It seems to be an axiom of geography that settlements arise along rivers and heavy trade routes. One has only to consider the city-states of ancient Mesopotamia, or Rome, Paris, or London. In many ways Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century was similar more to an ancient or medieval land than to anything of the twentieth century.
This author's interest in the cityscape of Mechanicsburg was aroused several years ago during a bit of genealogical research. A letter written by Mollie Schafhirt in 1893 describes as "Tower Hill" the section of Mechanicsburg to which she had come as a bride. The house, on East Coover Street, still displays a tower. Nearby are five other houses with towers, all sitting on a hill at Coover and Market Streets.
Subsequent prowling of the borough revealed fifteen more tower homes of interest and dozens of others with "almost" towers. There emerged a book, Tower Homes of Mechanicsburg. Later appeared a companion volume, More Homes of Mechanicsburg, which handles the many homes without towers and speaks of the many families, more inter-related, who live or lived in those houses.
The author's favorite photograph, c. 1885, shows four tower homes at the corner of Coover and Market Streets. (see p. ). All are still standing with minor changes. Something need be said about the third house from the left, 401 South Market Street, in the foreground.
It typifies a style popular in Mechanicsburg in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. The tall square tower shows the influence of the "Italian Villa" look which was favored during the late Victorian era. Here in town it is adapted in a solid, conservative Cumberland County way: wide, comfortable porches, two story bay window projections and balconies. The cornices were ornamental with carved and paired roof supports. The front doors are double and beautifully ornate and open into a vestibule formed by the first story of the tower.
The property on which the four homes were built was part of the Coover Estate. It was purchased in 1869 by "Squire " Jacob L. Heyd and his wife Catherine Coover Heyd not long before their removal to Heyd (19th) and Market Streets, Camp Hill. This particular corner was considered of prime importance to the Coovers, as they hoped for many years that Coover and Market would become the ''Town Square". About ten years later this hope was abandoned, for Heyd had this Victorian home built and in 1882 sold it to Frederick K. Ployer who was a cashier at the Second National Bank. F. K. and Sarah Rebecca Ployer immediately sold off the lot at 405 South Market Street and the lots at the rear of their property; three more towers were built.
When Player died in 1920 the property was inherited by his second wife, Hanna (Bucher) Player. In 1921 she sold the house to Reuben and Annie M. Cockley. When Reuben died in 1924, Annie bought out the shares in the house left to her children and continued to live here with one daughter, Susie Cockley, who was a registered nurse. Susie was operating a "Laying-in" house that took confinement cases. Many Mechanicsburg residents were born here over a period of fifteen years.
Both the author and her brother first saw the light of clay in Susie Cockley's "hospital." This house seemed to a child to be a sort of "baby factory." While passing this corner it always seemed that Susie Cockley would rush out in her long white apron and give mother another baby!
In 1936 the house was sold to Emily M. Land is, who ran an active jelly-making business with the help of her husband. It was during the height of this business that additions were made to the south and east sides of the house. War rationing of sugar made it difficult to continue the business. Emily Landis died in 1949. In 1957 the house was sold by the heirs to Floyd L. and Jean (Jones) Hartung. The house became the property of Jean Hartung in 1975 and is now the property of Larry H. and Jean (Hartung) Artz.