Walking Through Lancaster's History


Lancaster’s rich history and diverse architectural styles are a virtual feast for the eyes.  Have you experienced them lately?  Now that the weather is turning, we are all looking forward to spending more time outside.  These walking tours from the City of Lancaster’s website are the perfect way to do so.


A Walk Around Downtown Lancaster
(covering three centuries in four blocks)

Lancaster City is an architectural gem. Stroll down any street, in any direction, and you will encounter remarkable, and remarkably intact, historic buildings. Throughout the City, history comes alive through an intermingling of different architectural styles and periods. Each building has its own distinctive characteristics, which together form a varied and colorful mosaic.

The following walk takes in four blocks near Lancaster’s Penn Square, which will transport tour participants through three centuries of Lancaster’s civic, commercial, religious, social and architectural history. Despite that dizzying time travel, this leisurely walk can be accomplished in less than an hour. (You may want to spend much longer than an hour, however. Every street contains many delightful and charming details, so it’s a good idea to stop often to look up at rooflines, look down at cellar windows, and peek through alleyways in order to fully appreciate the quirks and beauty of the architecture.)

[Sites on this tour that are open to the public have been noted. Otherwise, the buildings are private residences or offices and should be respected as such, but the exteriors can be viewed and admired.]

To guide your walk, download a Tour Map and a Listing of Historic Buildingsfeatured on this tour.

Penn Square
Penn Square is Lancaster’s geographic, commercial and civic hub. From the 1730s until 1853, two different courthouses stood in the center of the square. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument is erected there now, built of granite in 1874 to honor those who fought in the Civil War.

This walking tour begins at the northwest corner of Penn Square, where there are three centuries of history present: an old city hall dating from the eighteenth-century, a nineteenth-century markethouse, and an early twentieth-century skyscraper.

South Queen Street
One block south of Penn Square, along South Queen Street, tour goers will come across buildings with connections to the American Revolution and the abolition of slavery as they view a Georgian townhouse, a Federal mansion, and a complex of buildings linked to the Underground Railroad.

Old Town
The tour continues east along East Vine Street, within an area known as Old Town, one of the City’s earliest areas of development during Colonial times. This neighborhood contains houses dating from the 1700s through the 1900s. In the 1970s, much of this area was slated for “urban renewal,” which would have meant the demolition and loss of these irreplaceable historic resources. Instead, the houses were rehabilitated in one of Lancaster’s earliest historic preservation efforts. Tour highlights in this neighborhood include a converted stone stable, the former home of Lancaster’s premier portrait painter, and a dignified Classical Revival mansion.

East Orange Street
This section of East Orange Street is part of the City’s original Historic District, established in 1967. Along this tree-lined street, tour goers will pass an Italianate villa and a church cemetery established in 1744.

North Queen Street
Downtown Lancaster has been a commercial center for 275 years, and North Queen Street has long been an important retail area. The colonial city owed its early prosperity to its strategic position at a transportation crossroads. Lancaster’s role as a retail center grew rapidly with the Industrial Revolution, which produced more plentiful and cheaper goods and a growing urban population to consume them. Turn-of-the-century technology introduced new building materials and construction methods, and Lancaster’s storefronts exhibited the latest architectural styles.

The tour concludes at the original starting point at Penn Square. There are numerous shops, museums, art galleries, and restaurants along West King, West Grant, North Queen and North Prince Streets. Central Market is open each Tuesday and Friday from 6:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m, and on Saturday from 6:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.

For information about downtown attractions and businesses, visit: “Lancaster City’s On-Line Guide” at www.lancasterpa.net

“Discover Downtown Lancaster” at www.downtownlancaster.com.