City hall

Below is the exterior of City Hall as seen from North Duke Street.

The current City Hall building at 120 N. Duke St. certainly looks the part – it’s an imposing, historic-looking building that just exudes importance.

But there’s another City Hall building you can explore in Lancaster, and that one has even more history under its belt.

If you head to Penn Square, it’s hard to miss the Lancaster Visitors Center, located on the opposite corner from the Marriott hotel.

It’s a modest three-and-a-half-story brick building in the Federal style of architecture that was popular in the early days of the United States – from about 1780 to 1830.

That building, constructed between 1795 and 1797, was the former Lancaster City Hall.

Over the years, it also held a post office, a library, a Masonic lodge and – most impressively – the offices of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania when Lancaster was the capital of the state from 1799 to 1812.

In the early 20th century, the building fell into disrepair and needed to be restored in 1924.

Beginning in 1974, the building housed the Heritage Center Museum until it closed its doors in 2011, due to declining donations and the loss of state funding. Since then, it has served as the city’s visitors center.

And what about the big building on Duke Street? You know, the one that serves as City Hall now?

Well, that building has a little story of its own.

Constructed in 1892 by Philadelphia architect James Windrim, the building served as Lancaster’s post office from its opening until 1932, at which time it was redesigned and converted to the new City Hall.

That project was one of the first local examples of adaptive reuse, a concept common in downtown Lancaster today. And the redesign was led by one of the most famous names in Lancaster’s architectural history – the ubiquitous C. Emlen Urban.

Sources: LNP archives, LancasterOnline, LancasterHistory.org