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Lancaster in the 1800s

People today often remark about the profound changes in the world during the twentieth century, brought about by air and space travel, the development of computers, and the political upheaval of two world wars.

The nineteenth century was likewise a time of sweeping social and economic changes, new inventions, technological advancements, and rapidly changing fashions and trends that produced diverse architectural styles. In 1800, America was still an agrarian, pre-industrial society where most goods were produced locally by farmers and artisans, or were imported from Europe. By 1900, the American economy had been transformed by industrialization and mechanized factory systems, a national network of railroads, and the mass production of consumer goods.

Lancaster served as the state capital of Pennsylvania from 1799 until 1813 (when the capital was moved to Harrisburg). In the 1800s, Lancaster acted as a regional distribution center for goods being shipped from Philadelphia to frontier settlements to the north, west, and south. The City was also an important market for local farmers, and a center for artisan craftsmen. The 1830s saw the coming of the railroad to Lancaster, and the emergence of factory systems for manufacturing. The city's population grew dramatically, increasing from about 4,200 in 1800 to more than 17,000 in 1860. By the end of the Civil War, Lancaster's transformation from a Colonial turnpike town to a large industrialized Victorian city was complete.

Not until the arrival of the railroad in 1834 did the Industrial Revolution have a real impact on Lancaster. The City's business leaders made sure that the railroad passed through the heart of the town. (The first train depot, now demolished, was located at the northeast corner of North Queen and East Chestnut Streets, pictured above.) The Conestoga Steam Mills is emblematic of nineteenth-century industrial development. The Steam Mills began operations in 1847, and had become the city's largest industry and employer by 1880s. This period of economic growth was accompanied by a civic-minded spirit as well. The year 1852 saw the construction of both the Fulton Hall Theatre on North Prince Street (later remodeled as the Fulton Opera House), and the new County Courthouse at Duke and East King Streets. Telephone service was introduced in Lancaster in 1880, and electric power was first provided by 1886.

Architectural styles also changed rapidly throughout the nineteenth century, ranging from classically influenced designs such as Federal Style and Classic Revival Style, through elaborate "High Victorian" styles such as the Italianate, Second Empire, and Queen Anne. Victorians were highly status-conscious, and a Victorian house became a visual statement of the owner's taste, wealth, and social status.

Go to the section on Lancaster Architectural Styles to read about the typical characteristics of eleven common architectural styles.

Rowhouses became the predominant housing form in Lancaster during the 1800s. The design, size, form and ornamentation of Lancaster's rowhouses are as varied and diverse as the century itself.

Some of the varied rowhome types in Lancaster that span the 1800s are:
- Jacob Miller Houses, 633-639 and 641-647 South Franklin Street (1805-1815)
- 312-314 West King Street (Federal, 1814)
- 28 North Water Street (late Federal, 1825)
- 47 North Lime Street (Classical Revival, 1852)
- 38-44 North Lime Street (1852-56)
- 439 North Duke Street (Second Empire, 1870)
- 224-234 Lancaster Avenue (Italianate, 1878)
- 734-740 Marietta Avenue (Queen Anne, 1886-1888)
- 524-530 West Walnut Street (Queen Anne, 1890)