About Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Lancaster is located in south-central Pennsylvania, serves as the seat of Lancaster County, and is one of the oldest inland towns in the United States. With a population of 59,322, it ranks eighth in population among Pennsylvania’s cities. The Lancaster metropolitan-area population is 507,766, making it the 101st largest metropolitan area in the U.S. and second largest in the south-central Pennsylvania area.
The city’s primary industries include healthcare, tourism, public administration, manufacturing, and professional services. Lancaster was home to James Buchanan, the nation’s fifteenth president, and to congressman and abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens.
Originally called Hickory Town, the city was renamed after the English city of Lancaster by native John Wright. Its symbol, the red rose, comes from the House of Lancaster. It was part of the 1681 Penn’s Woods Charter of William Penn, and was laid out by James Hamilton, son of Alexander Hamilton, in 1734.
During the American Revolution, Lancaster was the capital of the United States for one day, on September 27, 1777, after the Continental Congress fled Philadelphia, which had been captured by the British. The revolutionary government then moved still farther away to York, Pennsylvania.
Lancaster was capital of Pennsylvania from 1799 to 1812, after which the capital was moved to Harrisburg.
The first long-distance paved road in the United States was the former Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike, which connected the cities of Lancaster and Philadelphia. Opened in 1795, the turnpike was paved with stone the whole way, and overlaid with gravel. The sixty-two-mile turnpike cost more than $450,000, a staggering sum at the time.
The city of Lancaster was home to several important figures in American history. Wheatland, the estate of James Buchanan, the former president of the United States, is one of Lancaster’s most popular attractions. Thaddeus Stevens, considered among the most powerful members of the United States House of Representatives, lived in Lancaster and worked as an attorney. Stevens gained notoriety as a “Radical Republican” and abolitionist. The Fulton Opera House in the city was named for Lancaster native Robert Fulton, a renaissance man credited with building the first fully functional steamboat.
After the American Revolution, the city of Lancaster became an iron-foundry center. Two of the most common products needed by pioneers to settle the western frontier were manufactured in Lancaster: the Conestoga wagon and the Pennsylvania long rifle. The Conestoga wagon was named after the Conestoga River, which runs through the city. The innovative gunsmith William Henry lived in Lancaster and was a U.S. congressman and leader during and after the American Revolution.
In 1803, Meriwether Lewis visited Lancaster for education in surveying methods from the well-known surveyor Andrew Ellicott. During his visit, Lewis learned to plot latitude and longitude as part of his overall training to lead the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
In 1879, Franklin Winfield Woolworth opened his first successful “five and dime” store in the city of Lancaster, the F. W. Woolworth Company.
Lancaster was one of the winning communities for the All-America City award in 2000.
On October 13, 2011, Lancaster’s City Council officially recognized September 27 as Capital Day, a holiday recognizing Lancaster’s one day as capital of the United States in 1777.