Registered as a National Historic Landmark in November of 1966, one of only 5 such-designated properties in Lancaster County, the estate is famous for its early iron and glass production. One afternoon, Craig and James Bubb, the project's head of design, immersed us in the history of the property as we relaxed in the modern bridal suite of the estate's stable, now renovated and repurposed as a wedding reception space.
Stepping Back in Time at Elizabeth Furnace
Visiting Elizabeth Furnace in Lititz, Pennsylvania, is a memorable experience anyone would enjoy. Hearing Craig Coleman, seventh-generation owner, tell stories from the estate’s colonial beginnings makes the experience even richer.
John Jacob Huber, a German by birth, built the original furnace in 1746. As he settled the land, he likely never dreamed that his property would one day become a valuable piece of America’s early industrialization history. His employee and later son-in-law, Henry William Stiegel, bought the estate from him in 1757 for 500 pounds and named it after his wife.
Quickly, the property grew from 400 to 10,454 acres. A small town sprung up as Stiegel enlarged the furnace and increased the production of iron. Stiegel constructed a schoolhouse, general store, blacksmith and wagon maker shops, and homes for his seventy-five workers and their families. Proud of his accomplishments, a tower was also built on Canon Hill near Elizabeth Furnace to announce the coming and going of “Baron Stiegel.”
By 1763, Stiegel became enamored with glass blowing, building a glass house on the property. As he invested more time and money into the glass industry, his debts mounted. In 1774, he lost his share of Elizabeth Furnace and was thrown into debtor’s prison for a short time.
During this time, Robert Coleman, a young Irish gentleman and Craig’s forefather, entered the picture. He leased Elizabeth Furnace in 1776. Later, with high aspirations, he purchased the estate, bringing efficiencies to the iron operation. Robert also built the Coleman mansion using Triassic red sandstone, the same material used on the other buildings. French-designed terraced gardens spilled stunningly over the open lawn. The manor, a social epicenter, attracted famous guests, possibly even George Washington in 1793.
Considered Pennsylvania’s first millionaire, Robert worked closely with George Washington during the Revolutionary War, converting much of his iron production to munitions for the Continental Army. With seventy Hessian soldiers captured in the Battle of Trenton and housed in the “Barracks”, he accomplished an enormous feat — digging a mile-long ditch (six feet wide and six feet deep) to bring water around the mountain for improved water power to drive the iron bellows. One can still see scars from that ditch on the mountainside today.
Much has changed at Elizabeth Furnace since its colonial beginnings. The furnace became obsolete and production was stopped in 1856. Over the years, more than one thousand of the estate’s woodland acreage was donated to the state. The one constant, unbelievably, is that the historic treasure has been owned by the Coleman family since that time.
The Decision to Restore
Craig wanted Elizabeth Furnace to remain in the family as long as possible but was concerned about the estate becoming a financial burden to future generations. To preserve as much of the beautiful history as possible, he strongly felt the need for a business to support the property. That’s when the venue idea hit him. Secluded peacefully off a busy highway, Elizabeth Furnace would be perfect.
Craig weighed the pros and cons of restoration for two years. With the newest building on the property being over 200 years old, he felt unsure about how others would receive the idea of building on the historic site. As careful detail and planning began, Craig relaxed and began to feel genuine excitement. With care, he realized that it was possible to stay within the required historic landmark guidelines while, at the same time, creating a modern facility with top-of-the-line amenities.
Recommended to Craig by his civil engineers, Stable Hollow Construction started careful restoration of the stable. It mattered greatly that the team was excited and truly cared about this monumental project. Craig commented, “There was a lot of excavation work, and we decided that while they’re here, we may as well do it right. This project probably grew to be ten times larger than what I started out to do. Stable Hollow was willing to go to Maryland for supplies. They’re heirloom artisans, and somehow they source whatever you’re looking for.”
Stable Hollow had the privilege of working on 13 out of the 14 outstanding buildings on the premises, including the Coleman mansion, Stiegel house, tenant house (now the gentleman’s quarters for weddings), charcoal barn, stable, and the new pavilion (which includes the catering area, restrooms, and a bridal suite).
The project involved Stable Hollow's teams in more than post-and-beam barn restoration, such as the following:
- They researched historic replacement materials in order to honor building codes while respecting history.
- The masonry crew restored the wall surrounding the back gardens by chiseling out the mortar, removing and cleaning the stones, and re-mortaring a bowing section.
- They reset and re-mortared a flight of steps leading to the front door of the Coleman mansion.
- They limewashed the brick chimneys atop the Coleman mansion.
- They poured concrete piers to hang a gate across the driveway, then faced with stones found on the property.
- They faced and mortared new concrete stormwater culverts to blend into the historic property.
- Removing the original timber structured loft floor in stables and creating a clearspan timber truss to create a larger, more open space for the main hall
- Rebuilt the timber trusses in the charcoal barn using traditional materials to bring it up to code.
- Rebuilt the walkway through the ice house so people can experience being in an original ice house.
After 5 years of meticulous renovations, Elizabeth Furnace, a rare American landmark, is now open for private events for the first time in 250 years.
When asked how he intends to use the restored property in the future, Craig mentioned weddings, historical lectures, concerts, art exhibitions, and charitable purposes. He pointed out that people who rent the space aren’t just renting a building. They’re renting a campus and will have the place entirely to themselves. “It’s a hidden treasure,” Craig noted. “We brought in all the modern facilities but didn’t change the historic buildings to accommodate that.” He’s also hoping that they’ll have a good shot at local, regional, and national design and construction awards, especially with the uniqueness of the stable.
We don’t view ourselves as owners, but rather stewards of the property. It’s something that was impressed on us from an early age. We recognize its historical importance and what a crown jewel of architecture it is. And now we are excited to share it with others. - Craig Coleman, owner of Elizabeth Furnace
Are you looking for someone to restore a historic building on your property? Introduce yourself to a Stable Hollow team member today.
The Elizabeth Furnace Campus has been selected by The Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County as the 2021 recipient of the C. Emlen Urban Landmark Property Rehabilitation Award. The award recognizes a landmark historic project that "demonstrates a long-term commitment to conservation and building maintenance best practices to maintain historic significance."
Stable Hollow Construction is pleased to have been the general contractor for the historic restoration of the Elizabeth Furnace Campus.
We put a lot of time and effort into preserving this colonial jewel. We were instilled to appreciate it and to do whatever was in our power to preserve it. For that reason, you bring in the best people you can. You don’t cut any corners.