Side Quest: Safe Harbor Village Walking Tour

Update: A majority of this property has recently been posted as no trespassing (April 2023). The segments available to the public are 1 through 4.

In the late 1990s, the Safe Harbor Citizens’ Advisory Committee created a 1.25-mile self-guided educational and recreational walking tour of the historic Safe Harbor Village. The group even designed and published a double-sided three-fold brochure. I recently found a copy of the long-lost brochure and have republished it here.

The trail still exists today, highlighted by white and blue markers. They once appeared yellow and white.

Click here for directions on where to start the walking tour at Safe Harbor Park, found at 5365 River Road, Conestoga, PA.


Walking Guide to the Historic Safe Harbor Village

Download the UPDATED Walking Guide to the Historic Safe Harbor Village brochure.


A Walking Guide To The Historic Safe Harbor Village


Historic Safe Harbor Village

Why did the Historic Safe Harbor Village come into existence? In 1846, Reeves Abbott & Company from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, selected the Safe Harbor area to build the Safe Harbor Iron Works.

The location for the industry was ideal with the downriver navigation and canals on both the Susquehanna and Conestoga Rivers. Construction required about two years, and production began in August 1848. Arranged along the Conestoga River on the Conestoga Township side from north to south where the blast furnace, foundry, blacksmith shop, employee’s store, and the rolling mill. The rolling mill was the largest of all structures. It covered over an acre of ground and stood on the site of the present Safe Harbor Park’s tennis courts.

Safe Harbor Rolling Mill was so large it covered over an acre of ground.

Employees numbered about 250, some of whom were local residents, but many came from other parts of the country, and even a sizeable group direct from Ireland. The housing problem created by this influx into a rural community was solved by the iron company building a village containing over seventy duplex frame dwellings, complete with a system of streets with names such as Cedar, Spring, Griffin, and Mill.

The Village deteriorated after the ravages of a flood that washed out the bridge crossing to the other side of the river where the canal boats were located. This stopped the transportation of the materials needed for production as well as goods going to the market. Many houses in disrepair were sold around 1913 for $30.00 to be torn down. Two original houses remain on Groff Street located off Main Street; however, they have been modified.

Iron Master’s House

The stonework was done by Benjamin Eshelman, early Mennonite settler (1711), and stonemason. Current owners are Pam and David Pflumn, who refinished the house. You are viewing the actual front of the house as it faced Spring Street, the main thoroughfare. Two date slates were found under the old stucco noting dates of 1725 and 1765, along with Masonic symbols engraved on the one slate.


Double House Foundation On Spring Street

The Safe Harbor Iron Works Irish Puddler’s families lived in these two-story houses through a very prosperous period between 1846 and 1865. Note the chimney on the sketch, which enabled access by both sides of the house for heating and cooking. An outside privy was usually located to the rear of the house about 30 yards.

The Village of Safe Harbor by 1851 was known as one of the “booziest” for its size anywhere in the county. It had five taverns, three liquor stores, and six beer halls. By 1913, the houses had all been old for the lumber and materials. Most foundations in the Safe Harbor Arboretum have been filled in; however, along the trail, many depressions where houses stood are still visible on both sides of the path.

Schoolhouse and Odd Fellows Hall

Behind the Odd Fellows Hall stands a schoolhouse, best visible from today’s Main Street. The Safe Harbor Independent School comprised the Safe Harbor property until it became a separate school district. In 1882, the school was held on the second floor of the Odd Fellows Hall with attendance around 80 pupils. The Charles M. Howell Masonic Lodge, No. 496, founded at Safe Harbor, August 17, 1871, held their meetings on the third floor of the Odd Fellows Hall until it moved to its present site of Millersville in 1899.

Conestoga Lodge No. 334 of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows

Independent School Site

The independent school was built by the same builder as the church with structural similarities. Only a few remaining stones are left from the foundation.


St. Mary Catholic Church

The Irish Iron Puddlers of Safe Harbor Iron Works built a “substantial stone church” in 1854. This beautiful 40 x 62 feet stone chapel with slate roof was near the eastern end of Safe Harbor Spring Street. There was a small, vaulted and semi-circular apse built into the southern wall for the altar. The immediate church and churchyard area are still under the auspices of the Harrisburg Catholic Diocese.

The ruins of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in 1955.


The Harrisburg Catholic Diocese contributed a stone monument in memory of those who are buried here.


We know of 17 Irish family names, and perhaps as many as 30 unknowns buried at this site. You can see recovered stones and restored markers for those known to research.

In the railroad section, a bronze plaque displays another 44 family names. It is believed that other unknowns are buried at this site as well. Many depressions are visible where bodies are buried.


Farm Location (now on private property)

Here stood a Lancaster County Bank Barn approximately 100 x 60 feet. The stone foundation is the only remains of what was once a bustling dairy farm with barn, farmhouse, and large root cellar. The forested land you see all around was once grazing and crop fields.

Please be aware that stop eight, Farm Location, is now on private property owned by Safe Harbor Partners LP and should be omitted from your visit.

Foundations Along Cedar Street

The foundation depressions are well defined with stones and various flourishing plants of ground cover, reminding us of what once was.

Safe Harbor Iron Works Map smaller
Map of Safe Harbor Iron Works 1880.

Yellow-Blue Trail

The Yellow-Blue Trail (designated by yellow-blue markers on trees) is approximately 1.25 miles in length; however, after reaching site 6 & 7, one may shorten the hike by walking back past site 5 and cut across the “Blue Path” shortcut to location 9. This walk is measured at 1,750 feet.

This trail of history was maintained by the Safe Harbor Citizens’ Advisory Committee for your educational and recreational pleasure.


Planning Your Visit

Safe Harbor Park & Arboretum. This 31-acre property is at 5365 River Road, Conestoga, PA 17516. Click here for directions.


Before You Go

Please be aware that stop eight, Farm Location, is now on private property owned by Safe Harbor Partners LP and should be omitted from your visit. The park is open from sunrise to sunset.

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Learn More About Safe Harbor

If you want to learn more about Safe Harbor read, “Along the Susquehanna at the mouth of the Conestoga River lies a village born in fire but died from ice. Survey the razed company ghost town of Safe Harbor.” Click here for the article.


7 thoughts on “Side Quest: Safe Harbor Village Walking Tour

  1. Thank you for taking the time to write and post this information about the history of the area!

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