Lancaster in 1850 

A Documentary Collection of Images and Primary Sources Compiled as a Project of the Senior Seminar in American Studies, Fall 1996

Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1850 was a prosperous and growing community. The city had served as the capital of Pennsylvania between 1799 and 1812, but following the removal of the state government to Harrisburg and the development of new communities to the west, which assumed the market and administrative functions Lancaster had performed in the eighteenth century, the local economy had stagnated. Moreover, Lancaster was not located at a natural transportation break, and the absence of port facilities impeded its commercial development. The Pennsylvania Railroad reached Lancaster in 1834, and as the nation recovered from the efects of the Panic of 1837, the city was poised for growth.

Essential to Lancaster's economic revitalization was the emergence of steam-powered industrial technology. A group of civic leaders heard the gospel of cotton production preached by mill developer Charles Tillinghast James, and invested in the Conestoga Steam Cotton Mills, which were located on South Prince Street. Buildings one and two had begun production in 1847 and 1849, and a third factory was under construction at mid-century. As historian Thomas Winpenny has demonstrated, these factories employed 390 workers in 1850 and double that number a decade later. By 1860 the output of goods manufactured at the three Conestoga mills was valued at $240,667.

With the return of prosperity civic leaders created a remarkable range of cultural and civic institutions in the years around 1850. These buildings stand as testament both to economic prosperity and the community's collective sense of itself.


A Lancaster Gazetteer by Elliot N. Weiler
Franklin & Marshall College by Josh Corless
The Lancaster Water Works by Jamie Robertson
Fulton Hall by Tyler Hill
The Lancaster Cemetery by David Schuyler|
Lancaster County Courthouse by Philip Geiser
The Conestoga Steam Cotton Mills by Jess Berline
Lancaster County Prison by Stephanie Cullinan