If you happen to walk around the School Lane Hills neighborhood, you can almost see an economic chronology of the pendulum swing between wealth and efficiency. For a time, there were strict private covenants enforced by School Lane Hills, Inc. Architectural standards resulted in some of the incredible edifices that have come to give a certain character to the area. Thus, the Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District came into being.
Other decades didn’t offer the same amount of disposable income to home builders and cost-effectiveness ruled the day.
Many of the grandiose homes in the neighborhood have been well-preserved by their owners. Such preservation is not achievable without significant reinvestment of capital to repair, maintain, and restore precious edifices to a condition for all to enjoy or to study.
The buildings themselves help to tell a story of the owners or of our community or even of how such structures came into being. For some folks, the opulence thrills the imagination. For others, it harkens to the societal structure that would allow for amalgamation of wealth. One structure is no more but was of greater splendor than most.
Although the “Upland Lawn” property had a street address of 137 North School Lane, it stretched from Marietta Avenue to Wheatland Avenue and from North School Lane to North President Avenue. Wealth came from a rich family with only a few children in a generation that included Henry Williamson.
He worked hard to develop that inheritance by creating retail stores in Harrisburg and in Lancaster at 28-38 East King Street. Construction of the magnificent home, carriage house, gardens, and greenhouse required two years to complete.
Williamson was described in the 1893 New Era as “a great lover of trees” and he undertook a task to supplement the scores of hickories and oaks on the property with a host of other species. Following an interesting effort to invite suggestions from personal friends and business colleagues, he hired a nursery and a landscape architect to implement the plan. I find this a fascinating progenitor to today’s Tanger Arboretum.
Williamson also used his wealth to donate parkland for what ultimately became Lancaster County Central Park. As was expected in the time, he served on various boards and donated charitably throughout the community. But unlike today, there was little worry on his mind as he invited many members of the public to Upland Lawn for benefit concerts, re-enactment tableaus, and club gatherings. One of those clubs was called the “Shad Choir” which then became the Lancaster Pirates.
In 1974 after the interior was dismantled and its pieces auctioned off, the mansion was razed. The Journal of the then-named Lancaster County Historical Society included an article the following year describing memories of the Williamsons in Upland Lawn and the family’s use of the enormous and opulent mansion for a wide variety of functions, concerts, and gatherings. Some folks have told me that they recall attending an annual “Christmas Around the Tree” event at the mansion. Not hard to imagine in a place with a central two-story “Living Hall” measuring 25’ x 35’.
Amid the apartment buildings that exist there today, the fantastic carriage house still remains a testament to a different era.