Lancaster County has several towns with peculiar names. This series examines the etymology of these curious community names. Next up: Blue Ball.
Like Bird-in-Hand, Blue Ball was also named after an inn. In 1766, Irishman John Wallace built an inn at the crossroads of two Native American trails, French Creek Path (now Route 23) and Paxtang (now Route 322), in what used to be called Earl Town.
Rather than hanging a sign with a name outside the inn, he hung a blue ball out front and called it “The Sign of the Blue Ball.”
In the 1790s, as western lands began drawing pioneers, a cattle trading business grew to furnish those emigrants looking to establish a life out west. Drovers spent weeks on the roads bringing slow-moving herds of cattle to the market, where gentlemen bought, and gamblers speculated or outwitted innocent buyers. The “Sign of the Blue Ball” tavern became the headquarters for an immense amount of this activity until well after the Civil War.
Over the decades, a community spurred on by this cattle trade revolved around the inn, and soon locals began calling the area “Blue Ball.” In 1833, Earl Town officially adopted “Blue Ball” as their name.
As for the cattle trade, a disastrous fire in the early 1900s wiped out the cattle yards, and it never resumed.
During Prohibition, the Blue Ball Inn dropped the word “inn” from their name and replaced it with “hotel.” Click here to read how one Beer Baron ran a 3,000-foot suds-filled hose through the sewers of Lancaster to keep the booze flowing. It was the end of an era when the original Blue Ball inn was torn down in 1997.
Here are some pictures from Benton Webber of a Blue Ball replica. The original Blue Ball is hanging in the New Holland Area Historical Society Museum. Hours beginning in March on Thursdays and Saturdays from 10 am to 2 pm.