1136 Columbia Avenue – Established 1909
The first known occupant of the “James Laird Brown Mansion” was James Laird Brown, a man of Scottish descent. Indications are that he bought the brick mansion house for $18,000 in January 1909. Census records show Brown and his wife, Katherine, lived at the manor with their five children, ranging in age from 14 to 22. Brown was the manager and eventual president of Manor Mills, a silk mill on Manor Street. The mill supplied fabric for the Follmer, Clogg and Co., umbrella manufacturer. In 1937, Brown’s son, James Laird Brown Jr., was assistant general manager and assistant treasurer of Follmer, Clogg and Co.
The house is thought to have been built by William C. Pritchett, a Philadelphia-based architect who also designed the First United Methodist Church and other prominent homes in Lancaster. The building is in the Tudor Revival style, but does have some interior details that are Georgian, drawn from late Italian Renaissance sources, as can be seen on the spindles on the oak stair railing that lines the second floor hallway.
The wood carvings, the stained-glass coats of arms, thick pocket doors, leaded diamond windows, and the Gothic Revival doorways in the playroom are of England’s design. The house was designed to make a statement about the affluence and prominence of the owner, and the great room’s terra cotta fireplace greeted guests who walked through the castle-like front door. The heavy wood detailing continues into the dining room, framing a floor-to-ceiling alcove of stained-glass and leaded diamond windows, a marble fireplace and built-in china closets. Even the ceiling in the dining room is patterned in deep wood squares. The heavy wood carving literally climbs with stairs to the third floor.
In 1927, Brown’s unmarried daughter, Kitty, was given the house for $1 by her mother. Kitty then sold the property in 1944 to Abe Karlip, a prominent self-employed businessman, for $1. According to deeds, Karlip sold the property to Harry H. Wiggins, owner of Wiggins Chevrolet, for $37,000, that same day.
Wiggins owned the home until 1968 when he sold the carriage house to General Daniel Strickler, and the mansion to Peter DeLaurentis for $60,000. In 1972, Charles T. Riley bought the house, together with Donald and Helen Beck, for $90,000. Three years later, he bought out the Becks’ half for $50,000, and persuaded the township to allow him to turn the mansion into apartments. The township agreed as long as the outside stayed the same.
Ralph Wilton, owner of Wilton Armetale Serveware in Wrightsville, and his sons became the primary renters until 1986, when Wilton died. Dorothy Shand, wife of the former owner of Watt & Shand department store, became the last prominent tenant.