Many travelers associate Lancaster, Pennsylvania with the Amish and Mennonite communities so when our veteran city tour guide very kindly reminded us that the city was more than just the Amish farmlands, I was intrigued. My knowledge about the town was sparingly limited apart from the fact that the local food was guaranteed to be very good. As it turned out, there was plenty of history in Lancaster and my friend and I walked away with a greater appreciation of the city than we had before we came in. Just in case you’re wondering, here are some of the must see attractions in Lancaster PA.
Must See Attractions in Lancaster PA
One of the must see attractions in Lancaster PA is the Central Market. Three days a week, the town gathers at Central Market to buy meat, poultry, fresh fruits and produce. It’s also where locals catch up with their friends and on occasion, eat. This is the oldest continuous operating farmer’s market in America and a beloved spot by both tourists and locals. The products for sale are almost exclusively brought in from the nearby Amish farmlands guaranteeing that everything you get only contains natural ingredients. Central Market also has some prepared food from wholesome sandwiches to ethnic food. Make sure you take a peek and get to know one of the friendly local proprietors.
Old City Hall
Located on the southwest corner of Queen and King Streets in historic Lancaster, Pennsylvania is the Old City Hall. The circa 1795 brick Georgian-style building once housed the Commonwealth offices when Lancaster served as the capital of the state and country (though only for a day.) Within its walls also stood a post office and a library. The building has been added to the National Register of Historic Places since 1972. Today, it serves as the city’s Visitor Center, a perfect place to find out about events happening, places to stay, and/or places to eat around town. My suggestion is to take the historic Lancaster walking tour ($8 per person), which begins here and check out the lobby where you can find a small exhibit that provides brief histories of the city’s prominent residents including Thaddeus Stevens and William Montgomery.
The city of Lancaster is known for its cultural arts scene and the Fulton Theatre is at the center of it all. This Victorian-designed building has been beautifully restored and now plays host to a number of live musical theatre performances throughout the year. The Fulton, as it is commonly referred to as, also offers theatre tours every Friday during the summer months where you can learn about its colorful, and sometimes dark history. Legend says that the theatre was built atop a Native American burial ground and that the older, back portion of the structure that was once part of the city jail was the scene of a gruesome massacre. Built in 1852, the Fulton Theatre is America’s oldest, continuously operating theatre.
Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church
Some towns claim to be historical, but very few actually live up to expectations. That’s not the case with this historic Lancaster though. Another proof of the city’s age is the strikingly beautiful Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church, a structure that’s almost 300 years old. Just to put it in perspective, the church was already functioning even before George Washington was born! When it was completed in 1794, (64 years after breaking ground) it was the tallest building west of Philadelphia and already had a strong congregation. For visitors who want a more in depth history of the church, guided tours are open to the public on weekends all throughout the year.
The Underground Railroad Related Attractions
Lancaster was a popular stop for runaway slaves during the Civil War, thanks in part to the Underground Railroad station located within the city and prominent residents who were sympathizers to the cause. One of those individuals was abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens whose house stands adjacent to the ruins of the Underground Railroad. Mr. Stevens, a lawyer by trade, and later a member of Congress, was one of the most supportive leaders for the abolishment of slavery. Not only was he instrumental in creating and passing of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution, but he also practiced what he preached. His business manager was a freed slave named Lydia Hamilton Smith whom he treated as an equal and saw as a devoted friend. Their relationship lasted for almost a quarter of a century until his death. Her house can also be seen within the same block as Mr. Stevens’ leading many people to believe that Ms. Smith was instrumental in executing the secret activities Mr. Stevens partook in of support the Civil Rights movement.