Photo of Old Main

Built on what was storied to be Lancaster’s former Gallows Hill, Old Main (in the middle) is flanked by Goethean Hall, on the left, and Diagnothian Hall in this 1850s photo. The spot, the highest point in Lancaster city, was the site of public hangings before 1834.

Dear Dr. Scribblerhangman:

Is it true that Franklin & Marshall College is on the highest land in Lancaster city? Was it once called Hangmans Hill because a gallows was on the site so that those who were about to be executed by hanging could get a last view of Lancaster city?

Paul H. Ripple


Dear Paul:

You are close, Paul. The area of Buchanan Park directly west of F&M’s Old Main is the city’s high point at 438 feet, according to Lancaster County’s Geographic Information Services.

And you are correct that the area up there once was known as Gallows (not Hangmans) Hill. People were hanged at or very near the highest point in town.

Eighteen Lancastrians were hanged in public before 1834, according to an article written by the late John W.W. Loose for the Journal of the Lancaster County Historical Society. Many of these people, including one woman, were hanged at the future site of F&M. Three were men accused of treason or spying during the Revolution.

It occurs to the Scribbler that the reason those people were hanged high was not so that they could see the city but so that the city could see them. Public hangings drew thousands of spectators. The gallows rose well above the high point, so everyone who traveled to the west side of town could watch the show.

After 1834, another 23 Lancastrians were hanged within the jail yard at West King and North Prince streets, until 1853. After that, people were hanged in the jail yard at the present prison site on East King Street, until 1912. Spectators were limited at both places by the amount of space in the yards and on nearby walls and rooftops.

Local hangings ended after 1912. Electrocutions began at the State Penitentiary at Rockview.

Dear Dr. Scribblerbridge:

I have a friend who lived about four or five houses south of the Engleside Bridge when it was destroyed in 1972 by Tropical Storm Agnes. He says traffic was diverted to the new northbound bridge that had been built in 1970.

He also believes that a Bailey bridge was constructed for some time at the location of the singing bridge. It was kept in place until the new southbound bridge was finished in 1975.

Have you ever heard about a Bailey bridge used for a few years before the concrete southbound bridge was opened? What website could I view to tell me about it?

Larry Woods


Dear Larry:

You can find information about Bailey bridges — prefabricated portable bridges used as temporary stream crossings — at several websites. But you probably won’t find anything about Engleside’s Bailey bridge on the Web.

Rain from Agnes swelled the Conestoga River on June 23, 1972. High water collapsed the northern half of the steel bridge carrying South Prince Street (Route 222) south across the river. The iron bridge crashed into the adjacent railroad bridge.

The wrecked span had been called the “singing bridge” because of the humming sound car tires made as they rolled over a metal grid bridge floor. The Bailey bridge did not sing.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed a 150-foot-long temporary bridge in that location to carry traffic south. The Highland Avenue Bridge, to its east, continued to carry Route 222 traffic north into the city. (Briefly, before the Bailey bridge was installed, the Highland Avenue Bridge transported traffic both into and out of the city.)

In February 1975, construction crews disassembled the Bailey bridge and hauled it back to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers storage area at New Cumberland.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation then built and installed the current 300-foot-long concrete span. This southbound bridge replacement opened 40 years ago this month.

Jack Brubaker, a retired LNP staff writer, writes “The Scribbler” column twice a week. He welcomes comments and contributions at or 669-1929.

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