National Significance of the Rowley House
The Rowley House represents great historical value as is evidenced by the story of Edwin A. Rowley’s life and the extent to which the house has escaped the passage and ravages of time.
Designed and built in 1888 by renowned architect Eber Culver it was prominently located along West Fourth Street among the homes of millionaire lumber barons and entrepreneurs.
At the time, 19 of Williamsport’s 19,000 citizens were millionaires and more millionaires resided along West Fourth Street than on any other street in the world. This was at a time when Williamsport was known as the Lumber Capital of the World.
The 13-bedroom residence was noted as one of the most architecturally significant houses at the time. It is known today as one of the few remaining Queen Anne Victorian mansions containing original elements of grandeur. Examples of this are the very rare electrolier newel post lights and the large electrolier in the east parlor, both with original Russian cut glass globes. The only other examples of these globes known are in the Corning Glass Museum in Corning, New York.
The original lighting in the home is rare electric lighting that is not often seen elsewhere. As president of the Edison Electric Illuminating Company he had these high quality fixtures installed in his home. As an owner of the Backus Manufacturing Co., he equipped each fireplace in his home with modern gas logs, which are still found in the fireplaces of the east and west parlors and the library.
The house has many fine Tiffany-quality stained glass windows that represent all of the glass maker’s art, such as, stained glass, jewel faceted, etched, beveled, hand painted and fired glass, etc. The dining room has an ornate oak sideboard made in Williamsport that contains a magnificent stained glass window facing west to capture the late day sun. Rowley’s initials are etched in a beveled crest found in the largest window in the house facing east to catch the morning light. Rowley used many indigenous woods lumbered locally in the construction of his home. His woodworking company showcased their skill and expertise at machine and hand carving as is seen in the beautiful woodwork found throughout the house.
At the time the house was built, the Gazette and Bulletin noted the residence had the finest plaster moldings and ceiling medallions in the city.
Also noted were the expensive English Minton Tiles (in each fireplace and the vestibule) imported from Stoke-on-Trent, England. (Stoke-on-Trent is one of 6 small towns in an area known as ‘the Potteries” famous for its fine china, notably Royal Doulton and Wedgewood.) The tiles depict Renaissance Revival figures and contemporary heroes, such as Ulysses S. Grant. (During restoration work it was found that each tile was signed by its crafter.)
The article mentioned conveniences such as gas and electric lighting, water closets, dumbwaiters, and speaking tubes. The floor plan includes an enormous ball room on the third floor, a library, double parlors, a sewing room, a baking room, a butler’s pantry, a carriage house, carriage keeper’s quarters, etc.
This home is a unique survivor where circumstances save the house like a time capsule. This happened because after the two original owners, the home spent 70 years (1932-2002) as the convent for the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The nuns kept the house in pristine original condition. The speaking tubes, dumbwaiter, original lights, domestic help quarters, carriage keeper’s quarters etc. shed light on life at the time and give us an accurate glimpse of how affluent society lived. Elements such as the sewing room, baking room, laundry, etc. give us a stark contrast as to how the hired help managed a home such as this in a time when the industrial age gave people many employment opportunities and domestic help was hard to find and harder to keep.
This home can continue to yield information about this era through research and study. There are many areas of study such as the original sponge painting that exists in a closet off the dining room or the heating system conversions over the years as this house was originally heated with steam piped in through underground wooden pipes from a steam company owned by another well known entrepreneur, Peter Herdic.
The house is incredibly intact and is situated in a certified Historic District. It is a magnificent time capsule that cannot be reproduced and stands as a tribute to Williamsport’s opulent 19th century history
Tour information and reservations may be made by contacting:
Preservation of Williamsport Foundation, Inc.
960 West Third Street
Williamsport, PA 17701
570 323 8080
Lycoming County Visitors Bureau
210 William Street
Williamsport, PA 17701
(800) 358 9900 (570) 327 770