City of Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Experience sites in the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Gain insight into the roots of civil rights activism & Black business pioneers
Visit the center of one of the largest National Historic Districts in America
During this pandemic, guided walking tours of historic Downtown Lancaster, PA by members of the African American Historical Society of South Central Pennsylvania of Underground Railroad and African American Heritage sites have been suspended.
These guided tours may resume depending on health and safety conditions. Watch this website for updates.
In the meantime, self-guided tours are possible. First, click here to download a free Map & Guide.
The Map & Guide displays 24 historic sites throughout the entire area of City of Lancaster. The self-guided Walking Tour features these 12 numbered sites as shown on the Map & Guide:
1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 20 & 21
Of these, the following are designated by the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom as Sites with authentic connections to the Underground Railroad Movement:
No. 1 - Site of Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad Station: freedom seekers transported through here en route to Philadelphia, 1838 through the late 1850s
No. 2 - Thaddeus Stevens and Lydia Hamilton Smith Historic Site
No. 5 - Final resting place of champion of free public education in Pennsylvania, national anti-slavery leader, tireless advocate for equal protection under law for US citizens.
No. 8 - Lancaster County Jail, site of a bold break from jail by women aided by an unlikely co-conspirator - The County Sheriff! Now historic Fulton Theater
In addition, there are other properties in Lancaster included in the Network to Freedom but they are not featured on this Walking Tour, although you are encouraged to visit them separately:
No. 6 - Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church – a member of the Network to Freedom in the Program category for its live performances of Living the Experience. See more information below.
No. 23 – LancasterHistory and James Buchanan’s Wheatland – Classified as a Network to Freedom Facility based on its extensive collection of primary source records and other archival material associated with the Underground Railroad, all of which is available for research by the public.
Please send an email to email@example.com if you have any questions before you begin your tour.
This educational and heritage initiative is a collaboration among the African American Historical Society of South Central Pennsylvania, LancasterHistory, the City of Lancaster Office of Promotion, Historic Lancaster Walking Tour, Inc., along with other local partners and supporters. Please see complete list of supporters below.
This illustration shows the first block of West King Street, Lancaster, PA, view east, about 1850, showing US Congressman Thaddeus Stevens (left), his property manager and confidant, Lydia Hamilton Smith, along with William Whipper, civil rights advocate and African American entrepreneur from Columbia, Lancaster County. Whipper and his partner, Stephen Smith, concealed freedom seekers in their privately owned railroad freight cars and secretly transported them some 80 miles from Columbia, through Lancaster to Philadelphia, from about 1838 until the late 1850’s.
See all sites on this self-guided tour in 90 minutes to two hours. Begin in front of the Visitors Center, 38 Penn Square in Downtown Lancaster (17603), opposite the Lancaster Marriott Hotel.
Visitors will move along an outstanding tour route, following busy roads, down narrow alleys; through cemeteries and churches, learning stories seldom heard beyond the intimacy of local families and read in only a few history books.
Site Host Ron Ashby at the site of Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad shares the story of William Whipper and Stephen Smith whose railroad freight cars transported freedom seekers through the City at this location.
“During previous tour seasons, 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,” said Dr. Leroy T. Hopkins, Jr., President of the African American Historical Society.
More to see and experience...
Some locations with historical markers where you can find out more information about the notable people and events.
City of Lancaster, view from southwest, circa 1800. Illustration courtesy of LancasterHistory
* You will learn about the key role of some of the oldest houses of worship in Lancaster — reaching back to Colonial America — where both the enslaved and enslavers worshipped alongside free people of African descent. Black families found supportive members of the clergy in some majority churches, as well as assistance and encouragement from some business owners and political leaders. Of course, they continued to face many challenges and obstacles because of their race among the wider community.
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.
Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Lutheran Church, oldest Christian Congregation in Lancaster City, 1730.
Below, Tour Site Host Barbara Dorsey explains how Black families were welcomed as members at Trinity,
but were compelled to take seats in the balcony, a practice sadly required in all Lancaster churches during
the late-18th and early 19th centuries.
Bethel AME Church, 2019
Historic Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church is the oldest house of worship established by families of African descent in the City of Lancaster. The founding families rejected membership in other mainstream Christian congregations mainly because those churches insisted on segregated seating. Though this site is not included on these regular walking tours due to its distance from the central Downtown area, Bethel AME offers live performances about its history and its members’ support of the Underground Railroad. The presentations are titled: Living the Experience. Performances are held in the church sanctuary and are available for booking by appointment for groups. Living the Experience is recognized as a Program of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
* 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. From his home and office, here at 45-47 South Queen Street, 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. Site Host Denise Ewell shares the stories of Stevens and his confidant, Lydia Hamilton Smith, a woman of color who lived with the Congressman here and in Washington DC, from about 1848 to 1868, the year Stevens died.
Learn more details of this fascinating story of spies and bounty hunters from this historical marker mounted on the planter in the plaza in front of the City of Lancaster Visitor Center.
Betty Hurdle relates the story of Congressman Stevens and his "spies on the slave-catchers," African-American barber, Robert Boston and Edward Rauch, a white man who worked as a court clerk and moonlighted in the office of the ruthless bounty hunter, George Hughes.
The tour should end at a fitting location: the final resting place of the champion of civil rights, US Congressman Thaddeus Stevens. Two historical markers at this small public cemetery provide ample information about this historic site.
If the 2020 tour season re-opens, it will mark the fifth consecutive year these tours have been conducted by volunteers of the African American Historical Society. During regular monthly guided tours, proceeds benefit the program activities of the African American Historical Society.
For more information and to download reports about these properties in the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, visit
Also working with the African American Historical Society of South Central Pennsylvania on this heritage tourism program, in addition to LancasterHistory.org, City of Lancaster Office of Promotion, and Historic Lancaster Walking Tour, Inc. are the following supporters and collaborators: Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology; Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society; and the Shreiner-Concord Cemetery Foundation.