The area that became the City of Lancaster was settled by Europeans in the early 1720s, and was declared a "townstead" by the Governor of Pennsylvania in 1730. At that time, most of the land that would become the present-day City was owned by Andrew Hamilton. In 1733, he deeded 500 acres of this land to his son James Hamilton, who designed the layout of the new town of Lancaster using a uniform grid plan of straight streets and rectangular property lots. A town square -- originally known as Centre Square, and later called Penn Square -- was placed in the middle of this town plan.
Unlike many other colonial towns, Lancaster was not located on a waterfront, such as a river or coastal port. (The Conestoga River was a mile from Centre Square, and was not deep enough to be navigable for large ships.) Lancaster owed its early prosperity to its strategic location at a transportation crossroads. The Old Philadelphia Pike, extending west as far as Columbia, passed through modern-day King Street. North-south trade routes connected Lancaster with Maryland and areas in north-central Pennsylvania. The city's population grew from 1,500 in the mid-1740s to more than 3,700 in 1790. By 1760, Lancaster had become the largest inland city of the colonial period; it continued as an important center of commerce during and immediately after the Revolutionary War. (Not until the 1810s was the city surpassed by Pittsburgh in population.) Artisan craftsmen played an important role in Lancaster's colonial economy. The skills of German immigrants in metal, leather, and woodcrafts earned Lancaster a solid reputation that drew other artisans to the city. On the eve of the American Revolution, it is estimated that there were about 300 craftsmen working in Lancaster.
Akin to this small-scale industry, small-scale buildings characterized Colonial Lancaster. While a number of elegant townhouses were scattered around the city, these high-style buildings were not typical of eighteenth-century housing in Lancaster. The predominant housing form in Lancaster prior to 1850 were simple one-story houses, built in English, Colonial or Germanic Vernacular Styles, typically constructed of log or clapboard-covered frame. Later examples, especially those built after 1800, were often built of brick. Of the 709 dwellings listed in the 1798 direct tax of Lancaster City, more than 72 percent were one- or one-and-one-half-story types. By 1815, this style still accounted for 66 percent of all city residences. A number of these rare early buildings, predating 1798, survive along Church Street and Howard Avenue.
Larger buildings dating from the eighteenth century were built in the Georgian Style, based on high-style English architecture and often influenced by prototypes appearing in Philadelphia. The Georgian style was popular in the American Colonies throughout the eighteenth century, but fell out of favor shortly after the end of the Revolutionary War - when the Federal Style became fashionable, reflecting the young republic's new form of government.
Go to the section on Lancaster Architectural Styles to read about the typical characteristics of eleven common architectural styles, including Georgian and Federal.
Some of the buildings in Lancaster that date from the 1700s include:
- Trinity Lutheran Church, South Duke Street (1761-1766)
- Henry Musser Farmhouse, 548 South Ann Street (1761-1763)
- Bausman House, 121 East King Street (1762)
- 515 Howard Avenue (1763)
- Jasper Yeates House, 24-26 South Queen Street (1765)
- Bier House, 111 Church Street (1780)
- Rock Ford, Rockford Road (1794)
- Michael Musser House, 323 West King Street (1780)
- Sehner-Ellicott-von Hess House, 123 North Prince Street (1787)
- Lancaster Cultural History Museum (Heritage Center Museum), Penn Square (1795)
- Oyster House, 519 Church Street (pre-1798)