Lancaster County (population 494,486) has been known as the “Garden Spot of America” since the 18th century due to its rich soil and mild climate. It is a popular tourist destination due in part to interest in the local cultural traditions brought over by German speaking immigrants in the 17th and 18th centuries. Some residents are descendents of the “plain” sects, often referred to as Amish or Pennsylvania Dutch, who came for the freedom of religion offered by William Penn on the land that was part of his 1681 charter. Records of settlement date back to 1710. In May 1729, when it was on the western frontier, Lancaster became the fourth county in the state.
The city of Lancaster hosted the Continental Congress in 1777 and 1778, and served as the state capital from 1799-1812. Pioneers traveling in Contestoga wagons stopped here for supplies on their way west. Located immediately north of the Mason-Dixon line, Lancaster County was an important stop on the Underground Railroad. At least three routes through the county are known to have existed. Today visitors can follow an “Explorer’s Map and Guide” to learn more about this period in history.
President James Buchanan, the only Pennsylvanian to hold the presidency, was a native of Lancaster County and his home, Wheatland, is now a museum. Lancaster’s Heritage Center Museum and the Lancaster Quilt and Textile Museum focus on the material culture of the county. Another heritage attraction is the Strasburg Rail Road, operating excursion trains hauled by steam locomotives through the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country and linking the Amtrak main line to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. Lancaster County also promotes tourist visits to its numerous historic and picturesque covered bridges by publishing driving tours. With more than 200 bridges still in existence, Pennsylvania has more covered bridges than anywhere else in the world, and 29 of them are in Lancaster County.
The county recently updated and adopted a heritage element as part of its comprehensive plan and has begun to implement it. Lancaster’s Historic Preservation Trust has contributed to the preservation of nearly 40 historic sites. Historic preservation and adaptive reuse are among the criteria for local Smart Growth Leadership awards. Lancaster County’s heritage education offerings include a college level program to train craftsmen in preservation trades, outreach kits with activities featuring local arts, and summer history camps that focus on the county’s role in both the Revolutionary and the Civil Wars.
Lancaster County Heritage is a partnership among the county, the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County, and the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau. The partnership aims to assure that visitors receive the “real story” about the county’s history, culture, and natural resources. Another goal is to enhance pride in local heritage resources while providing economic opportunities and benefits. In order to provide the highest quality experience, the program evaluates prospective resources on the basis of authenticity, interpretation, and visitor readiness. When a resource is added to the program, it is featured in books, guides, and other promotional material, and is branded with a logo.
Designated a Preserve America Community in December 2007.