By Lou Bernard
If I were to sit down and make a list of the most important buildings in Lock Haven, historically and architecturally, it probably wouldn’t be too hard. You may have just pictured a few yourself, when I said that. You may not know their names, but you know how they look. The courthouse. The Simpson House on West Water Street. The James Jefferies House on East Bald Eagle.
And, of course, the Wilson Kistler House would have to make that list.
The Kistler House sits at the southwest corner of West Church and Third streets. If that doesn’t help you, it’s the huge one with the big round tower on the corner. Better? It’s known as a Queen Anne style, for those who are into that kind of fine architectural detail. It’s an eye-catching building; you’d notice it as you walked past. And you might guess that it had some history to it, and you’d be right.
Wilson Kistler was a businessman who came to Lock Haven in 1870 with the intent of operating a tannery. This was a pretty smart business move; Lock Haven was already known for its lumber, and tanneries use tree bark in their work. So Kistler had a ready supply of one material he needed.
Now, you’d think the Wilson Kistler House would have definitely been built by Wilson Kistler, but that’s not what the records show. It began as a much smaller structure owned by Patrick King, a local railroad employee. King added to the house and almost immediately began renting it to Kistler, making it the elaborate structure it is now.
Kistler didn’t even own the house until 1906, when he purchased it from King. Kistler had a family–Wife Henrietta, son Sedgewick, daughter-in-law Bertha, and his granddaughter, little Gertrude. For the record, Patrick King died in 1923, and is buried without a marker in Saint Mary’s Cemetery. Sedgewick and Bertha lived not too far away, at their home at 30 W Water Street, which was built in 1907. Because Sedgewick was heavily involved with the tannery business, though, he and his family spent quite a lot of time in the Kistler House, which is, to be fair, big enough to house several herds of elk comfortably.
Wilson Kistler was a fairly busy guy, and heavily involved in the community. He owned the Millbrook Playhouse before it was a playhouse, back when it was still a dairy farm. He was also the first board president of the Ross Library, which was right across from his home anyway. When the library opened for the first time on Thanksgiving Day of 1910, it was Wilson Kistler making a lot of the decisions.
Very likely little Gertrude was there for the opening, as well; at the time, the children’s library was in the Pennsylvania Room. (Don’t send me an email claiming you remember it being somewhere else; I’m talking about 1910 here, and if you’re claiming to remember a hundred and nine years ago, I’m gonna want to see proof.)
Wilson Kistler died in 1914; he has a beautiful mausoleum at the top of Highland Cemetery. His son Sedgewick inherited the house, and based on the city directories, seems to have lived there part-time while he was running his father’s business. Sedgewick’s daughter, Gertrude, spent time in the house until her sad death in July of 1920–she drowned at age 12 while on a family vacation.
The same year, Sedgewick sold the house to his mother, who continued to live there until her own death in 1929. At that point, Sedgewick inherited the house for the second time. He then sold it to local hardware store owner Hartford Grugan.
Sedgewick, Bertha, and Gertrude, by the way, are not buried with Wilson and Henrietta, and aren’t even buried in the county. They’re buried in St. Marys, up in Elk County, where Bertha grew up. When Gertrude died, she was buried beside her maternal grandparents, and later, her parents chose to be buried with her.
The house isn’t even close to the oldest in Lock Haven. But it is an important one — A fascinating portion of Lock Haven’s history, connected to a good family who loved the city.
Lou Bernard is a Lock Haven resident with a keen interest in the history of this area. He is adult services coordinator at Ross Library and may be reached at email@example.com or 570-660-4463.