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Lewisburg and Vicinity

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A long and successful marriage of town and gown has contributed to Lewisburg's ability to thrive as a small town. Despite disastrous floods in 1865, 1889, 1936, and 1972, Lewisburg retains its handsome nineteenth-century architecture, and its commercial district on Market Street flourishes as a Victorian boulevard lined with trees and distinctive triglobed lampposts. Lewisburg began with the luck of the draw in 1769 when a Palatine German immigrant named Ludwig Derr participated in the proprietors' land lottery. Derr acquired a choice tract on the Susquehanna River bordered by Buffalo Creek and Limestone Run on which he built a trading post, a mill, and the log house that forms the inner frame of the Federal-style residence at 34 Brown Street. In 1785 he laid out the grid plan of a town on the riverbank with Market Street as the central axis leading directly from the river. Unlike New Berlin and Mifflinburg, which were virtually homogeneous settlements, Derr encouraged a diverse group of property owners by providing lots for Presbyterian and Roman Catholic churches as well as for Lutherans. The founder may have been one of the town's minority of German Catholics since the streets were given the names of his family's patron saints rather than trees as in the Philadelphia tradition. However, the New England Baptists who arrived half a century later would have the greatest impact by founding the University at Lewisburg in 1846.

Incorporated in 1823, the town, renamed Lewisburg, mushroomed from the impact of the cross-cut canal (1834), its designation as county seat (1855), and the arrival of the railroad (1869). Lewisburg's growing wealth and position lured professional architects to cross the Susquehanna, beginning with Thomas Ustick Walter in 1849 ( UN19). He had a worthy successor in Lewis Palmer, who designed many of Lewisburg's handsome residential, civic, and commercial buildings. In 1881, Frank Furness came to design the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Station (demolished) that historian Charles M. Snyder described as “an architecturally perfect passenger depot.”

Early buildings include the William Williams house (1786; 1972 restored) at 37 S. Water Street. Federal in style but German in plan it was built on the riverfront by the ferryman a year after the town's founding. South 3rd Street mediates between the commercial and academic centers and is remarkable for its cluster of churches. The New England Baptist Church (1869–1870; 51 S. 3rd Street) was designed by amateur architect and university president Justin Loomis. Enthusiasm for H. H. Richardson's Romanesque style is visible in two of Lewisburg's turn-of-the-twentieth-century churches at S. 3rd and St. Louis streets: Charles S. Wetzel's Beaver Memorial United Methodist Church (1890) at 40 S. 3rd Street and Joseph Nesbit's Christ Evangelical Lutheran (1901) at 100 S. 3rd Street. Although the Great Depression curtailed the development of architecture, the International Style Fegley House (1939) at 247 Stein Lane, the Lewisburg Armory (1938; Armory Boulevard, 1.7 miles from the junction of U.S. 15 and PA 45), and the Art Deco Campus Theatre (1941) at 413 Market Street designed by Philadelphian David Supowitz marked Lewisburg's continuing connection to the modern world. After the decline of its mills, foundries, and factories in the first half of the twentieth century, Lewisburg attracted new industry in the 1970s and the town grew to the southwest.

Writing Credits

Author: 
George E. Thomas

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