Historical Markers
Lancaster County Courthouse Historical Marker
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Lancaster County Courthouse

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
SW section of Square, Lancaster (Missing)

Dedication Date:
June 11, 1951

Behind the Marker

Founded in 1730 as a county seat and market town, Lancaster was the first in a string of interior towns between the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers that anchored backcountry counties that were rapidly growing with English, German, and Scots-Irish settlers. In addition to merchants, lawyers, and public officials, Lancaster supported a variety of crafts and manufacturing industries, including the markerPennsylvania or "Kentucky" rifle, and the marker"Conestoga" wagon. Fertile farmlands surrounding the town provided large harvests of wheat, which was locally processed for shipping, along with a variety of agricultural products, through Philadelphia to trans-Atlantic markets.

Lancastrians supported the protests against Great Britain enthusiastically after 1765, and quickly mobilized for war when hostilities with England broke out in spring of 1775. During Pennsylvania's "invasion" year of 1777-1778, both the state government and the Continental Congress abandoned Philadelphia before its occupation by the British and fled to the west. The Congress stopped briefly in Lancaster and met there on September 27, 1777, before moving on to York. Pennsylvania's beleaguered and divided Assembly also escaped to the western counties and established quarters in Lancaster, though it met only intermittently during this period.
Black and white image of the Old courthouse and three men standing in front of the building.
Old Lancaster County Courthouse, Lancaster, PA, circa 1850.

Overrun by large numbers of Philadelphians and rural refugees who moved west, seeking the same security as their political leaders, Lancaster's public buildings somehow managed to accommodate them all. Official governmental functions were transacted in storerooms, rooming houses, taverns, and even domestic quarters. The town became so popular that when military campaigning ended in the late autumn of 1777, many of the Continental Army's officers urged Washington to quarter the army in a series of urban "cantonments" along a line that ran southwest from Reading to Lancaster.

Fearing chaos in the overcrowded towns of the interior, the state government protested to the Continental Congress, which strongly urged Washington to keep the army in the field nearer to Philadelphia, in exchange for promises of military reforms and supplies. This was the genesis of the "Valley Forge Winter." Except in cases of the most severe weather, the highways between York (where the Continental Congress settled in exile), Lancaster, and markerValley Forge, were traversed all winter with messengers and itinerant statesmen, who worked to construct a more effective relationship between the political revolution and its military arm.

Pennsylvania's political leaders, many being new to power and to government, were almost as condescending or dismissive toward Lancaster as a place to conduct business as their Continental colleagues were toward York. As soon as the British Army evacuated Philadelphia, both government bodies hurried back to claim more comfortable quarters in the city. Lancastrians were likewise satisfied to have played only a transient role in the major events of the American Revolution. In the decades following the end of the war they tended to identify their town as the "biggest inland town in the United States" rather than as a onetime state or national capital.
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