be more stones, but in the intervening decades, materials have slowly disappeared for use in nearby residential projects.

In the northwest corner of the ruins, the foundation for the hotel's turret was clearly visible.
In the northwest corner of the ruins, the foundation for the hotel’s turret was clearly visible.

The northern wing of the Pequehanna was also partially visible. While I didn’t see any of its stone foundations, excavation work was evident, marking this segment’s boundaries. Today in 2020, that’s all that remains of Hartman’s dream.

ruins4
This section looking West towards the Susquehanna was dead center marking the main entrance to the hotel.

However, I have no doubt that in an alternate universe, the Pequehanna Inn actually sits high on Hartman Hill, offering tourists impressive views of the Susquehanna River as Pennsylvania’s Crown Jewel answer to Lake Placid.

3D rendering of the Pequehanna Inn as it would appear today on Hartman Hill viewed from the marina in Pequea.
3D rendering of the Pequehanna Inn as it would appear today on Hartman Hill viewed from the marina in Pequea.

Gallery

Please Note Well

The foundations of the Pequehanna Inn are on private property. Even the road leading into Hartman Hill is technically a private drive and clearly marked. I secured permission from the owner to visit and photograph the site.

Armchair Explorer

I hope you enjoyed this installment of the Armchair Explorer. If you have any images, blueprints (they are rumored to exist), or other pieces of information related to the Pequehanna Inn, I would love to see them and include them in this article.

In the coming weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, I hope to research other locations that we can all explore from the safety of our own homes. I’m also open to suggestions if you have any. You can email them to me here.

3D rendering of the Pequehanna Inn as it would appear today on Hartman Hill viewed from the Pequea Boat Club parking lot.
3D rendering of the Pequehanna Inn as it would appear today on Hartman Hill viewed from the Pequea Boat Club parking lot.

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3 thoughts on “Armchair Explorer: Make your reservation today for the Pequehanna Inn – Pennsylvania’s Crown Jewel answer to Lake Placid

  1. Thank you, very well done, Sad to hear this Gent’s dream did get accomplished. So sad but very interesting.

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