Lancaster is widely known to be rich with history, Amish culture and tourist traffic, but are you familiar with these amazing facts about this colonial city and its namesake county?
Lancaster County was carved out of Chester County in 1729 after citizens of that more easterly area complained of “thieves, vagabonds and ill people” that had infiltrated the western frontier. There’s no word on whether the good people of Chester County still feel the same way today.
Many Lancastrians played important roles in the founding of our country, whether on the battlefield, behind the scenes or in the legislature. For example, George Ross, signer of the Declaration of Independence and resident of East King Street, introduced his niece Betsy to George Washington, who hired her needle-working skills to fashion the nation’s first flag.
Andrew Ellicott, a prominent surveyor who was a mentor to Captain Merriwether Lewis (of Lewis & Clark Expedition fame) lived on North Prince Street in a home still standing, just north of the parking garage.
On September 27, 1777, Lancaster served as the nation’s capital as the Continental Congress gathered in the courthouse for a hurried session. Because Lancaster was also home to the State of Pennsylvania’s government, it was decided that Congress should move across the Susquehanna to York, separating the two bodies in the event of further British encroachment while also ridding the town of excess politicians.
Revolutionary War turncoat Benedict Arnold was married to the granddaughter of Lancaster resident Edward Shippen III, a wealthy merchant, former mayor of Philadelphia, judge and founder of the town of Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. Presumably, the dastardly Mr Arnold was removed from his grandfather-in-law’s Christmas card list. Edward Shippen and much of his family are buried in the St. James Episcopal graveyard on East Orange Street.
Penn Square, at the intersection of King and Queen Streets, is home to the solemn Soldiers & Sailors Monument, a memorial to the Lancastrians who fought to save the Union during the Civil War. This site was originally occupied by the County Courthouse, a prominent vista overlooking a young and thriving market town.
From the 1890s through the 1920s, Lancaster architect C. Emlen Urban designed buildings throughout the city in his trademark Beaux-Arts, Queen Anne and Colonial Revival combination of styles. Examples of his work include the Griest Building, Southern Market, the Watt & Shand Department Store (now the Convention Center façade), and Roslyn, the private residence of James Watt. Many of the city’s school buildings also sprang from Mr. Urban’s drafting table.
Lancaster’s streets follow olden-times fashion by being named after royalty: King, Queen, Duke, Prince and Orange (named for William IV, Prince of Orange); native trees: Walnut, Chestnut, Mulberry and Pine; tasty fruits: Lemon, Cherry, Lime, Plum and Strawberry; and local big-wigs: Shippen, Buchanan, Fulton and Reynolds.
President James Buchanan and political rival Congressman Thaddeus Stevens were adversaries on Capitol Hill but found sanctuary in the...uh, sanctuary at First Presbyterian Church on Orange Street, where they were both members.
Lancaster’s first train station, built in 1834, could be found at the northeast corner of Queen and Chestnut Streets where the Federal Taphouse and a parking garage now stand. Trains would enter the city at Harrisburg Ave. and Charlotte Street, traveling through today’s Linear Park. Hotels, saloons and market wagons greeted disembarking passengers.
In addition to the Amish and Mennonite settlers of the 18th and 19th centuries, immigrants of other backgrounds and religious persuasions also populated Lancaster County in its earlier days, starting with French Huguenots in the Paradise area, Scots-Irish Protestants in the south and west and Germans of all faiths throughout the region, notably those who created the Ephrata Cloister religious community.
sources: lancaster history.org; visithistoriclancaster.com; whitehouse.gov