Peculiar Names: Intercourse

Lancaster County has several towns with peculiar names. This series examines their curious etymology. Next up: Intercourse.

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This Leacock township community began life in 1754 when a small settlement with a tavern called Cross Keys was established at the crossroads of the King’s Highway (now Old PhiladelphiaPike/Route 340) and Newport Pike (now Route 772). The spot soon became known as Cross Keys after the tavern.

Cross Keys Tavern by Charles X. Carlson from the book ‘Old Lancaster.’

In 1814 the town’s name was changed to Intercourse, but no one today is precisely sure why. There are several theories behind this town’s check blushing name.

Theory 1

The first theory is that the intersection of Routes 340 and 772 gave the town its name as it was the “intercourse” of the two major roadways.

Theory 2

Another idea is there was a racecourse on one end of the town. Visitors entered the course from the eastern end, so the entrance was dubbed “Entercourse,” which evolved into “Intercourse.”

Theory 3

A third theory is based on the knowledge that intercourse has not always been a suggestive term. For example, the Merriam-Webster dictionary offers three definitions for intercourse. Take a look at the last two.

The second says, “exchange especially of thoughts or feelings,” while the third says, “connection or dealings between persons or groups.” The name Intercourse would have described the camaraderie of the town.

Theory 4

The name change was a marketing gimmick. In the early 1800s, the community consisted of only five houses including the Cross Keys tavern. A land speculator thought the area was ripe for development, so he laid out 48 acres into 151 lots and announced the town’s cheeky new name in 1814. Next, he held a lottery distributing the parcels at $250 each.

1851 Map of Lancaster County.

However, despite his efforts and the new name of “Intercourse,” it was many years before the town saw any real growth. By the middle of the 1800s, its location at a busy crossroads finally led to the building of other taverns and general stores.

Read about other Lancaster County towns with peculiar names such as Bird-in-Hand, Blue Ball, and Paradise.

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