Cassius Emlen Urban was born in Conestoga Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. After graduating from Lancaster’s Boys High School, he apprenticed as a draftsman at a Scranton architectural firm before returning to Lancaster in 1886. That was the same year Milton Hershey also returned to establish the Lancaster Caramel Company. Like Milton Hershey, Urban’s career quickly took off as he received commissions to design what became many of Lancaster’s signature buildings: Southern Market on Queen Street (1886); Watt and Shand Department Store (1898); and St. James Lutheran Church parish House on Duke Street (1903).
While Urban and Hershey must have been aware of each other due to their close ages and similar status as members of Lancaster’s most notable young business owners, they also met socially through the Hamilton Club, a private men’s club, established in 1889 by some of Lancaster’s most prominent business and political leaders. Milton Hershey was invited to join in 1893, a sure sign of his growing prominence in the Lancaster business and social circles. Through the Hamilton Club, Milton Hershey established and nurtured relationships that became invaluable when he began making plans for his new chocolate factory and the model community that would surround it.
C. Emlen Urban played a significant role shaping the look of the Hershey community. Urban was responsible for the design of all of the new town’s major buildings constructed between 1903 and 1926:
List of buildings designed by C. Emlen Urban in Hershey:
1903 Original Hershey Chocolate Company Offices and factory
1905 Cocoa House (1 Chocolate Avenue)
1908 High Point
1910 McKinley Building 1910 expansion
1914 M.S. Hershey Consolidated Building
1914 Hershey Trust Company (1 W. Chocolate Avenue)
1915* Community Building and Hershey Theatre (14 E. Chocolate Avenue)
1915 Convention Hall (former Hershey Museum building)
1916 Press Building
1909-1916 Mansions along Chocolate Avenue
*Urban was also responsible for the design of the Community Building and Theatre, even though the structure was not completed until 1932. The designs and the intent to construct it was announced in the Hershey Press newspaper in 1915. The United States' entry into World War I delayed the start of construction. Later, a variety of financial and business related obstacles delayed the start of construction until 1928.