Local> History

A Short Introduction to the Long, Rich History of Lancaster

Wheatland Photo by Julie Liz Photography

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Lancaster has often been referred to as the “oldest inland city in the U.S.,” and the surrounding county itself was formed in 1729, so there is more than enough to discover for the history buff! LancasterHistory provides much of the overview on the following pages, but to dig into more fascinating detail of days gone by in this area, visit their Lancaster Campus of History. There, you can take a guided tour of President James Buchanan’s Wheatland, view the various museum exhibitions, search for a Lancaster County connection in the Research Center, or shop at The Museum Store. www.lancasterhistory.org

BL-_Wheatland_front-JulieLizPhotography-27.jpg- Built in 1828 by an unknown architect, Wheatland was purchased by James Buchanan, the 15th President of the United States, in 1848. Other than a few overseas appointments and his time in the White House, Buchanan lived at Wheatland until his death on June 1, 1868. His niece, Harriet Lane, sold the property to George Willson in 1884. After the Willson family’s tenure, Wheatland was bought by the Junior League of Lancaster in 1936 and has since been maintained as a historic landmark.

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Lancaster-  When Lancaster County was established on May 10, 1729, a county seat was also created. Though some officials were hoping for Columbia to fill that need, a little hamlet named Hickory Town was chosen instead. Centrally located, Hickory Town was later renamed Lancaster in honor of Lancaster, England – the home of early settlers, the Wright family. James Hamilton laid out lots, including a jail, a courthouse, and what’s now Lancaster Central Market. By 1742, Lancaster was incorporated as a borough, and on September 27, 1777, even served as our nation’s capital for a day as the Continental Congress fled west from Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War. In 1818, Lancaster became a full-fledged city and has continued to grow ever since.

D070322.jpg-The cornerstone for Lancaster’s Griest Building – the city’s first skyscraper – was laid in 1924. Completed in 1925 and towering 14 stories over Penn Square, the building was designed by noted architect C. Emlen Urban and named for William Walton Griest, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1909 to 1929.

2030853.jpg- The Fulton Opera House began life as the Fulton Theater. Built in 1852 on the former site of the county jail, the Grand Old Lady of Prince Street has had an illustrious career. Entertainment of all sorts – from boxing matches to burlesque shows – has graced her stage. Though she fell into disrepair by the 1950s, she was soon renovated and resurrected to her former glory and is now the place to see great local theater as well as top-notch traveling productions.

The Strasburg Railroad’s No. 1223 stands still at West King and Water Streets in Lancaster City during the 1965 “Santa Claus Special” excursion. Built in 1905, No. 1223 pulled passenger trains along the Pennsylvania Railroad for many years before retiring from active service in 1950 and into special event service from 1965-1989. It may be a surprise to learn that a train operated in downtown Lancaster. The stream that flowed at Water Street was paved over in the 1870s to make way for the Lancaster-to-Quarryville branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The line provided valuable service to local businesses and entertainment venues, like the Fulton Opera House. The line went out of service in 1972 after sustaining heavy damage from Hurricane Agnes.

WS010120.jpg- The Watt & Shand Department Store in Lancaster first opened its doors in 1879. The success of the store enabled Watt & Shand to expand, encompassing the entire corner lot on South Queen and East King streets. The building is most notable for its Beaux Arts architectural style, designed by Lancaster architect C. Emlen Urban. Although the store closed in 1995 and the interior of the building was demolished in the early 2000s, the façade of the building was preserved, and incorporated into the design and construction of the Lancaster Marriott Hotel and the Lancaster County Convention Center.

Fresh, local produce and goods were just as important to Lancastrians 100 years ago as they are to Lancastrians today. Markets even extended beyond physical buildings and lined the main streets of Lancaster in the form of curbside markets. In this turn-of-the-century photograph, merchants line up on East King Street in front of the County Courthouse in downtown Lancaster City to sell their wares out of the back of their buggies.

D030291.jpg- Situated at the corner of North Duke and East Orange streets in Lancaster, St. James Episcopal Church was founded in 1744 and is the city’s oldest Episcopal Church. Revolutionary War General Edward Hand and George Ross, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, were early members. St. James is also the only church in the city to have an intact cemetery.

Southern_Market_1950s_A090208.jpg- Lancaster’s Southern Market opened in 1888 in a building designed by noted local architect, C. Emlen Urban. The Market continued to be a shopping destination for Lancastrians for nearly 100 years before it closed in 1986. In 1987, with the help of adaptive reuse, the building became the home of Lancaster City Council Chambers until 2019. In 2022, the market returned to its roots, becoming a food hub with new vendors and a bar, as well as leased office space on the upper floors.

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1080599.jpg- Petroglyphs are not just found in the desert southwest part of our country. Here in Lancaster County, carvings made by the Susquehannocks or other Algonquin-speaking native tribes can be found on many islands in the Susquehanna River. Little Indian Rock and Big Indian Rock are two examples of existing petroglyphs, while carvings removed from islands submerged by the construction of Safe Harbor Dam are found among the collections of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Park_City_Mall_1970_969008.jpg- The Park City Mall, or Park City Center as it’s now called, opened in 1970. Its location near the convergence of Routes 283 and 30 made it an easy destination for many local shoppers. The Mall boasted four department stores, including locally owned Watt & Shand. In addition to shopping, it originally included a movie theater, arcade, and an ice skating rink that later became a roller skating rink, making it a local teenage hot spot.

Fishing_on_the_Conestoga_River_1160360.jpeg- A gentleman fishes with a net at Nolt’s Point Mill near the confluence of Lititz Run and the Conestoga River, c. 1890. The stone arch bridge seen in the background still exists, though only for foot traffic. The bridge predates the nearby Pinetown Covered Bridge, the first of which was built in 1867.

StonerHouse1.jpeg- The Historic Stoner House, located in the Overlook Community Park, was built in 1750 and, following ten years of renovations, is now the home for the Manheim Township Historical Society, an educational museum and repository of Manheim Township's historical artifacts.
Town Snapshots

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Lititz- Lititz was founded in 1756 by members of the Moravian Church under the auspices of Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf. The town was named “Litiz” after a castle in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic). After receiving its second “t” in 1880 courtesy of the US Postal Service, Lititz was incorporated as a borough in 1888. The town is home to Linden Hall School, founded in 1746, which is the oldest private girls’ school in the country. Lititz has also been home to many notable industries over the years including The Lititz Animal Trap Company (now Woodstream), the Wilbur Chocolate Company, and, currently, Rock Lititz. www.lititzhistoricalfoundation.com

General_Sutter_Hotel_920049.jpg- In Lititz where Main Street meets Broad Street sits an inn that began life as the Zum Anker Inn (or the Sign of the Anchor) in 1764. The Inn later became the Lititz Springs Hotel, and in 1930, was renamed the General Sutter Inn after General John Augustus Sutter who arrived in Lititz from Sacramento, California in 1871. In 2020, the Inn was renamed the Lititz Springs Inn & Spa and now includes the Bull’s Head Public House.

Lititz_Springs_Park_920056.jpg- Lititz Springs Park has served the community’s recreational needs for over 250 years. The shady spring and surrounding green space have been the site of many picnics, reunions, festivals, and fairs over the years, but it’s most famous for the town’s Fourth of July celebrations dating back to 1818.

1120229.jpg- The Lititz Moravian Church was established in 1749 as the “Warwick Country Congregation” with its members building homes on land leased from the church. Homes for single sisters and brothers were built in 1759. The Brothers House was used as a hospital for soldiers wounded in the Revolutionary War. The Sisters House eventually became part of the campus of the Linden Hall School for girls. The town of Lititz grew from this congregation.


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Manheim-  Located on the border of Penn and Rapho Townships, the borough of Manheim got its start in 1762 when Baron William Henry Stiegel took over nearby Elizabeth Furnace and began a glass-making industry. The town was incorporated as a borough in 1838 and has been the home to several well-known industries including the Keystone Pecan Company and, more recently, Kreider Farms.
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East Petersburg-  Incorporated as a borough in 1946, but founded c. 1800 by Daniel Wolfe, the town was originally known as “Heckel Stettle.” In 1812, Wolfe sold off lots that would become the town and renamed it Petersburg in honor of the original land owner, Peter Gotschall. The “East” was added later to the town’s name by the US Postal System to differentiate it from the already existing Petersburg in Huntingdon County, PA. Daniel Wolfe relocated to Ohio, but his home still stands at the corner of State and Lemon Streets. It was an inn or tavern (Wolfe’s Tavern) for many years, and later the Captain Lawrence Hotel. Since 1976, it’s been the home of the town’s historical society.
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Millersville- Alternately known as both Millersburg and Millerstown during its early years, the town was founded by John Miller in 1761. By 1855, when the first Pennsylvania Normal School was founded, it was officially known as Millersville. Today, this school is known as Millersville University. The town, located in Manor Township, was incorporated as a borough in 1932.
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