Lancaster, Ohio (pop. 35,535) is located in Fairfield County, 30 miles southeast of Columbus near the Hocking River. Despite its small stature, it has a rich history - rich as in filling - which I am going to tell you about now.
Shortly after the Treaty of Greenvile was signed in 1796, allowing settlement in Ohio, Colonel Ebenezer Zane was granted a contract to build a road from his hometown of Wheeling, Pennsylvania through Ohio and into Kentucky. Called "Zane's Trace", it was the first major road in the new territories. In exchange, he was given three square miles of land at the intersection of the Hocking and Scioto rivers, where Mt. Pleasant sits today (although it hardly qualifies as a mountain - sure, it's pretty big and all, but a mount? That's just poppycock.)
Ebenezer got along well with the natives in the area (his brother married a Chieftain's daughter) and stayed in the area, speculating on the new settlers that would come down his newly built road that he could sell his land to. The first settlers were from Lancaster, Pennsylvania and as the new town was set up on Zane's land, the town became known as New Lancaster. It was officially founded on November 1, 1800, and one month later, it was named the seat of the newly formed Fairfield County, a full three years before Ohio reached statehood.
In 1805, the name of the town was shortened to Lancaster, as it wasn't New anymore, and was incorporated in 1831. Three years later, the Lancaster Lateral Canal was opened for business, creating a lot of new markets between the east and west. Two years later, the state of Ohio purchased the Canal and was renamed the Hocking Canal. In 1850, the first Fairfield County Fair was held in Lancaster; it is still held today, the oldest running county fair in Ohio. In 1854, the town had its first train come through courtesy of the Indiana & Ohio railroad; greeted by 8,000 people on Main Street, it was perhaps Lancaster's finest moment.
Quite a few famous people have called Lancaster home. The most famous would have to be the Sherman Brothers, William and John. Of course, William's Civil War exploits and march to Atlanta are pretty legendary, but John's name is also forever etched in the American history books as the author of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Other Lancaster celebrities include former senator Thomas Ewing, actress Rebecca Harrell (Prancer, Saint Sinner), actor Ted Jordan ("Gunsmoke") and actor David Graf (most famously known as Sgt. Eugene Tackleberry in the Police Academy series.)
Lancaster is noted for its glass industry: several large glazier companies have factories in Lancaster. This, along with various other stores, makes Lancaster an excellent antique and arts and crafts hometown. There is also a large agricultural contingency, with farmers and ranchers making up a large part of the city's population. Located in town is a branch of Ohio University, which provides a good-sized part of the economy and population. The local paper is the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette, dating back to 1807.
If you visit Lancaster, there are several things you should probably take a picture of to show Aunt Martha at your next Thanksgiving:
- Mt. Pleasant (still unworthy of its title) stands roughly 300 feet above the surrounding area and has a lovely view from the top. As a high point, it was a major meeting ground for native Americans, and a lot of folklore and history exists for viewing.
- the locks at Lockville from the old canal are a fascinating look at the early days of transportation in America.
- The Sherman Memorial commemorates the deeds of the Sherman brothers in American history.
- The Decorative Arts Center of Ohio (a.k.a. the Reese-Peters house) is a nice place to peruse traditional and modern arts and crafts in the state.
If you want to pick up a book on Lancaster, I highly suggest Lancaster, Ohio, 1800-2000 by David Contosta. It tells a pretty interesting story of the evolution of Lancaster from a frontier town to a city still on the edge between modernity and old-fashionedness. It also has some amusing anecdotes about the city life through the years.
- Contosta's book.