Since the Historic Lancaster Walking Tour began operating during the nation’s bicentennial in 1976, visitors have heard volunteer guides tell exceptional stories about the city’s history. In turn, guides have heard exceptional stories from visitors.
“I never stop being amazed by the interesting people who wander onto our Lancaster walking tour,” says Jim Herrick, a volunteer guide for 11 years and author of a historic guidebook to the city. “Many come from overseas, which is itself fascinating.”
For example, Frank Burns, of Dublin, Ireland, recently took the tour. Herrick was intrigued to hear that Burns had researched a possible connection between Kate (Catherine) Hewitt, fiancee of Gen. John Fulton Reynolds, and a nanny for Jefferson Davis’s children who also was named Catherine.
After Reynolds, a Lancaster native, was killed on the first day of the battle of Gettysburg, Kate Hewitt did what she had pledged to do if he did not survive the war: she became a nun in the Sisters of Charity Convent at Emmitsburg, Maryland.
Seemingly on a separate research tract, Burns found references to the Davis’ Irish nanny, Catherine (no surname given). He wondered if this Catherine was an orphan girl named Catherine Dunn, whom Hewitt had taken under her wing years before she joined the convent. Coincidental associations led him to undertake more research.
In 2016, Burns speculated about this possible connection in a self-published book, “The Two Catherines.” After returning to Ireland, he sent a copy to Herrick. “The coincidences are eyebrow-raising and fun to consider,” Herrick says.
Kay Cameron, a Walking Tour guide for 33 years, told the Scribbler about Herrick’s encounter with Burns as part of an effort to broadcast the need for more volunteers. The Walking Tour lost three guides this year. Now only about a dozen people conduct tours.
Tours for city students are free. Other rates are modest.
“We have been blessed with great numbers of guests this summer and our financial situation is great,” Cameron says. “We give away most of our money to local causes that reflect our goals. But we are really in need of a few good people to train.”
If you would like to learn more about Lancaster’s history so you can guide visitors like Frank Burns and natives who want to know more about their own town, contact the Walking Tour at historiclancasterwalkngtour.org or Herrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dolores Myers, executive director of Boehm’s Chapel at Willow Street, adds to the Scribbler’s Aug. 7 explanation that the village of Willow Street was named for willow trees.
Myers takes her information from Wilma Musser’s “The Village of West Willow, 1710-1794,” which appeared in a Community Historians article in 1974.
“West Willow was first called Willow Street, as shown on Joshua Scott’s map of 1824,” wrote Musser. “The present village of Willow Street, according to Scott’s map, was called ‘Muddy Lane’ and consisted of only a short row of houses.”
So, asks Myers, can we assume that the original willow trees sprouted in West Willow, “while no willow trees were planted, before 1824, to eliminate the mud in present-day Willow Street?”
Ginger Shelley, of Willow Street, says someone living in East Anglia, England, would not think it odd for a town to be named “Something” Street. More than 40 towns and villages, most in Norfolk and Suffolk counties, use that naming pattern.
“I’d rather have the address of Willow Street, Pennsylvania,” she comments, “than Garlic Street, Norfolk!”
Jack Brubaker, retired from the LNP staff, writes “The Scribbler” column every Wednesday. He welcomes comments and contributions at email@example.com.