More that 50 people participated in the first Walking Tour of African American Heritage Sites in the City of Lancaster for the 2017 season on Saturday May 6. Sponsored by the African American Historical Society of South Central Pennsylvania, the tour features 12 locations around the Downtown area highlighting the heritage of the African American community from the Colonial era to the mid-20th century Civil Rights Movement.
Six tour days will be held for the remainder of the season and will be conducted on the first Saturdays of the months from June through November. The 90-plus minute tours will depart from the Visitors Center at 11 Am and 2 PM.
Through these tours, visitors will learn about the early days of the African American experience in the City of Lancaster and the wider community. These tours explore the period immediately following the American Revolution, to the early 1860s and the Emancipation Proclamation, and to the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century.
Tour details here.
Tickets: Adults $8; seniors 62 and older, $7; college students, $5; youth ages 6-18, $2; Free for children under 6. No reservations required.
Contact the City of Lancaster Office of Promotion at (717) 291-4758, or visit www.visitlancastercity.com. Also, for more information contact Randy Harris at 717-808-2941 or at email@example.com.
Visitors will join learned tour conductors who will guide their guests along an outstanding tour route, following busy roads, down narrow alleys; through cemeteries and in quiet churches, sharing stories for the first time in a thematic concerted way. These are stories seldom heard beyond the intimacy of local families and read in only a few history books.
West King Street, Lancaster, PA, view east, about 1850, showing US Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, his property manager and confidant, Lydia Hamilton Smith, along with William Whipper, civil rights advocate and African American entrepreneur from Columbia, Lancaster County who concealed freedom seekers in his railroad freight cars and secretly transported them some 80 miles from Columbia to Philadelphia, from about 1838 until the late 1850’s.
On this tour, the four-square block area of the center of the City of Lancaster, Pennsylvania becomes an historic urban landscape where a community’s heritage can be explored in a new and compelling way. This history will be shared as a blend of cold hard facts, with leads and suggestions to delve further into connected legends. New theories can emerge from these first person experiences.
Tour conductor Gordon Reed (left) shares the inspiring story of the hugely successful caterer and entrepreneur, William G. Payne (1847-1919) at the site of his place of business on East Grant Street. The same building is now the location of James & Co. Hair Salon, operated by Faith Craig, a woman of color and also one of the guides for this program series of walking tours.
During the group’s pilot tour series in 2016, guests said they were pleased to be able to take the leisurely walking tours and discover many new chapters in community history at some of the exact locations where notable people lived, or where significant events played out. They also visited places where other folk — not so well known — accomplished things notable and sometimes infamous.
Other guests said they were able to learn more exciting details about people and events with which they were already familiar.
Many guests heard for the first time that a sitting US Congressman from mid-19th century Lancaster was “the spider in the web” of what was then criminal activity. Congressman Thaddeus Stevens covertly hired agents and spies to thwart, oppose and eventually help to defeat slavery, “the peculiar institution” that for hundreds of years before had legally allowed a majority of citizens to own and use other humans.
Guests also heard about the core role of some of the oldest houses of worship in Lancaster — reaching back to Colonial American — where both the enslaved and enslavers worshipped alongside free people of African descent.
At these worship sites, schisms over race, income status and styles of worship resulted in new faith communities where paths emerged toward social and economic equality for people of African descent. These pathways were promoted in the public square through a growing group of 19th century black-owned businesses, and through such secretive means as the Underground Railroad which proliferated here.
To better illustrate the people and places central to this history, tour organizers are planning to raise funds through these guided tours to design and install historical markers at various place along the route. These markers will feature portraits of historical characters, photographs of buildings and maps and other historical information. Organizers plan to install up to 25 markers of various sizes, shapes and designs throughout the City over the next three years.
To envision what these markers might look like in the months and years ahead, tour conductors and site hosts in 2016 used mounted posters to help guests better understand the people and places involved at the various sites. To see short presentation with one of these graphic illustrations, go to
Another of these graphic illustrations is shown here below.
The walking tours cover about three square blocks of center city Lancaster and last from 90 minutes to two hours.
Guests are guided by community historians who serve as conductors in association with the program sponsor: the African American Historical Society of South Central Pennsylvania, in collaboration with Crispus Attucks Community Center of Lancaster.
Proceeds from the tours benefit the program activities of the African American Historical Society.
This series of tours has been organized to provide guide training for community residents who have an interest in local history. When engaged as regular tour conductors, these guides will receive stipends for their participation.
Except on the opening day of the tours on May 6 which will begin at Trinity Lutheran Church, the remaining tours on the first Saturdays of each month through November 4 will be conducted at 11 AM and 2 PM, and will depart from the City of Lancaster Office of Promotion’s Visitor Center on Penn Square.
These tours are an expansion of the existing tours conducted from the Visitor Center by Historic Lancaster Walking Tours, a volunteer-supported service that has been in operation since 1976.
Working with the African American Historical Society of South Central Pennsylvania on this heritage tourism program, in addition to Crispus Attucks and Historic Lancaster Walking Tours are the following supporters and collaborators: Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology; LancasterHistory.org; City of Lancaster Office of Promotion; Shreiner-Concord Cemetery Foundation; and the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society.
Tour sites and background information:
After the May 6 launch at Trinity Lutheran Church, tours will start at City of Lancaster Visitor Center, 38 Penn Square. Generally tours will be conducted in groups of 10 to 15 guests, depending on volume; departures shortly after 11 AM and 2 PM on given first Saturdays. Here are some of the featured tour sites.
1) Black Businesses on Penn Square
On the threshold of the Civil War numerous black-owned businesses were active on and near this square, with many owners involved in public affairs. In the City’s 1859 Business Directory, there were 16 barbers in Downtown Lancaster, nine of whom were of African descent.
2) Thaddeus Stevens & Lydia Smith Home, 45 & 47 South Queen Street
Stevens was a leader of Radical Republicans during the Civil War who pressed for equal rights for African Americans. Lydia Hamilton Smith, a woman of color, was Stevens’ property manager and political confidante, both here and in Washington D.C. Oral tradition has long held their support for freedom seekers on the Underground Railroad. Their property, along with the adjacent Kleiss Tavern (now within Lancaster County Convention Center), was verified in 2011 as an authentic Underground Railroad safe house, circa 1850.
3) Trinity Lutheran Church, Duke at Mifflin Street
An early house of worship in City of Lancaster; ministered to free persons of color and the formerly enslaved. Rev. Christian Endress gave the dedicatory sermon at the African Church (today’s Bethel A.M.E.), February 1821.
4) Lancaster County Courthouse, corner of King and Duke Streets
Site of Thaddeus Stevens’ famous speech on Reconstruction, 1865.
5) Rauch and Boston are spies for Thaddeus Stevens
The secret work of Edward H. Rauch (1820-1902) and Robert Boston (circa 1814-1888) illustrate how the Underground Railroad Movement operated across racial lines. Rauch, a white employee of the County Courts, and Boston, an African-American barber whose shop was near the Court House, were spies for Stevens. They gathered intelligence about the activities of the notorious slave catcher, George Hughes, who operated from an office in the first block of East King Street. opposite the County Court House near present day Annie Baileys.
6) William G. Payne’s Lancaster Kitchen & Caterers’ Supply Co., East Grant Street
With friends at her shop at 137 E. Grant Street, Faith Craig (left), owner of James & Co. Hair Salon, tells the story of her business, which is now “interwined” with the heritage of William G. Payne’s enterprise at this historic property.
William G. Payne, well-known African-American restaurateur and caterer also served for many years as chief steward at the exclusive Hamilton Club before that organization moved to its current location at N. Duke and E. Orange Streets. After his years of employment at the Club, Payne, who was born enslaved in Virginia in the late 1840’s, established the successful Lancaster Kitchen and Caterers’ Supply Co. at 137 E. Grant Street. He also operated other restaurants in the City during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
7) Speeches by Bayard Rustin at YWCA
Strategist of the Civil Rights Movement and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rustin (1912–1987) spoke here March 9, 1950 on non-violent protest, social inclusiveness and the dangers of nuclear proliferation. Sponsored by American Friends Service Committee.
8) St. James Episcopal Church and Cemetery, Est. 1744, corner of Duke and Orange Streets
Enslaved Africans, free Blacks and slave owners worshipped here. Major Thomas Boude, (1752-1822) a veteran of the American Revolution and one term US Congressman was involved in an anti-slavery uprising in 1804 in Columbia, Lancaster County, which has been described as “the incorporation of the Underground Railroad.” Dinah McIntire, a fortune teller, owned property in the 300 block of West Vine Street, which became known as “Dinah’s Hill.” She was enslaved by Revolutionary War Col. Matthias Slough, owner of the White Swan Hotel on Penn Square. Dinah was buried here May 5, 1819, reportedly at the age of 113. African-American members established a separate congregation in 1817; first known as Saint James African Church and later, in the 1840’s, became Bethel AME Church. Rev. Samuel Bowman (1800-1861) planned for his black maid, Louisa Wells, to be buried in family plot, 1867.
9) Site of Lancaster Train Station, Chestnut between Queen and Christian Streets
City’s main train depot from 1834-1930 was part of the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad, the second railroad chartered in the US. By 1838, box cars fitted with false ends owned by Columbia’s noted black entrepreneurs, William Whipper and Stephen Smith, transported former slaves to Lancaster, Philadelphia and destinations north, thus becoming a key pathway of the Underground Railroad. Right of way relocated to northern City line, circa 1930.
10) Shreiner-Concord Cemetery, corner of West Chestnut and North Mulberry Streets, Est. 1836
The only public cemetery in Lancaster that accepted burials of all people, regardless of race or religion. Stevens chose his burial place here, along with U.S. Colored Troops and other veterans, mostly from the Civil War. Stevens chose a plot adjacent to an area of the cemetery where indigent people were buried, often in unmarked graves.
11) Fulton Hall/Old County Jail, 12 North Prince Street
Fulton Hall, now Fulton Opera House, built in 1852 on the foundations of county jail, c. 1750. Prison yard site of 1763 massacre of last of Conestoga Native Americans. In 1835 two women were imprisoned, illegally detained by slave catchers, aided in their escape by abolitionist Sheriff David “Dare Devil Dave” Miller. Stevens gave a pioneering speech in 1858 advocating women’s suffrage at Fulton Hall.
12) Lancaster Central Market, 23 North Market Street
As late as 1910 African Americans owned $58,200 in property in rural areas of the county (in the City of Lancaster it was $65,000). Central Market was one of the markets where they sold their produce and other farm products.