Lancaster History

Three Centuries of Records 

In 1728, residents living in the backwoods of Chester County complained that “thieves, vagabonds, and ill people” had infested the rural areas of what is now Lancaster County and petitioned for the creation of a new county.  Residents also had to travel great distances to reach the Courthouse.  Lancaster County was formed May 10, 1729 to address these concerns and bring a new seat of government to residents that were settled in this vast wilderness.  It was the first county created beyond the original three counties of Bucks, Chester, and Philadelphia.     

The first Lancaster County Commissioners enlisted the services of many individuals to establish its early government.  They didn’t have a courthouse so the first court sessions were held in a tavern owned by John Postlewaite near the Susquehanna River.  Since Lancaster was also without a jail, Sheriff Robert Barber built the first “goal” in 1730 at his home.  Lancaster County still needed to be properly divided from Chester County so a surveyor named John Taylor was paid the sum of three pounds for “running the division line.”   

As the new County prospered, the area now called Penn Square (where the Soldiers and Sailors monument is located) was chosen as the spot for the first Courthouse.  It was finished in 1738.  This Courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1784 and a new one was built in its place in 1787.  This Courthouse became known by residents as the State House since Lancaster served as the state capital from 1799-1812.  A new Courthouse was constructed in 1852 at the corner of King and Duke Streets.  The Courthouse became a central hub for residents to record property deeds, wills, and civil cases as well as obtain naturalization papers and marriage licenses.  These documents are all government records created for a purpose yet over time they hold historical value to genealogists, title searchers, engineers, and historians.  Today the Lancaster County Archives preserves nearly three centuries of local historical records originally created in the Lancaster County Courthouse.