Saturday, August 20, 2011

Millionaires Row of Williamsport

The small city of Williamsport, Pennsylvania is often attributed as a blue collar middle class city. But at one time this mountain town boasted more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the United States. The abundance of timber in the area as well as the town’s proximity to the Susquehanna River helped to add an abundance of wealth to the area.

During the 1850’s, large homes began to showing up on West 4th Street in the city. The local lumber barons began to spend their wealth on large luxurious homes. Most of the homes were designed by famed architect Eber Culver. As the timber industry began to expand, the population grew rapidly. Between 1860-1870 the population of Williamsport more than tripled. By the 1880’s, Williamsport was one of the wealthiest cities in the nation. The small city grew so much than an electric street car system was put into place 1 year before Philadelphia’s.

Sadly, by the end of the decade, the money began to wear thin. A flood in 1889 damaged many lumber facilities in the city, and the timber was slowly declining.

Even though the lumber capital of the world was facing many hardships, some growth was still occurring. Up until the 1920’s mansions were still being built in the wealthy west end of the city. But all good things must come to an end. A new decade spawned a great depression that quickly put a damper on the economy. Then in 1936 Mother Nature struck with another flood. This time the disaster affected the homes on Millionaire’s Row. Since the area had become vulnerable, most owners moved to higher grounds. In the 1940’s a community college sprouted up in the area and the large homes were mostly subsidized for renters. Since then most of the owners of the houses have done a tremendous job in up keeping the homes’ historic value. In 1985 Millionaire’s Row was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. What I find so fascinating with Millionaire’s Row, is its uniqueness. Unlike the McMansion neighborhoods of today where every home looks identical, the homes on Millionaires’ Row are each unique. Each home seems to have its own personality. The homes range from Italian Villa, to Greek Revival, Tudor to Victorian. There's certainly something to appeal to our inner architect or the daydreamer in all of us.

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