West Fourth Street Story
The West Fourth Street Story begins in the superb forests of pine and hemlock which once clothed all the watershed of the West Branch Valley and the “Long Reach” 1 in the Susquehanna. Lumber created Williamsport’s initial prosperity, and when that prosperity was at its peak during the last half of the 19th Century, more millionaires were said to be living on West Fourth Street than resided on any other street of similar length in the world.
That West Fourth Street developed as “Millionaires’ Row” was a direct result of the foresight, intelligence, and ambition of one man, Peter Herdic. Herdic settled in Williamsport in 1853 and began his purchase of land with five acres known as the Grove Lot for which he paid $5,000. Eventually, after securing the Woodward and Maynard farms, he was to own most of Fourth Street west of Hepburn Street. Much of the land was swampy and required draining and filling to make it suitable for building. In the area Herdic was to develop, he planned a hotel (which was to become the center of the social life of the day), a gas works to provide illumination, a row of offices adjacent to the railroad station, a complete business block, and locations for three places of worship.
An astute businessman, Herdic gave the railroad their right-of-way through Williamsport and land for the Walnut Street yards in return for a ninety-nine year agreement that the main station would be on a site of Herdic’s choosing — next to his hotel. As the existing business district was a mile from the hotel, Herdic established a horse-drawn streetcar line to travel Fourth Street from Market Street at a fare of three cents.
Herdic wisely enlisted the exceptional talents of Eber Culver as architect for most of his projects.
Not only did Herdic create a residential area for the wealthy on Fourth Street, requiring that each home be set twenty to thirty feet from the property line thus insuring a fine perspective for viewing the mansions, but he also provided both lots and structures on surrounding streets to house the people and businesses necessary for the support of the life style found on Millionaires’ Row.
It was Peter Herdic who was instrumental in gaining the city charter in 1866, and by fantastic manipulation had Newberry annexed without the residents of that area being aware of it until after the feat was accomplished. In the fall of 1869 he was elected the fourth mayor of Williamsport.
Although his fortunes rose and fell, as did many during lumbering’s “gilded age”, the effects of his planning for West Fourth Street are visible today. The lofty spire of Trinity Episcopal Church, the impressive Park Home, and a fine residential avenue remain as monuments to the genius of Peter Herdic.
Text Source: “The West Fourth Street Story” by the Junior League of Williamsport, Inc.
Postcard Source: “A Bicentennial Postcard History of Williamsport” by Richard and Miriam Mix