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An Urban Hike

Trekking through downtown Lancaster...

Central PA's small cities are full of fascinating history, secret lore and amazing architecture, and the best way to absorb it all is on foot. By hiking the streets, one can intimately experience an urban area's personality and charm as the people and the place become real. Urban hikes combine physical fitness and the out-of doors with the exploration of history, lore and architecture. They are designed to keep you interested in your surroundings, and keep you walking...

Tourists stream to Lancaster County to visit Amish farms, outlet shopping centers, craft shops and produce stands. Yet few penetrate this wall of attractions and find the county's hidden jewel – downtown Lancaster. Those who do are rewarded with a charming and vibrant city that wears its history like a medal of honor.

1. Begin at the intersection of President Avenue and Frederick Street. Hike east on Frederick Street toward downtown Lancaster.

2. In two blocks, Frederick Street dead-ends at Race Avenue. Continue across Race Avenue and directly across the campus of Franklin & Marshall College.

Franklin and Marshall College was formed by the 1853 marriage of two prestigious institutions. One was Franklin College, established in 1787 with a generous donation from Benjamin Franklin to educate the German-speaking immigrants to Lancaster County. The other was Marshall College, a Mercersburg school named after Chief Justice John Marshall. Actors Treat Williams and Roy Scheider (Chief Brody from Jaws) both cultivated their acting careers as students at F&M.

3. At the opposite end of campus, turn right onto College Avenue and continue for three blocks.

The oldest building on campus is stately Old Main at the far end of the quadrangle to the right, which houses administrative offices. The Shadek-Fackenthal Library rims the south border. A statue of Benjamin Franklin graces the square. Across College Avenue is the campus of Lancaster Theological Seminary, one of seven seminaries in the country associated with the United Church of Christ. The Lark Academic Building, which was completed in 1894, was the seminary's original quarters and remains the finest example of Romanesque-Gothic architecture in Lancaster County.

4. Turn left onto Chestnut Street and continue for about one mile.

Chestnut Street reveals an interesting succession of rowhouses, duplexes and single-family homes. Look for eclectic architectural attributes along this stretch, including a generous use of colors, wrought iron and carved railings. As you approach downtown, the rowhouses take on a more unadorned Federal style. Westlawn is the elegant three-story mansion on the corner of Charlotte Street. It was built in the French-Empire style in 1878 by Baron Martin, a local lumber baron. It became the Embassy Apartments for its similarity to the British Embassy in Washington, D.C.

The Southeast corner of Prince and Chestnut Streets was the site of the first public school in Lancaster, which opened in 1823. The corner is now occupied by the world headquarters for Auntie Anne's, Inc. One-half block south on Prince Street is the Sehner-Ellicott-Von Hess House, built in 1787. Acclaimed land surveyor Andrew Ellicott resided here and taught Meriwether Lewis skills of scientific observation for his famed expedition with William Clark. The dwelling is now the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County.

H.M. Musser Park is situated just past Lime Street. The mansion at the west end of the park is the former residence of Clement Bates Grubb, who operated an ironmaking plant nearby. It is now home to the Lancaster Museum of Art.

Musser Park was ground zero for the 19th century's greatest pioneer balloonist, John Wise, who lived nearby and made many of his 463 launches from the park. Wise's greatest odyssey was in 1859 when he set a long-distance record by ballooning 809 miles from New York to Missouri in 20 hours. Wise invented a balloon that, in the unlikelihood of rupture, would assume the shape of a parachute, allowing a controlled descent. Coincidentally, on a subsequent flight, Wise's balloon did indeed burst, and he drifted safely to terra firma. Wise took his final flight at the age of 71, when he launched in high winds from Illinois and drifted over Lake Michigan, never to be seen again.

5. Turn right onto Shippen Street and continue for one block.

6. Turn right onto Orange Street and continue for two blocks.

Beautiful mansions and churches line Orange Street. The Neff-Passmore House at 247 East Orange was once home to John Passmore, the first mayor of Lancaster. The stepping stone in front was used for boarding carriages. The Jevon-Marshall House at 215 East Orange was home the acclaimed diarist Christopher Marshall, whose observations archived the Revolutionary era in Lancaster. It was later the residence of President James Buchanan.

St. James Episcopal Church stands at the northeast corner of Orange and Duke Streets. The congregation was established in 1744 for members of the Church of England. The Reverend Barton, a royalist, closed the church during the Revolution. But the congregation, according to church records, contained patriots and community leaders. Parishioner George Ross signed the Declaration of Independence. General Edward Hand served in the Continental Army. Edward Shippen, a founder of Princeton University, was the grandfather of Peggy Shippen, the wife of Benedict Arnold. In 1832, parishioner Amos Ellmaker was a candidate for Vice-President of the United States.

7. Turn left onto Duke Street and continue for one block.

8. Turn right onto King Street and continue for two blocks.

King Street was historically the main artery between Lancaster and Philadelphia. The Lancaster County Courthouse stands along King Street at its intersection with Duke Street. The Roman-Revival structure dates to 1852. The steeple of the Holy Trinity Church is visible down Duke Street. When built in 1794, it was the second tallest structure in North America, surpassed only by a church in Philadelphia.

Penn Square, where King Street meets Queen Street, has been the focal point of the city since it was laid out in 1730. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument on the square was dedicated in 1874 to memorialize those killed in the Civil War. The four carved figures surrounding the tower represent each armed-service branch of that time: infantry, cavalry, navy and artillery.

The fa├žade of the Lancaster County Convention Center, located at the southeast corner of the intersection is what remains of the old Watt and Shand Department Store. One block to the south, on the corner of East Vine and Queen Streets, stands the former White Swan Hotel, whose guest list reads like a who's-who of former presidents: George Washington, John Adams and Zachary Taylor to name a few.

The towering Greist Building to the northwest of Penn Square was, until recently, Lancaster's only skyscraper. It was built in 1924 in the elegant Beaux-Arts style. Central Market House, with its twin Romanesque towers is also tucked into the northwest corner of the square. Dating to 1730, it's the oldest publicly owned market in continual operation in the country. The present building was erected in 1889 and is now a historical landmark. Open on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the market's many bakeries and produce stands offer the perfect break from hiking.

The Old City Hall building abuts the west face of the square. Dating to the late 1700's, it is the oldest public building in the city.

9. Turn right onto Prince Street and continue for one block.

The Fulton Opera House at 12 North Prince is named for Robert Fulton, a Lancaster County native and inventor of the steamboat. It is one of three theaters in the nation designated a National Historic Landmark. Since 1852, entertainers such as Mark Twain, W.C. Fields, Al Jolson and Sarah Berhardt have wowed audiences here. It remains a venue for live performances.

10. Turn left onto Orange Street and continue for about one-half mile. Orange Street Merges with Columbia Avenue.

The Clocktower Apartments & Condominiums dominate the corner of Columbia and West End Avenues. The structure housed the Hamilton Watch Company, which developed the world's first electric watch in 1957, and the first digital watch in 1972.

11. Turn right onto West End Avenue and continue for two blocks.

12. Turn left onto Marietta Avenue and continue for three blocks.

Just past President Avenue is Wheatland, the former estate of James Buchanan, our 15th president. Buchanan was the country's only bachelor president, and the only one born in Pennsylvania. He purchased Wheatland in 1848 for $9,000 and died there at age 78. Next door is the Lancaster County Historical Society.

13. Turn right onto School Lane an continue for one long block.

14. Turn right onto Frederick and continue for one block.

The hike ends back at the intersection of Frederick Street and President Avenue.

[Taken with permission (and updated for accuracy) from "Urban Hikes: trekking through downtown Lancaster & Reading on Foot, by Michael Strzelecki, Central PA Magazine, April 2001]

Lancaster City Living – Lancaster PA