A Herdic House History
A product of Williamsport’s lumber boom era and its most famous lumber baron, the Peter Herdic House was constructed in 1854-55. Given building procedures of that time, the mansion took about two years to build, with the cellar probably built late in the first summer of construction.
Typical construction methods of the period called for the cellar to be covered and allowed to settle over the winter. In the following spring, the top of the foundation would be leveled off and the house would be built on top of it.
The Herdic House was one of the first suburban villas constructed on West Fourth Street. There were three other private residences on the street, two of them farm houses. The Herdic House was designed by Eber Culver, who was responsible for the design of many buildings still standing in the city, including the former City Hall on Pine Street and the Park Home and Trinity Episcopal Church on Fourth Street.
It was designed in the Italian Villa style, consisting of a flat roof, projecting eves, regular balance and heavy cornices.
One of the larger homes in Williamsport at that time, the Herdic House sat on a large lot that later included houses on either side when Herdic went bankrupt and sold portions of the parcel. The Herdic House at one time included a carriage house with an entrance on Elmira Street and two tennis courts in the rear.
The exterior colors used in the renovations match the original colors, according to paint analysis. For the interior, the colors chosen were popular during the 1850s. The wallpapers used are reproduction’s of patterns of the mid-1800s. Because of the popularity of wallpaper during the era, it is probable most of the rooms were originally wallpapered rather than painted.
During renovations, the one wall not replaced divided the main parlor (now the main dining room) from the front entrance hall. On the East and West ends of the wall were arched entrances echoing the ones across the hall. In the middle of the wall was a marble mantlepiece, probably dark in color as was the custom during that period.
Because of the lack of chimneys, it is believed there were not fireplaces in every room. The house was heated with hot air through metal grates under the mantlepieces. Though most of the mantlepieces were dark in color, the mantle in the front parlor usually was a lighter color. It is believed the room now used as a lounge area was originally the front parlor, where Mrs. Herdic would greet daily guests, sew, etc. The smaller dining room (west side of the house) was originally the dining room of the mansion.
Most of the plaster moldings along the ceiling were still intact when renovations were done, though about 30 percent were missing and had to be recast. The most difficult and expensive parts of the renovations were reconstruction of the front bay window and twin front porches. The front columns were reproduced by using urethane foams, which were cast in molds using the original rear porch columns as patterns.
The double chandelier hanging from the third floor is not an original. Although many Victorian homes used that style of chandelier. Instead, there were two gas chandeliers suspended by many iron chains attached to the first and second floor ceilings. The opening allowing visibility from the bottom to the top of the stairwell was part of the original construction.
No one is certain how the back east room (now the bar) was used originally. There were servant steps entering the room at the North side and speculation is that the room could have been used as a pantry, servants receiving parlor, or maybe Mr. Herdic’s office.
It is possible the largest room upstairs was the master bedroom because of the existence of a lavatory on the North wall. It was typical for the master bedroom to have a marble sink with hot and cold faucets encased in a recessed oval walnut base. Other rooms upstairs were used as bedrooms. The bathroom on the second floor was redecorated by the Bubb family. The mosaic tiles and stained glass windows are from the early 1900s.
The center staircases were partially destroyed in a 1977 fire. About 45 feet of the mahogany rail and 200 spindles were milled to match the remaining originals.
The mansion’s ownership changed several times following Peter Herdic’s death in 1888. Herdic’s wife, Encie, remarried Henry Rowle and in 1892, they sold the house to N. Burrows Bubb. The Bubbs used the house as their private residence until Mr. Bubb died. Charles D. and Margaret Wolfe purchased the house in 1928 and converted it into an exclusive, members-only club called The Tall Cedars. The club served cocktails from the bar, which then was located in the dining room. Dinner and dancing were available in the original main and front parlors. In 1941, The Tall Cedars went out of business.
Louise M. Plankenhorn bought the house in 1944 for use as a private residence. At the time, she resided with her husband on Grampian Boulevard. Mrs. Plankenhorn spent many years and much money redecorating the mansion. Her furniture was moved one piece at a time to the mansion until only her husband’s bedroom suite remained at Grampian Boulevard. If the Grampian Boulevard residence was left vacant, the house would not have been insured, so Mr. Plankenhorn continued sleeping there. Unfortunately, he became ill before the Grampian Boulevard residence was sold, and the Plankenhorns were forced to move to Arizona for health reasons.
In 1957, Duane and Betty Stegman bought the house and planned to use it for commercial purposes. They asked for permission to change the original deed, which stated anything built onto the house had to remain 50 feet from the West Fourth Street sidewalk. Permission was granted and the Stegmans added a modern, two-story, commercial front of 3,500 square feet. With the addition, the front bay window and two front porches were removed. Inside, drop ceilings were added, hiding the plaster moldings. A number of new entrances were cut through exterior walls and new floor plans emerged.
The new frontage was used as office for an investment firm. The rest of the house was divided into apartments and rented. In 1977, a fire that started in one of the apartments destroyed the cupola, the roof and part of the stairway. In 1978, Commonwealth Bank and Trust Co. foreclosed on the property.
The Herdic House remained vacant and in ruin, with no roof, until 1980. In 1979, a non-profit group, Millionaires Row Historical Homes, Inc., purchased the home in hopes of rehabilitating it, selling it and using the proceeds to renovate other historical properties. Within two years, a new roof and cupola were added, the commercial frontage was removed, and most of the exterior walls were returned to their original configuration.
Unfortunately, because of financial constraints, the rehabilitation was halted in 1981 and the Millionaires Row Historical Homes Inc. sold the property in 1983 to the Peter Herdic Partnership and the Preservation Fund of Pennsylvania. The Bureau of Historic Preservation approved a grant of $100,000 for the rehabilitation of the house. In 1984, the Peter Herdic Partnership became sole owner of the property. The rehabilitation took about a year to finish and was completed in December 1984.
On Nov. 5, 1984, the Peter Herdic Restaurant of fine dining opened under the management of Marcia and Gloria Miele. In May 1985, the renovations were recognized as the top preservation project of 1984 by the Bureau of Historic Preservation.