If it weren’t for the traffic light at the intersection of Village and Lampeter Road, it would be easy to miss the village of Lampeter and the area known as Lampeter Square. However, the area played an important role in early Lancaster County history.
Lampeter was one of the county’s first areas to be settled when groups of Swiss Mennonite refugees fleeing religious persecution arrived here in 1710. Attracted by the liberal proposals of William Penn, they made the hazardous voyage across the Atlantic and came to what was then literally Penn’s Woods. They settled in the vicinity of Willow Street and Lampeter.
Even before immigrants began arriving, what is now Village Road was a well-worn Indian trail. As additional settlers made the region home, the trail became one of the primary east-west paths for these early pioneers.
After the invention of the Conestoga Wagon and their use of the path became so common, it became known as the Conestoga Road.
Today the Lampeter sits near the center of West Lampeter Township. But before 1841, there wasn’t an East and West Lampeter Township. It was just Lampeter Township—one of the original townships formed when Lancaster County was laid out in 1729.
While the actual village of Lampeter was settled during the first half of the 1700s, a rumor emerged around the mid-1800s that the small hamlet was named after a local resident similar to Marietta or Wrightsville.
Legend has it that the community was home to a tavern run by a disabled individual named Peter Yeordy. Apparently, the man was affectionately called “Lame Peter.” Eventually, the name was abbreviated to Lampeter.
Apparently, the urban legend originated from a unique work of fiction entitled The Legend of Hell Street Lane or the Man with Two Heads, written by Ezra Lamborn, an old school teacher who lived in the neighborhood of Lampeter Square. Over time, the fictional story was accepted as fact.
In reality, Lampeter was named after a town in Wales, which seems weird for an area known for German-speaking settlers.
It wasn’t just Swiss Mennonites who settled in the area. Welsh immigrants came as well. Despite being a smaller percentage of the population, the Welsh proved to be intelligent and influential, playing a prominent role in public affairs.
From this position of power, these early Welsh settlers named the township Lampeter after Lampeter, Wales. In Wales, Lampeter is a place of theological learning. In Welsh, the word means “The Church of Peter” or “St. Peter’s Church.”
On the southwest corner, across from the Turkey Hill Market, is a late 18th-century red-brick tavern built circa-1765. Around 1910 it became the town trolley station for rail service to/from Lancaster City, and beside it stood a blacksmith shop.
Today it’s the Lampeter Café. The property has the most curious deed restriction. The restaurant is prevented from selling sandwiches. 🤔
Diagonally across from the Lampeter Café is the large, limestone 1815 Henry Miller house. It served first as a tavern and later became a clothing store, a smorgasbord restaurant, and a printing shop.
The first English edition of the Martyrs Mirror was printed here in 1837. These original copies even bear the label: Square of Lampeter.
Martyrs Mirror (or The Bloody Theater) was first published in Holland in 1660 by Thieleman J. van Braght. It documents the stories and testimonies of Christian martyrs, especially Anabaptists. The book’s full title is The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians who baptized only upon confession of faith, and who suffered and died for the testimony of Jesus, their Saviour, from the time of Christ to the year A.D. 1660.
Next to the Bible, the Martyrs Mirror has historically held the most significant and prominent place in Amish and Mennonite homes.
The village’s first “mansion” was once at 1615 Lampeter Road just north of the square. The building is gone today. It was built by the founder of Eshelman Red Rose Feeds, John Eshelman.
In April of 1842, John Eshelman started selling grist mill products to his friends and neighbors in Lancaster County. His family came to Lancaster from Switzerland in 1732. For early millers like Eshelman, who became the nation’s first feed manufacturers, the hours were long, and the profits were small.
In the nineteenth century, the tolling system was the standard way for the millers and farmers to do business. The miller took a “toll” of one measure of flour from each bag ground; this was his pay for grinding the grain. Farmers used their own bags, which were homemade, generally from linen. To get more grinding for the “one measure per bag,” farmers made their bags bigger, until, one early miller said, “they became so large they could hardly be gotten in through the mill door.”
Millers soon got wise to this nonsense and started charging by weight rather than the bag. When they started making the bags themselves, voila! The modern feed bag was born.
John Eshelman’s son, John W. Eshelman, took over the company at age nineteen, at the height of the Civil War. Nonetheless, he steered the company towards animal feed, growth, and prosperity through “the Golden Age of Animal Husbandry” (1866-1886) and the “Scientific Age of Agriculture” which followed around 1890, and the world’s first egg-laying contest, which started in Storrs, CT in 1911.
Eshelman Red Rose Feeds is just one of many Lancaster businesses that are no more, or are highly modified, but that once made Lancaster a major manufacturing center of diverse goods.
Dr. Daniel Musser
The third house, at 1617 Lampeter Road, was built in 1840 by Dr. Daniel Musser (1810-1877). He was a bishop at the Longenecker Reformed Mennonite Church.
“Devil” Dave Miller
One famous native of Lampeter was the eccentric although amiable “Devil” Dave Miller. Miller served as the Lancaster County Sheriff in the 1830s. He had been elected to his post running on an Anti-Mason platform. He was a humanitarian and an avid horseman who suppressed race riots against Blacks. Miller was also a military veteran, early railroad entrepreneur, and owned a hotel.
Part of Miller’s notoriety came in 1834 while serving as Lancaster County Sheriff. On one occasion, he returned a bench warrant by riding his horse up the courthouse’s steps and then down the courtroom’s main aisle, where he dismounted in front of the bench and presented the documents to Judge Lewis in person.
The following year in 1835, Miller aided three prisoners in their escape from the county jail. He was still serving as sheriff.
What would motivate the chief law enforcement officer for the entire county to do such a thing?
As it turned out, bounty hunters had abducted two formerly enslaved women and one of their sons as runaways who had been living here in rural Lancaster County. They were held in jail while waiting for transport to the Carolinas. However, before this could happen, Miller opened their cell one night and let the trio walkout.
The women told sympathizers that they escaped by themselves, apparently to “cover” for Sheriff Miller. It wasn’t until years later that Miller admitted his part in the escape.
Did I forget to mention that Miller was also a supporter of the Underground Railroad?