History of Conestoga Township as recorded in the ‘1875 Historical Atlas of Lancaster County’

Township Tuesday

Welcome to Township Tuesday, where each week, we will examine the history of different Lancaster County townships. This week: Conestoga Township as recorded in the 1875 Historical Atlas of Lancaster County. A few minor edits have been made, mostly for readability, plus adding additional images from sources outside of the Atlas. Additional information has also been added about John W. Urban.

1875 Historical Atlas of Lancaster County

The 1875 Historical Atlas of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was compiled by the famous cartographer and atlas maker Major L. H. Everts of Geneva, Illinois. Click here to read more about the Atlas and Everts.

Conestoga Township 

The township of Conestoga was originally organized in the year 1712, and the boundaries, as at first fixed, included all the territory in the following survey: “Beginning at the mouth of Pequea Creek, thence up Susquehanna, thence to the mouth of Conestoga Creek, thence up the said creek to the mouth of Mill Creek, thence by a direct line to Pequea to the mouth of Beaver Creek, thence down Pequea to the place of beginning.”

1875 map of Conestoga Township

The boundaries have been materially altered from the above, the present lines being: West by Lancaster Township, northeast by Pequea, south by Martic, southwest by the Susquehanna River, west by Manor. The area of the township is 19,601 acres; surface, rolling; soil, clay, and gravel, of excellent fertility, and generally well cultivated.

Safe Harbor

In point of commercial importance, Safe Harbor claims precedence.

This village is located at the confluence of Conestoga Creek and the Susquehanna River. There the Conestoga is connected with the Tide-Water Canal, on the opposite bank of the river. Extensive rolling-mills are located here, which, unfortunately, suspended operations for several years. It is intended to commence operations again in the ensuing spring. These works were erected at the cost of two hundred thousand dollars and manufactured, in 1852, the greater portion of the iron used in the construction of the Central Railroad. Reeves & Son of Philadelphia now owns the works.

The fishing trade of Safe Harbor constitutes one of its most important features. A great number of shad are caught annually with the seine.

Safe Harbor is a post-town, the present Postmaster being Dr. J. C. Gatchell. There is quite a settlement here, and the place wears an air of business enterprise that generally reflects credit upon the citizens.

Below this place is located the Indian rocks, of which we proceed to give a brief description. One of the most interesting features of Conestoga Township and neighborhood, from an antiquarian standpoint, is the very interesting Indian hieroglyphics, which are carved upon the various rocks and rocky islets that abound in the Susquehanna below Safe Harbor.


The most important of these were photographed and reduced to casts in plaster, taken by members of the Linnman Society of Lancaster County, in October 1863, and completed in the summer of 1864.

A committee was appointed by the above society, with the President, Professor T. C. Porter, then of Lancaster, now of Lafayette College, Easton, Pa., as chairman.

Drawings on a greatly reduced scale were made from the casts by Mr. Jacob Stauffer, and photographic copies, still more reduced, by Mr. W. L. Gill, members of the society.

These figures are found on two rocks, the largest of which lies a full half-mile below the dam, in a line nearly due north from the mouth of the Conestoga, and measures eighty-two feet from north to south, and forty feet from east to west. It slopes gradually upward from north to south, the lowest part being nine feet and the highest sixteen feet, above the low-water mark.

The smaller one is situated about two hundred and fifty yards farther up, in the same line, at a distance of some four hundred or five hundred yards from the eastern shore. It measures from east to west, on the north side, twenty feet; on the south side, twenty-nine feet eight inches; from north to south, on the east side, twelve feet nine inches; on the west side, eight feet six inches. The height of the west side above the low-water mark is six feet; of the east side twelve feet nine inches.

The two rocks contain eighty distinct figures, and a number more almost entirely obliterated. They are much scattered and seem to have been formed without regard to order so that it is not possible for an unskilled observer to say that they bear any necessary relation to each other. They are probably symbolical, but it is left to those who are versed in American antiquities to decipher their meaning.

Some points, however, are clear. They were made by the aborigines and made at a high cost of time and labor, with rude stone implements, because no sharp lines or cuts betray the use of iron or steel. This, in connection with their number and variety, proves that they were not the offspring of idle fancy or the work of idle hours, but the product of design toward some end of high importance in the eyes of the sculptors.

Conestoga Centre

The next place of importance, and, in point of general business and population, the largest place, in Conestoga Township, is Conestoga Centre, a village situated a little north of the center of the township, containing 100 dwellings and five hundred inhabitants, four general stores, one shoe store, two hotels, two restaurants, two wagon and two blacksmith’s shops, and several other places of business; also, four churches, one each of the Methodist, Old Mennonite, German Reformed, and African Methodist denominations, and three common schools.

The first house erected in this village was a log cabin, built on the present site of Adam Kendig’s hotel, by John Kromel, about the year 1728. The oldest living inhabitant of the place is Dr. John Kendig, now in his seventy-sixth year, who was born there. He has practiced medicine in the village and surrounding country for at least half a century.

Among the most enterprising businessmen of the Centre is Mr. J. R. Yentzer, who manufactures upwards of one million cigars annually to supply his wholesale and retail trade.

John W. Urban

John W. Urban

Mr. John W. Urban, of this place, offers a good example of an energetic businessman and a first-class citizen. He was born in Conestoga Centre in 1845, enlisted in the Union army at the age of seventeen, and served faithfully for four years and three months.

Residence and Store of John W. Urban. Dealer in dry goods, groceries, queensware, notions, & c. Conestoga Centre, Lancaster County

During his service, he was thrice taken prisoner and served seven gloomy months in the notorious Andersonville prison. After his return home, he was elected, in 1867, to the office of Township Assessor, and in that capacity served six years, during which time he also filled the appointment of Assistant United States Marshal and helped make the ninth United States census. In 1872 he was elected Clerk of the Court of Quarter Sessions, which position he now fills. He also attends to his general store business.

Additional Notes

Later in 1882, Urban wrote the 484-page book, Battle Field And Prison Pen, Or Through The War And Thrice A Prisoner In Rebel Dungeons. Urban described the book as “a graphic recital of personal experiences throughout the whole period of the late War for the Union—during which the author was actively engaged in 25 Battles and Skirmishes, was three times taken prisoner of war, and incarcerated in the notorious rebel dungeons, Libby, Pemberton, Andersonville, Savannah, and others. An inside view of those dens of death, atrocities practiced, etc.; in fact, a recital of possibly as varied and thrilling experiences as was known during all the wild vicissitudes of that terrible four years of internecine strife.” Click here to read the book for free.

The post-office is Conestoga; Postmaster, Peter M Bruner.

There are two other places in the township where flourishing villages are located, viz., at Colemanville and Petersville, both of which are post-towns; the latter marked on the map as Slackwater.

Petersville and Slackwater south of Millersville.

The old Lancaster and Susquehanna Slack-Water Canal runs through Petersville. During the operation of that commercial enterprise, the village embraced the favorable opportunity its traffic offered and progressed rapidly.

The charter of the Canal Company was granted on April 1, 1837. It was subsequently purchased by Mr. Coleman, who, after sinking a large sum in endeavoring to make it a financial success, was compelled to sell it at sheriff’s sale in 1864.

Of the nine original Conestoga Navigation locks between Lancaster and the Susquehanna River, Lock 6 is the only survivor.
Of the nine original Conestoga Navigation locks between Lancaster and the Susquehanna River, Lock 6 is the only survivor.

It was then purchased by Messrs. Reeves & Son, of Philadelphia, for ten thousand dollars—less than one-sixteenth of the original cost. Messrs. Peters & Revan recently bought all but about two and a half miles of the lower end, which Messrs. Reeves & Son retained for transporting material for their ironworks at Safe Harbor. Click here to read more about the Conestoga Navigation Company’s Lock #6 in Safe Harbor.

The industrial and manufacturing interests of the township can be briefly summed up by the following statistics: There is one woolen mill, one paper mill, one furnace, one rolling mill, three grist mills, five sawmills, and several lime-kilns in the township; also, eight stores and nine hotels. Of churches, there are six, schools ten, and four post-offices.

Boat approaching the Conestoga Navigation Company dock at Safe Harbor.
Boat approaching the Conestoga Navigation Company dock at Safe Harbor.

In 1860, the population was 3,021; in 1875, it was estimated at 3,500—taxables, four hundred; real and personal value $1,289,754.

There is a railroad project in operation which will be completed during the year. It is the Columbia and Port Deposit Railroad, the construction of which is to be pushed forward with dispatch. This will open a line of traffic between Columbia and Port Deposit, which will be mutually beneficial to both places and intermediate points.

The township’s principal streams are the Susquehanna River, the Conestoga, and Pequea Creeks, which add very materially to its agricultural and commercial importance.

The chief feature of the township is agriculture. It contains many good practical farmers, including Alexander Zercher, Christian E. Miller, Adam Bottsfield, Jacob Thomas, Christian Warfel, and John Hess. Abraham Kendig, Christian Good, David H. Hess, and others.

1899 map of Conestoga Township

Every kind of grain is raised in abundance. The fertility of the soil, combined with the industry and enterprise of the inhabitants, makes Conestoga one of the wealthiest and best townships in the County.

Click here to see more entries from the 1875 Historical Atlas of Lancaster County.


Now you can own a beautiful reproduction map of Conestoga Township.

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