The William A. Wolf Institute of Pianoforte and Organ Playing

On February 3, 1899, a new piano teacher hung his shingle at 214 North Mulberry Street in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The teacher was Dr. William A. Wolf, and the date was the 90th anniversary of the birthday of German composer, Felix Mendelssohn. On this day, Dr. Wolf and his wife Lottie opened what would become the premier music studio in the county. Students would travel long distances by trolley to receive their lessons at the Wolf studio.

In 1913, Dr. and Mrs. Wolf purchased the Jonas Martin mansion at 423 West Chestnut Street. Jonas Martin was a successful Lancaster businessman who commissioned C. Emlen Urban to design a home for him in 1886. This historic house became the William A. Wolf Institute of Pianoforte and Organ Playing. Two years later, he commissioned the construction of two Knabe concert grand pianos and had them installed at the institute.

In January 1918, the Wolf Institute sponsored a benefit concert for the Red Cross at the Lancaster Y. M. C. A. Frances Harkness and Earle W. Echternacht delighted the audience at the benefit concert. Earle Echternacht went on to become the organist at Trinity Lutheran Church where Mrs. Lottie Wolf was a member.

Front view of the studio.

In June of that year, tragedy struck as Mrs. Wolf died unexpectedly as she was recovering from surgery. The surgery was successful, and the doctors expected her to recover but she had a sudden relapse and died from the complications of the surgery. She was forty-five. The family held her funeral services in the Chestnut Street house.

On August 14th of 1919, Dr. Wolf and Frances Harkness were married in a private ceremony at the Lutheran Church of the Covenant in Philadelphia. By the 1920s, Dr. and Mrs. Wolf had achieved worldwide recognition for the Institute’s teaching program. An article in the Town and Country Review in London in the 1930s noted that the Institute “established high standards and maintained them so that aside from its artistic and cultural advantages it has stressed the practical value of the art of teaching music as a means of earning a livelihood.”

Dr. Wolf died in 1965 at the age of 89. Mrs. Wolf continued to operate the institute until her death in 1973. In her will, she established their home and music studio as a public charity known as the Wolf Museum of Music and Art. She specified that the Museum was to host small house concerts and serve tea afterwards. The Museum was run by a board of trustees. The museum was open to the public for various events and was a stop on the annual Lancaster Holly Trail.

Dr. William A. Wolf

Dr. William A. Wolf

Frances H. Wolf

The Studio

Studio External Frontview