The Lady Linden in a split photo with a 19th- century view mixed with a 2014 photo. (York Daily Record photo)
Lady Linden stands as grand inspiration and symbol of renewal for York County residents
One changing, small space in northwest York gives a particularly telling, big picture of York County.
The address today is 505 Linden Ave., and the story begins with the building of a large Queen Anne-style house in a new lot in 1887. That’s the year York became a city, and the Industrial Revolution was gathering steam in the city’s factories made of newly kilned bricks.
In 1879, Nevin Hench, owner of the lot, and partner Walker A. Drumgold had moved to York from Perry County in 1879. For the next four decades, ending in 1919, the company designed and made sawmills, corn shellers, harrows and other agricultural implements.
At one point, Hench and Drumgold introduced a side business, making tractor seat chairs. Those chairs, indeed, looked like tractor seats mounted on four legs. That’s York County ingenuity and pragmatism at its best: If they were comfortable enough and had enough give for the behinds of farmers, why wouldn’t they work in the home?
Anyway, Hench and Dromgold put down roots in an area becoming known as The Avenues, a 52-acre neighborhood developed by Civil War officer William H. Lanius starting in 1882.
The Avenues quickly became a desirable place to live, near S. Morgan Smith and York Manufacturing Co. and other mighty employers.
Over time, its residents included York Manufacturing’s Thomas Shipley and four-star Gen. Jacob Loucks Devers. The pioneering Latino physician Edwin A. Rivera began his long years of medical practice there in the early 1960s.
The Avenues became an incubator for county institutions: the Out Door Country Club and West Side Hospital, forerunner of UPMC Memorial.
Hench was an early resident of The Avenues, putting up the large Queen Anne at today’s 505 address, and his partner constructed a nearly identical home next door.
The homes in some ways served as model homes, dwellings to look up to, literally, and aspire to live in. In fact, Linden Avenue became that type of street.
This was the day that industrialists lived close to their factories, though many would construct summer homes in the countryside.
Hench and Drumgold could walk to their factory, bounded by North Hartley Street to the east, the railroad tracks to the south and Park Street to the north.
Of course, their 200 employees could not all live in The Avenues – even with its growth – and walk to work.
In 1886, a year before Hench’s and Drumgold’s homes went up, trolley or street railway service went in to move workers between factory and home.
In fact, the lines reaching Linden Avenue were among the earliest, and The Avenues became an important point for the horse-drawn system before and after its electrification, in 1892.
A wooden car house and stable were erected on nearby Hartley Street, at Pennsylvania Avenue, and later the trolley system’s Maryland Avenue barn and yard would go in.
The Avenues, indeed, was a bustling place, and the Hench and Drumgold houses represented the best that the neighborhood offered.
Hench home becomes vacant
Hench and Drumgold Co. survived World War I but could not reach the Roaring ’20s.
Perhaps it was competition from the larger A.B. Farquhar Co. Even then, size and scale were becoming important in industry. Farquhar would be acquired by the larger Oliver Corp. in the early 1950s.
After Hench and Drumgold closed, their factory was taken over by York Manufacturing – later York Corp. and Borg-Warner – and eventually demolished in 1978.
The partnership, which had ranked No. 12 in the county in employment 1899, became yet another factory that did not survive its enterprising owners.
But the names of Hench and Drumgold remain in the minds of some county residents today. Particularly’s Hench’s.
Others lived in his mansion for decades. Until they didn’t.
Hench home becomes Lady Linden
Beginning in 2006, the vacant Hench mansion was resurrected to its Victorian-era grandeur.
Long-time York County residents Jim and Jean Leaman acquired the house along with the biggest enemy of a historic structure: a badly leaking roof. And one of the first jobs was to clean a nest of opossums from the attic.
The Leamans invested heavily in the home, again making it a model home and a beacon to others of what you could do with an old Victorian.
The Leamans opened a bed-and-breakfast, with a goal of introducing their guests to the city. They worked to keep people – their guests – from merely passing through the county on Route 30 and to really connect to the city.
All this accomplished, the Leamans decided some months ago to travel, and the challenge went out to find a new buyer, the right buyer.
This happened early in April 2019, when Laura Heydt and Lukasz Szyrner purchased the home.
And the quality of the grand restoration caught the eye of nationally known restorationist Scott T. Hanson, who was compiling a how-to book of what’s possible in preserving an old house.
That book came out this year, with the Lady Linden its star. The Hench home stood tall on the colorful cover of “Restoring Your Historic House.”
Hanson was in York in December for a book signing in the Lady Linden and to present about the art of home restoration.
In that presentation at the York County History Center, Hanson gave the Lady prominent play, calling the Leaman’s work a “heroic rescue of this house.”
“It’s a wonderful example of everything the book talks about,” he said.
For York, the story of the Lady Linden, built at a time of its greatest growth, offers hope of a brighter future.
The Lady Linden’s story of greatness, decline and renewal to become the best example of restoration in a national publication should serve as inspiration to the city and county.
As it did in 1887.
“For the drama of before and after,” Hanson said in his presentation, ” … this one is right up there.”