Taking the Underground Railroad (and the bus) back into black history

Re-enactor A. Lee Brinson, portraying Jonathan Sweeney, speaks to a grave at the Shreiner-Concord Cemetery in Lancaster. (Blaine T. Shahan/Staff)

This list was originally published Dec. 15, 2016.

Whether you've lived in Lancaster County your entire life, recently moved here or are just visiting, there's always something new to learn about Pennsylvania's sixth most-populated county.

Here are a few tidbits of Lancaster County history you might not know.

Lancaster's jail

The castle on East King

The county prison in Lancaster city was built in 1851 at a cost of $110,000. (File photo)

The Lancaster jail was completed in 1851 and was designed just like the Lancaster Castle in Lancaster, England. 

Since Sept. 12, 1851, prisoners have been housed in the Norman Revival-style castle at what is now known as Lancaster County Prison.


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The design of the prison is almost an exact model of an 18th-century castle in the English county of Lancashire with an arched gateway and a large grating of iron bars that was lowered by chains in front of the main entrance.

Its initial construction included two large circular towers facing East King Street and two square towers behind.

Between the four towers rose a 110-foot polygonal tower, which served as an airshaft until 1886, when it was dismantled. 

The facility was modernized and enlarged in 1972. 

Underground railroad

Underground Railroad

Underground Railroad activities revolved around the point where the bridge between Columbia and Wrightsville touched the Susquehanna River’s eastern shoreline. Located here were the businesses and homes of people assisting freedom seekers and the western terminus of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad.

(Joshua Schott map of 1824 courtesy of Lancaster History.org)

While there never were any actual railways tunneling underground across Lancaster County and beyond, the Underground Railroad was as real as the tracks that made up the nation's early rail corridors.

Lancaster County has the most sites — eight — in Pennsylvania that have been tied to the Underground Railroad.


A hiding place for fugitive slaves in Drumore Township

Its "stations" included:

Columbia, where enslaved African-Americans arrived from the South.

•The Lancaster city properties of abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens and Lydia Hamilton Smith, where a cistern likely hid escaping slaves.

• Christiana, where farmer, abolitionist and former slave William Parker and others fought a Maryland slave owner's attempt to recover his "property."

Covered bridges

Covered Bridge Metric Century

Bike riders come through the covered bridge on Hunsicker Road during the Covered Bridge Metric Century in Lancaster on Sunday morning, Aug. 16, 2015.

Lancaster County has 29 remaining covered bridges, the most of any county in Pennsylvania, according to LNP archives. 

At one time, there were over 130 covered bridges in the county. Of those bridges, 28 are red and one is white.  

During the 1800s, there were over 12,000 covered bridges in the United States but that number has dwindled down to around 750 due to fire, flood, neglect and modern replacement, according to the book "Pennsylvania's Covered Bridges" by Fred J. Moll.  

In Pennsylvania, the list of covered bridges dropped from over 1,500 in the mid-1800s to slightly over 200 today.

Pennsylvania, however, still has more covered bridges than any other state.

Meanwhile, the Lancaster Bicycle Club holds the Covered Bridge Metric Century ride each year that takes riders through at least six covered bridges. 

Funds raised through the ride serve as the source for ongoing donations to the county for maintaining the covered bridges.

Olympian’s grave in Lancaster County 

Barney Ewell

Meredith Calien unwraps Barney Ewell memorabilia purchased from the Ewell family by her late husband, John Wilson, at her home in East Hempfield Township on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. 

Barney Ewell, McCaskey ’36, the only Lancastrian ever to win an Olympic gold medal, is buried in Conestoga Memorial Park, according to LNP archives. 

Ewell, who died at age 78 in 1996, won dozens of national and international track and field titles, and was likely the fastest man in the world at some point in the early 1940s. Unfortunately, he reached his prime as Adolph Hitler did.

The Olympic games of 1940 and 1944, one or both of which could have been Ewell's Olympics, were canceled because of World War II. Ewell finally got to the 1948 Olympics in London, at age 30.

He still won a gold medal in the 400 relay, and silvers in the 100 and 200 meters.