The green fields of Lancaster County in southeastern Pennsylvania constitute a historic cultural landscape representing the founding ideals of the United States of America. Starting around 1710 and continuing into the 19th century, immigrants from western Europe—particularly the Amish, Huguenots, Welsh, English, and Scots-Irish—settled in this vast arable landscape, fleeing poverty and religious persecution and attracted by the freedom of religion and political stability first established in William Penn’s charter of 1681. The earliest settlers started with simple temporary shelters, but soon progressed to building large farmsteads and brick houses. Numerous historic structures, including early houses, a brew house, a blacksmith shop, a stable, and the former houses of Thaddeus Stevens and Lydia Hamilton Smith can be seen by visitors to the town of Lancaster today. U.S. Congressman Thaddeus Stevens and his housekeeper Lydia Hamilton Smith were both active in social and political movements, championing the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, and civil and labor rights. Although Stevens’ house was proven to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad through archaeological research, the building was threatened with demolition in 2001.
How We Helped
World Monuments Fund placed Lancaster County on the 1998 and 2000 Watch, hoping to draw attention to the effects of suburban sprawl and support the preservation of this historic cultural landscape. In 2001, demolition threatened the landmark home of U.S. Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, located just off the main square in the city of Lancaster, and the adjacent home of activist Lydia Hamilton Smith. The Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County sought funds to develop a proposal to incorporate the historic resources of Lancaster into a proposed plan for a new convention center and make the historic structures part of a heritage tourism destination. WMF secured a grant to finance a study that reviewed the feasibility and requirements of the project. As a result, the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County was able to persuade the developers to adjust their plans and incorporate the two houses into the overall development for downtown Lancaster.
Why It Matters
One of America’s most recognized historic areas, Lancaster County has strong associations with Amish, Mennonite, and other religious sects that continue their traditional lifestyles in the region today. The legacy of religious tolerance championed by William Penn is still evident in the people and architecture of the county, which has an impressive array of 18th and early 19th century family homes and other buildings. Lancaster County is nationally significant for its contribution to American agricultural history and its industrial heritage, becoming by the late 1800s a major producer of tobacco, candy, Conestoga wagons, cork, and variety of other products.