With October 2019’s grand opening celebration of The GateHouse at Riverview Tower firmly in the rear-view mirror, questions still remain about the Riverview Tower estate and its history. Here are the most frequently asked questions we hear about the property and the answers we’ve been able to uncover.
When was the home built?
Construction of Riverview Tower began in 1873 and was completed in 1876—the year of the U.S. Centennial.
Who built it and why?
The limestone mansion was built by lawyer and industrialist Henry Miller Watts as a wedding gift for his son, Ethelbert.
Who was Henry Miller Watts?
Henry, whose grandfathers both served as Revolutionary War generals, was a founding member of the Union League of Philadelphia, which was established to support the Union and the policies of President Abraham Lincoln. After graduating from Dickinson University in 1824, Henry began a career in law, before moving up the ranks of the U.S. government and ultimately serving as the U.S. Ambassador to the Austrian Empire in 1868.
After being recalled from duty by President Harrison in 1869, Henry returned home to Pennsylvania, where he pursued pre-existing business interests in iron and coal. He found his way to Marietta, PA through his company, Henry M. Watts & Sons, which had previously taken ownership of two Marietta iron furnaces bordering the Susquehanna River in 1867.
The mansion is so unusual! What influenced its design?
Throughout his lifetime, Henry traveled extensively with his wife and nine children, living in different areas of Pennsylvania as well as in France and Germany. It was Henry’s time in Austria that most influenced the design of Riverview Tower.
From the ornate Mansard roof tower and Italianate design all the way down to the decorative medallions that adorn the ceilings, Riverview Tower blends the best of Italian, French, and Victorian architecture. Measuring more than 9,000 square feet in total, the mansion features 15 rooms and a three-story tower with panoramic views of surrounding mountains that can be seen through stunning glass walls.
Whatever happened to Ethelbert?
Ethelbert and his wife, Emily, took possession of the mansion five years after they were married in 1871 and lived there with their four children. Emily died in 1885, and when Ethelbert remarried 10 years later, the estate was sold to Colonel James Duffey, the son of a local industrialist. A veteran of the Civil War, Ethelbert entered foreign service in 1896, a year after moving out of the mansion. He would go on to serve as a United States diplomat for over twenty-four years, playing important roles in the Spanish American War, Russo-Japanese War, and World War I.
What happened to the mansion after that?
Riverview remained with the Duffey family until the 1940s, when Dr. William S. Simons, a local dentist, and his wife, Catherine, took ownership of the property. After they passed away, Catherine’s sisters lived in the mansion from the 1960s to the early 1970s. In 1974, the house was sold to Andrew Staubach, a York County resident who never actually lived in the home. Over time, the vacant, once-glorious mansion deteriorated. Fortunately, Riverview Tower was restored to its original grandeur when Joyce and Donald Hershey purchased the property in 1981.
Who were the Hersheys? Were they related to the chocolate family?
To the best of our knowledge, Joyce and Donald Hershey were not related to the heirs of the Hershey chocolate fortune. Don founded Hershey Equipment Company in 1968 and served as the president of the Lancaster Farmland Trust for a period of time. Joyce and Don were very committed to their faith, and Don served on the board of directors for a number of faith-based organizations including: Lives Changed By Christ Church in Manheim, Word of Life Church in Schroon Lake, N.Y., and the Old Time Gospel Hour Ministries in Lynchburg, VA.
Lives Changed By Christ? You mean LCBC here in Lancaster? What was their role with them?
Good question! Don and Joyce were among the original founders of LCBC church! In fact, they converted the garage of Riverview Tower into the very first venue for the church!
What improvements did Don and Joyce make to the mansion?
The Hersheys kept many original features during the rigorous remodeling process, including carved wooden doorknobs, gas chandeliers, copper and silver doorknob plates, wooden shutters, and oak and walnut patterned floors. The limestone exterior required re-pointing and the roof was re-slated under Joyce and Donald’s supervision.
The Hersheys also transformed dirt floors into luxurious amenities such as a second kitchen, a game room, a fitness room with a sauna, and a canning cellar.
The first floor, with magnificent 12-foot ceilings, includes a front hall, six fireplaces, a butler’s pantry, and a parlor. The library includes a macabre holdover from the Victorian era—a coffin door that was used to remove people who died in the house. The third floor features a ballroom and a sitting room with a stairway leading to the tower. Once the Hersheys bought Riverview, locals often referred to it as “the old Hershey Mansion.”
When did The GateHouse purchase the property?
The GateHouse purchased the estate in March of 2018, after receiving a grant from the Capitol Area Behavioral Health Collaboration issued in 2017. The inside of Riverview Tower has undergone a number of renovations to accommodate its incoming residents.
The changes will not, however, adversely impact the spirit of the Victorian era the estate represents. The GateHouse recognizes the historical significance of the property, and is committed to preserving its many notable features, including its limestone façade with the daisy motif as well as its arched windows, slate rooftops, and tranquil gardens.
What’s planned for Riverview Tower?
When The GateHouse at Riverview Tower officially opens its doors later this year, it will serve as the new home for women in recovery who are working to rebuild their lives.
More info about the residence:
A blend of Italianate and Victorian styles, the stone home was completed in 1876 under the direction of Henry Miller Watts, an ironmaster in Marietta during the iron boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Watts also served as Pennsylvania deputy attorney general, state representative, U.S. attorney and ambassador to Austria.
Watts built the home as a wedding gift for his son, Ethelbert, and modeled it after a castle he admired in Austria. The tower features panoramic views of the Susquehanna River and its surrounding mountains through stunning glass walls.
- 4 acres
- 3-story tower
- 15 rooms
- 6 large bedrooms
- More than 9,000 total square feet
- 2 bathhouses (added in 1985 and 2003)
The Grand Opening of The GateHouse at Riverview Tower
The GateHouse celebrated its grand opening of The GateHouse at Riverview Tower on Oct. 24, 2019. Attendees heard from a variety of inspirational speakers and had the opportunity to explore the grounds of the estate. Special thanks to Legacy donor Bob Wummer for his generous and unwavering support and to our Platinum Sponsor C&J Catering, who provided a delicious smorgasbord of delectable food. Thanks also to our Gold, Silver, and Bronze sponsors, as well. We couldn’t have done this without your help!