WHY LANCASTER IS A TREASURED CITY
Lancaster, a beloved and thriving small American city, was founded in 1709 by German immigrants who would come to be known as the Pennsylvania Deutsch, or "Dutch." Prominent citizen John Wright named the city after Lancaster, England, where he formally resided.
During the late 1700s, Lancaster's Penn Square became the civic, social and, commercial hub of the city. King and Queen Streets were bustling with commerce until the close of the 19th Century. The historic revival and preservation movement, which began in the early 1970s, centered on the Old Town Lancaster district. East Vine Street is considered to be one of the earliest commercially developed sections of the city, with some of the structures dating back nearly 300 years.
Buildings on South Queen Street have dated to events that occurred during the American Revolution and the Civil War, while North Queen Street has been an important commercial area for more than 275 years.
On nearby Chestnut Street you will find the city's most dense selection of Victorian-style houses and mansions. This style, which was popular from 1840 to 1910, was sustained by the industrial boom of the mid-19th Century.
The late 19th and early 20th-Century work of celebrated Lancaster architect C. Emlen Urban is key to the overall character and substance of the city's built environment. Examples include the gloriously ornate Stevens High School, Lancaster's Southern Market, Reynolds Middle School, Grace Lutheran Church, Lancaster Municipal Building, our own iconic façade of the former Watt & Shand Department Store, and stunning homes of the West End neighborhood that was Lancaster's earliest suburb.
A charming and sophisticated Downtown Lancaster continues to thrive and evolve as its exciting former chapters of history are preserved thanks to the leadership of many respected museums and cultural attractions. The Heritage Center Museum, Central Market, Fulton Theatre, Demuth Museum, President James Buchanan's Wheatland, and the Historic Lancaster Walking Tour are just a sampling of the many exciting and culturally rich attractions here.
View more historical and cultural attractions in Downtown Lancaster
View historical and cultural attractions throughout Lancaster County
THE CONVENTION CENTER AREA – BRIMMING WITH HISTORY
Paying remarkable homage to the region's history, the integrated complex incorporates historic structures and important historical narratives within and around its new architecture. The entrance at the intersection of King and Queen Streets incorporates the iconic 19th-century façade of the landmark Watt & Shand department store, a Beaux Arts style structure designed by native Lancaster architect C. Emlen Urban.
The area in and around the convention center complex also encompasses the Thaddeus Stevens & Lydia Hamilton Smith Historic Site, with future development under the leadership of LancasterHistory.org.
This site includes the former residence, law office, and Kleiss Tavern owned by powerful political leader, U.S. Congressman, and abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. Stevens is considered the father of public education and authored the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution – those ending slavery, extending equal protection to all citizens, and granting all male citizens the right to vote.
Stevens' home and law office in 2011 were named by the National Park Service as a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site.
In addition to the Stevens' properties, the complex area also includes boarding houses that belonged to Lydia Hamilton Smith, a free woman of color and Stevens' business manager and confidante. Mrs. Smith was a widow with two young sons when she first became Stevens' housekeeper in 1847, and she would come to operate her own successful businesses in Lancaster and Washington, D.C. at a time when few women had yet done so.
From the lobby off the Vine Street entrance to the convention center, guests are able to view a water cistern unearthed during a pre-construction archeological dig. The cistern dates from the Civil War period and was modified in a manner that more than suggests Stevens and Smith used it to hide Americans escaping slavery along the Underground Railroad system.
Together, these historic structures help define a historic precinct in Downtown Lancaster that provides a tangible link to Stevens and Smith and the inspiring narrative themes connected to their achievements – civil rights, equality, slavery, the Civil War, women's history, and public education – themes important to the understanding and appreciation of the quality of life we enjoy in America today.