Name: The Mayer Farmstead

Address: 1580 Fruitville Pike, Manheim Township

Built: 1867

The Mayer Farmstead is a proud but abandoned hamlet of nineteenth-century barns and outbuildings anchored by a forlorn Italianate mansionette along Fruitville Pike.  Surrounded by industrial parks, shopping centers, and freeway on-ramps, this architectural apparition stands like a mothballed diorama of slow demise and obsolete grandeur.

Its hard to imagine anything but impending doom for the site, even if our lame economy has just emptied a few of the big boxes at the Red Rose Commons shopping center next door.  While new retail construction here seems redundant at best, it also seems inevitable.  The site, which includes some of the last actively farmed land in the city’s oldest and closest ring of suburban development, recently sold to a commercial developer with unknown but predictable intentions.

Not that exploiting this land for profit is anything new, of course.  The site’s patriarch, David M. Mayer, was a catch-as-catch-can entrepreneur who had stakes in farming, lumber, and mining, and who established a lime quarry and kiln on the property around the same time his house was built.  Both are featured views in Everts & Stewart’s 1875 New Historical Atlas of Lancaster County, illustrating a fascinating juxtaposition of nineteenth-century tastes and norms.  That an ostentatiously  genteel, lavishly landscaped estate would stand directly across from a smoke-belching pit mine, and indeed, that both would be proud trophies, posed no contradiction to the captains of nineteenth-century industry.  That Mayer’s teenage daughter Lyda (perhaps the young child in the tree swing?) died of consumption in 1888, reportedly in the cupola atop the house, is a cynical parallel drawn purely in hindsight.