Do you want to take a unique journey back in time during your visit to Lancaster, PA? Are you a history buff who’s curious about Pennsylvania’s settlement? Well, we have some good news for you! We know the best five places you need to visit to learn about Lancaster County History! Explore the home of a former president, one of the oldest buildings in the country, a historic theater, and more! Read on to discover these wonderful places and start planning your visit today. Before you dive into travel planning, make sure you download our free Vacation Guide! It has all the best suggestions for local restaurants, events, shops, museums, and more.
Discover Lancaster County History at These 5 Places
The Fulton Opera House
The Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, PA, is one of the most popular cultural attractions in the area. Known as the “Grand Old Lady of Prince Street,” the Fulton Theatre got its start back in 1852. It was called Fulton Hall at the time and was used as a community meeting space until it started hosting Vaudeville, films, and theatre. Today, Fulton is the nation’s oldest operating theatre and is one of only eight theatres to be named a National Historic Landmark.
There are a variety of special programs offered at Fulton, including opening night performances, pay-what-you-want performances, “Thirsty for History” performances, and more! If you’re looking for a behind-the-scenes tour, check out the new schedule of Fulton Theatre tours. These include a backstage view and enthralling stories from authoritative guides.
Rock Ford Plantation
Take a step back in time at Lancaster’s Rock Ford Plantation! This historic house sits at the heart of an idyllic 33-acre property. Imagine green fields, fresh flowers, rolling hills, and a stream running smoothly from the Conestoga River. Dreamy, isn’t it? Head to the plantation to experience it first-hand!
Rock Ford Plantation was once the home of General Edward Hand, a hero of the Revolutionary War. He and his wife Katherine built the house between 1792 and 1794. Back in the day, the property encompassed 177-acres; it has since been sized down. The house was never remodeled, so what you see is true to what Edward Hand built more than two centuries ago. Tours are available from Tuesday – Sunday from April to October, starting at 10 a.m. and ending at 3 p.m.
Tip: Don’t be misled by the name plantation! Rock Ford has never had slaves working on its property; it only refers here to a large farm.
Wheatland (James Buchanan House)
You cannot come to Lancaster and not visit Wheatland! It’s the former home of James Buchanan, the 15th President of the United States. This large, Federal-style house sitting on 22-acres is right outside of Lancaster and is a National Historic Landmark. On top of being Buchanan’s personal residence, Wheatland also served as the Democratic headquarters during the 1856 presidential campaign. In fact, the first address was made outside on the lawn!
Begin your tour at the Visitor’s Center, which features political memorabilia, personal artifacts from the Buchanan family, and a short film. Then, a guide will accompany you through several rooms of the mansion. You’ll feel like you’re right there with the President himself! Visits are available every hour, so make sure you’re on time.
Hans Herr House
The Hans Herr House is one of the oldest buildings in the country, and it deserves to be seen! In the spring of 1711, seven Mennonite men brought their families to Western Pennsylvania to establish homes; they followed an ancient Native American trail called the Great Conestoga Road. The Hans Herr House was built on this road a few years later. It was the home of bishops Christian and Anna Herr and was passed down for generations until it became a storage shed. The home was fully restored in the 1970’s, and today, it belongs to an intricate museum complex in Lancaster that’s comprised of several historical buildings.
The Hans Herr House Museum features several buildings and exhibits, including three Pennsylvania German farmhouses, several barns, and a blacksmith shop. Guided tours of the house are 45 minutes long and start at 9 a.m., 11 a.m, 1 p.m, and 3 p.m.
The Ephrata Cloister is a quiet retreat in the Lancaster countryside. This historic attraction has a rich, long history; it was founded in 1732 by German settlers who wanted to create a spiritual community of celibate Brothers and Sisters as well as married congregations of families. This hermitage grew into a thriving community. In its heyday, the Ephrata Cloister had about 300 members. Art and music were forms of creative expression at the cloister, and the group became known for self-composed a capella music as well as Germanic calligraphy, which was called Frakturschriften. Today, the Ephrata Cloister’s chorus brings traditional music to life. These choraliers wear white robes patterned after the 18th-century garb that was donned by the Brothers and Sisters of Ephrata.
Visit the cloister and explore several exhibits available at the Visitor’s Center. Take a guided tour and walk through the sister’s dormitory, the meetinghouse, and seven historic buildings. Make sure you stop at the Museum Store for locally made crafts like pottery, handwoven textiles, glassware, watercolors, and calligraphy.
Relive History at the Historic Smithton Inn
Did these five Lancaster historic sites provide you with enough time-travel for the day? Continue dreaming about 18th-century Pennsylvania at the Historic Smithton Inn! Built in the 1700s, out beautiful B&B offers a unique and authentic experience for those who want to dive into history.
Browse our guest rooms and pick your favorite! Consider staying in our Crimson Dove Suite, for example. Cozy up by the fireplace with a glass of wine, take a hot shower in your private bathroom, and get a good night’s sleep in the luxurious, pillow-top King size. The next morning, follow the sweet smell of coffee downstairs where a delicious homemade breakfast awaits you!