AFRICAN-AMERICAN HERITAGE TOURS RETURN FOR 2021
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.
Walking tours of historic Downtown Lancaster with a focus on African American heritage have resumed in June, sponsored by the African American Historical Society of South Central Pennsylvania. Tour dates for the season are:
June 5 / July 10 / August 7/ September 4 / October 2 / November 6
The guided walking tours of Underground Railroad and heritage sites in downtown Lancaster, PA are conducted by volunteers. Conductors lead guests to twelve historic sites, including four with authentic connections to the Underground Railroad. Tour participants move along an outstanding tour route, across bustling 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.
Groups depart from Lancaster City Visitor Center, 38 Penn Square, Lancaster, PA 17603, beginning at 11 AM and 2 PM. The tours last approximately two-hours. No reservations are necessary. Please arrive fifteen to thirty minutes before departure times.
Tour proceeds fund African American Historical Society programs and expenses. Fares: Adults $15 / Seniors (62 & older) $10 / Students (6–18 ) $5 / Children under 6 free.
For a preview, see photos and site descriptions below.
An introduction to the self-guided tour
The Map and 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 and Guide and outlined below:
|1 | 2 | 3 | 5 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 20 | 21 |
Sites designated by the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom as Sites with authentic connections to the Underground Railroad Movement are shown with this logo:
No. 1 Site of Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad Station
Freedom seekers transported through here en route to Philadelphia, 1838 through the late 1850s
This original 80-mile long railroad from Philadelphia to Columbia on the Susquehanna River served as a pathway for freedom seekers. By 1838 the growing number of people fleeing bondage entering Columbia prompted creation of an ingenious method of transport: secret compartments in freight cars where people were concealed. Destination: Philadelphia in a remarkably fast 8 hours. Be sure to look at the display inside entrance to the parking garage on North Queen and Chestnut Streets.
No. 2 - Thaddeus Stevens and Lydia Hamilton Smith Historic Site
Home & Office of Thaddeus Stevens 45-47 South Queen Street, Lancaster, PA
View partially restored buildings and signage in The Commons on Vine at the Lancaster County Convention Center.
The proposed Thaddeus Stevens & Lydia Hamilton Smith Historic Site includes historic buildings incorporated into the Lancaster County Convention Center. These buildings will become a museum and education center to tell the stories of U.S. Congressman Stevens and Mrs. Smith, a free woman of color who acted as Stevens’ housekeeper and confidante here and in Washington D.C. This site is projected to open to the public by the end of 2022 under the leadership of LancasterHistory, Lancaster County's Historical Society
No. 3 Lydia Hamilton Smith Home
Property manager and confidante of Thaddeus Stevens, from 1848–1868
East Vine and South Christian Streets
Mrs. Smith (1815-1884) purchased this home from the Congressman in 1860 for $500, demonstrating the importance of property ownership as a path toward attaining social equality. These buildings will be retained and soon be improved inside as the offices of the Convention Center staff.
No. 5 - Thaddeus Stevens Grave & Monument
Shreiner-Concord Cemetery, W. Chestnut & N. Mulberry Streets, Lancaster
Open daily from dawn until dusk.
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 Graves of Abolitionist Congressman and many Civil War veterans link this site to nation’s anti-slavery and Underground Railroad movements. Area volunteers and students help maintain this historic site.
No. 8 - Lancaster County Jail
Site of a bold break from jail by women aided by an unlikely co-conspirator - The County Sheriff!
42 North Prince Street, Lancaster, PA
Built in 1851, the historic Fulton Theatre rests on the foundations of Lancaster's 18th century county jail and workhouse. In 1835, Lancaster County Sheriff “Dare Devil Dave” Miller, an abolitionist and humanitarian, secretly released two African women from their cell, rather than allow them to be taken back into slavery by bounty hunters who had seized them from a farm in Eden Township, Lancaster County.
The lobby is open during regular box office hours.
No. 9 Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church
The oldest congregation in Lancaster
South Duke & East Mifflin Street
Established in 1730, Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church is the oldest congregation in Lancaster, this faith community ministered to those enslaved and to free black families; many Africans mentioned in pastoral records from the Colonial era. 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.
No. 10 Saint James Episcopal Church
A ministry to enslaved and free blacks and slave owners
North Duke & East Orange Streets
Established in 1744, Saint James Episcopal Church ministered to enslaved and free blacks as well as slave owners. Also due to segregaed seating during worship services, African members left to establish a separate congregation in 1817 that became Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Formerly enslaved, Dinah “The Fortune Teller” McIntire owned property. She died at age 113; buried here in 1819. Rev. Samuel Bowman (1800-1861) planned for burial of black housekeeper, Louisa Wells, in his family plot, 1867. Extensive social justice ministries during the period early to mid-20th century.
No. 11 Lancaster County Courthouse
Site of Steven's key speech on Reconstruction.
East King at North Duke Street
On the steps of this 1852 building, Thaddeus Stevens gave a speech at a huge rally that changed history. On Sept. 6, 1865, the radical Republican Congressman told his followers he was going back to Congress to introduce the Reconstruction Act to control the economy of the South and uplift the formerly enslaved. One provision of the Act would allow the military to seize land from the large plantations and turn over small farm properties to Black families. This led to the political battlecry: "40 acres & a mule" for liberated black families in the “conquered Southern states.” This far-reaching plan was not to suceed since it brought about a swift backlash with the formation of white supremacist organizations, most notably, the Ku Klux Klan.
No. 12 Site of slave catcher’s office
Rauch & Booth — Lancaster’s ‘freedom spies’
West King Street, across from the Visitor Center
During the 1840s and 50s,in an upper floor office at No. 8 West King Street, George Hughes operated a business that supported bounty hunters who came from southern states, tracking formerly enslaved Africans in Lancaster City and surrounding countryside. Edward Rauch, the white office assistant for the illiterate Hughes, recorded the slave catchers’ plans and passed them to Thaddeus Stevens. Robert Boston, a barber of African descent, had a shop was nearby. He could see who was coming and going at Hughes' office relaying the information to Stevens. Stevens used the information to warn Underground Railroad “Stationmasters” about planned raids.
No. 13 Site of Elite Hotel
30 South Queen Street
Only hotel in Lancaster to provide rooms to African Americans in the early 20th century. Many guests were traveling performers booked at Fulton Opera House.
No. 20 Lancaster Kitchen & Caterer’s Supply Co.
Successful Black business man
37 East Grant Street
Caterer and premier chef, William G. Payne was born enslaved in Virginia. He started a restaurant and catering business at 27 East Orange Street and, as his success and reputation spread, he was hired as Caterer and Steward for the Hamilton Club, then an exclusive private club only open to white people. In 1906, William leased 135 East Grant Street and opened the Lancaster Kitchen & Caterers' Supply Company, which he owned and operated from 1906 to 1914.
No. 21 Rustin speaks
American leader in social movements
YWCA, Corner of North Lime & East Orange Streets
Bayard Rustin (1912–1987), leading strategist of the Civil Rights Movement 1955-1968 and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke here on March 9, 1950, delivering speeches for young people & adults on non-violent protest, social inclusiveness and the dangers of nuclear proliferation. Sponsored by American Friends Service Committee: Dr. Paul L. Whitely and Dr. Henry Williams, local organizers.
Additional Sites of Interest in Lancaster
Lancaster History and James Buchanan’s Wheatland
LancasterHistory, 230 North President Avenue, Lancaster, PA 17603
LancasterHistory, formerly known as Lancaster County’s Historical Society, is an award-winning, local history museum 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.
LancasterHistory currently offers guided, virtual tours of Wheatland, the beloved home of 15th U.S. President James Buchanan.
Bethel AME Church
Bethel AME, 450-512 East Strawberry Street, Lancaster, PA 17602
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 because of 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.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions before you begin your tour.
For more information and to download reports about these properties in the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, visit undergroundrroriginspa.org/heritage-re-sources
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.