By Renée S. Gordon
Lancaster, Pennsylvania is the oldest inland city in the country and since its founding it has been on the cutting edge of religious and social tolerance, political ideology, education, architecture and the arts. More than two hundred years ago the city held an exhibit to showcase the artistic talent of the area artisans and that tradition of creativity and craftsmanship has continued unabated.
Lancaster was established in 1721 and designed in 1730 by James Hamilton on the site of a former Native American village known as Hickory. The name was derived from a centrally located hickory tree used as the location of important council meetings. Lancaster’s first “public art” was a hickory tree sign in front of Gibson’s Tavern, then on King Street, in 1722.
The town, part of Penn’s original charter, was named for Lancaster in England and in honor of its namesake took the red rose as its symbol. On September 27, 1777 Lancaster was the colonial capital, after the British capture of Philadelphia and prior to the Continental Congress relocating to York. In 1799 it became the capital of the state and remained so until 1813 when the state capital moved to Harrisburg. Lancaster officially received city status in 1818.
Modern Lancaster is becoming well known as a cultural Mecca and both emerging and established artists have selected the city as a perfect place to both create and showcase their art. The number of galleries and museums, paired with eclectic restaurants, boutiques, entertainment venues and trendy accommodations is almost overwhelming and makes more than one visit mandatory. My suggestion, spend a weekend and begin your visit with LancasterART’s First Friday activities.
Central Lancaster becomes one huge arts festival the first Friday of each month with exhibitions and performances on several blocks radiating from Penn Square in the Downtown area. A consortium of more than 100 arts organizations has joined together to generate a veritable festival of food, entertainment, culture and camaraderie. The venues are free, most sites are handicapped accessible and are within walking distance of each other. A weekly calendar of events, maps and general information is available online. www.lancasterarts.com
The Lancaster City Historic District, one of the largest Registered National Historic Districts in the country, consists of more than 50 individually listed properties and 11 smaller districts and the city’s architectural history reflects the changing styles of the past three centuries. Walking tours begin in Penn Square, originally laid out by Hamilton in the 18th-century.
Soldiers and Sailors Monument stands in the center of the square on the site of the Old Lancaster Courthouse where the Second Continental Congress met. The women of the city raised funds for the sculpture to honor those who perished in the Civil War. The 43-ft. granite statue was dedicated on July 4, 1874. The Goddess of Liberty stands atop the Gothic Revival structure and has been listed on the National Register for 38-years.
Though a private residence, an exterior view of the 1798 stone Gundaker House, 130 East Vine St., is a must see. Built as a stable, it was remodeled into two houses in 1838. One of its most distinctive features is the steep Germanic-style roof.
The red brick Central Market, 23 Market St., dates from 1889 but a market has existed on the site since 1730 making it the oldest farmer’s market in continuous operation in the nation. The latest Romanesque Revival structure was designed by a Philadelphia architect. Shoppers can purchase the freshest local and regional specialties and soak up the atmosphere. www.centralmarketlancaster.com
Newly renovated, the Lancaster Quilt & Textile Museum at 37 N. Market St. showcases the stunning artistry of Amish quilts and groundbreaking temporary exhibits. The collection is considered the best examples of 19th and 20th century Amish quilts in the world. The museum also features an ice cream parlor and a shop with exclusive crafts and gift items. www.quiltandtextilemuseum.com
On Saturday, April 2, 2011 the Quilt & Textile Museum will present a Quilt Symposium & Workshop, from 10AM to 3PM, including two lectures, one workshop and luncheon for $15.00 per person. Lynne Bassett will present “Textiles of the Civil War” and Kyra Hicks will speak on “200 Years of African American Quilt History.” Following the lectures participants will discover how to relate their story through a personal quilt design. Registration is limited, scholarships and Act 48 credit are available for pre-registered PA educators at 717-299-6440 and [email protected]
The Lancaster Heritage Center Museum, 5 W. King St, provides an overview of the county’s history through exhibition and interpretation of its decorative arts. The museum also presents a series of educational programs and hands-on Live & Learn Workshops. www.lancasterheritage.com
Twelve N. Prince St. is the location of the country’s longest continuously running theater. The Fulton Opera House and Theater has been fully restored and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Victorian building was erected in 1852 on the site of the former jail. www.thefulton.org
In keeping with Lancaster’s culturally creative programming the Fulton produces not only “standard” musical and dramatic presentations but also features innovative events throughout the year including a jazz series and my personal favorite, “Thirsty for History.” Theatrical productions in this series are preceded by a brief lecture, accompanied by wine and cheese and a talk by a noted historian to set the play within the context of its time. At the conclusion of the production guests are invited to stay and dialog with the actors. This is a very special way to experience the theater. www.lancasterhistory.org
Charles Demuth’s former home and garden comprise the Demuth Museum dedicated to preserving and presenting the works and legacy of the American modernist painter. He is credited with being one of the creators of precisionism, the first unique American art form. Demuth (1883-1935) painted his surroundings and as you tour you can see what he saw.
The first floor showcases temporary exhibits while the second floor consists of his studio and gallery space. His studio is locked in space and time and one can almost feel his presence. Of special note are the portrait of his mother and a self-portrait. The garden inspired his watercolors and in summer it blooms with flowers that would have been there in his time and two rose bushes that are original to the site. Georgia O’Keefe was a frequent visitor and she too painted in the garden. 120 East King Street. www.demuth.org
Christopher Demuth established the Demuth Tobacco Shop, 114 E. King St., in 1770 during the rule of King George. It is the oldest tobacco shop in the US and has remained in the family. Nestled in the corner of the shop is the original carved figural sign. It is widely regarded one of the best extant examples of a painted colonial shop sign. www.demuthtobaccoshop.com
The Lancaster Museum of Art is housed in the 1846 Greek Revival Grubb Mansion. Interior architectural highlights include an Egyptian marble mantel, iron fireplace, oval staircase and ornate plaster ceilings.
The museum features contemporary local, regional, national and international artists in a series of permanent and rotating exhibits. Special emphasis is placed on artists that reflect Lancaster’s culture and those that are underrepresented in more traditional venues. The Lancaster Museum of Art is renowned for its innovative ongoing community outreach programs. 135 North Lime Street, Lancaster www.lmapa.org
A unique trip deserves very unique accommodations and the Lancaster Arts Hotel, 300 Harrisburg Avenue, is that and more. Located in Uptown Lancaster this boutique hotel blends the best of historic character, urban vibrance, artistic sensibility and inimitable hospitality. The building is a converted 3.5-story double tobacco warehouse. Everything about this hotel is creative, from the art in the guestrooms, luxury linens and amenities to the chocolate and rose left on your pillow at turndown. The furniture is handcrafted and exclusive to the hotel. Parking and WIFI are gratis and the hotel shop carries very select items. The Lancaster Arts Hotel is one of the Historic Hotels of America and I can’t recommend it highly enough. www.lancasterartshotel.com
When most people think of Lancaster they think of iconic pastoral scenes and Amish families. I encourage you to look again at Lancaster. It is only 62-miles from Philadelphia and it is ideal for a day trip, a family weekend or a romantic interlude. There are numerous activities and they are all free or very affordable. Trust me, look again! www.padutchcountry.com
I wish you smooth and creative travels!