Archive for 'Lancaster County'

Wrights Ferry Mansion

We left Wheatland for our other stop in Lancaster County, in the town of Columbia on the Susquehanna River. Wright’s Ferry Mansion is the restored home of Susanna Wright, an English Quaker settler who never married, but bought property on what was then the frontier and became self-sufficient operating the ferry crossing. She was an intellectual who wrote poetry, taught herself Latin, and corresponded with such figures as Benjamin Franklin. She also grew silk worms and wrote a treatise on the subject. The restored house museum features Philadelphia furniture made before 1750. There’s an expensive but very complete set of two books covering the house and the collection. › Continue reading…

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Wheatland (1828)


On our second day in Lancaster County PA, I visited Wheatland, the estate of President James Buchanan, which is in the city of Lancaster itself. Buchanan is usually considered one of the worst presidents, but he is the only president from Pennsylvania and his restored house is definitely worth a visit. It’s a Federal style house, built in 1828, which is furnished in the Victorian style to reflect the era when Buchanan lived there, from 1848 to 1868. I didn’t watch the introductory video, which had some info about Buchanan’s political career. Visitors are told to walk from the visitor’s center down to the house, where a guide wearing a hoop skirt period dress gave the tour, which focused on domestic issues rather than politics. Even if one is not thrilled by Buchanan himself, there is also the interesting story of the unmarried president’s First Lady, his niece Harriet Lane, who later inherited the house. The house is adjacent to the Lancaster County Historical Society, which has an exhibit gallery and a book store.

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Ephrata Cloister (1732)

Ephrata Cloister

Leaving the Hans Herr House, our next destination in Lancaster County was Ephrata Cloister, in what is now the town of Ephrata. Ephrata Cloister was a religious community founded in 1732 by Johann Conrad Beissel, who was born in Germany and eventually came to what was then a frontier wilderness in Pennsylvania. He was followed by men and women who had left the Brethren movement and embraced Beissel’s distinctive religious ideas. At the core of the community were celibate brothers and sisters, living and worshiping together, who also sang hymns (many written by Beissel himself), created fraktur (a Pennsylvania Dutch folk art) and operated a German language printing press. The community eventually died out, but many of the original buildings survive and are open as a museum run by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Visitors see an introductory film, are led on a tour of the buildings and are then able to wander on their own and explore the various structures. The story of the community is a fascinating one and, even if one is not interested in all of the religious aspect, there is great beauty in the many buildings which, like the Hans Herr house, evoke a feeling almost of the Middle Ages. The museum gift shop has an excellent selection of books, including a series of pamphlets on archaeological work being done at Ephrata Cloister (as many of the original buildings do not survive). On Google Books there’s available an old two volume history of the community written by Julius Friedrich Sachse and published in 1899: The German Sectarians of Pennsylvania: A Critical and Legendary History of the Ephrata Cloister and the DunkersVol. I (1708-1742) and vol. II (1742-1800).
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Hans Herr House (1719)

Hans Herr House

Leaving State College, our destination was Lancaster County, PA. This is the heart of what is called the Pennsylvania Dutch (really Pennsylvania German) country. I visited four historic sites in the area over two days. On our first day in the area, I visited the Hans Herr House (1719), 1849 Hans Herr Dr, Willow Street, PA. This is the oldest surviving house in Lancaster County. Built by Mennonite settlers as a home and a meeting house, it is now a museum owned by the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society. The house is small, but very impressive because it really has a medieval look. The house is made of stone and with its irregular placement of windows, it is quite a contrast with the types of houses I’m used to in New England. That is the great thing, for those interested in old buildings, about traveling to a region like Lancaster County, where the early settlers were not all English and had a quite different building tradition. In addition to the Hans Herr House, the property has has two later farmhouses, built by Herr descendants (one of which has the visitor center, the other is a private home), a reconstructed blacksmith shop and barn, and a barn with a large display of farm implements. Adjacent to the house, there is also an herb garden. › Continue reading…

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