LiDAR imagery of Safe Harbor reveals razed ghost town

Prepare to have your mind blown because I recently gained access to LiDAR imagery of Lancaster County. So grab your magnifying glasses 🔍 fellow armchair explorers, as we explore the razed ghost town of Safe Harbor.

One of the first places I zoomed in on was Safe Harbor. Here’s a high-quality PDF of the Safe Harbor LiDAR imagery for your viewing pleasure. The orange rectangles indicate currently standing structures.

LiDAR of Safe Harbor.

What is LiDAR?

LiDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging. It is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure variable distances to the Earth. A spinning camera attached to an airplane, helicopter, or drone emits hundreds of thousands of laser pulses per second as it flies over a specific location.

A drone carrying a LiDAR rig.

Even in areas with thick overgrowth, some of the laser beams reach the ground and bounce back. A scanner then records the returning pulses. When combined with a specialized GPS receiver and other data, complicated computer software can generate a precise, three-dimensional map sans the vegetation.

Man-made objects such as walls, foundations, and artificially leveled ground that were once hidden by plants and other greenery suddenly become visible. Archeologists have been using the technology to discover lost Mayan structures in the Amazon for several years.

Safe Harbor

The razed company town, including streets and backyard garden plots, nearly leap off the screen. I’ve visited the location numerous times, and beyond a few stone foundations and intentions in the ground, it is hard to see much of anything. This LiDAR map provides in stunning detail what was left of the town despite being destroyed by an ice jam on March 8, 1904.

If the images above do not appear, try opening the page in incognito mode.


I superimposed a map of Safe Harbor from the 1875 Atlas of Lancaster County in the image above. An indentation on the far right marks the location of the former Independent School. On the self-guided Safe Harbor Village Walking Tour trail, a plaque with an image of the school marks the site. Click here to see a photograph of the school.

I have superimposed a different map of Safe Harbor in the image below, this one from 1880. This one does an excellent job of highlighting the location of the former rolling mill. It was the largest of all structures covering over an acre of ground. It once stood on the present-day Safe Harbor Park’s tennis courts.

By the mid-1800s, the ironworks there were producing 1/8th of all rolled iron in Pennsylvania. Reeves Abbott & Company had carefully chosen the location with its idea access to the Conestoga and Susquehanna Rivers and their canals.

If the images above do not appear, try opening the page in incognito mode.


The image below shows Safe Harbor in the early 1900s. At its height, the town had a population of 1,200 and contained a blast furnace, rolling mill, foundry, drug store, post office, two general stores, two school-houses, two churches, two hotels, five taverns, three liquor stores, six beer halls, and an Odd Fellows Hall.

Safe Harbor Village circa 1900.

You can read more about Safe Harbor by clicking any of the following links.

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