Today I am going to cover the stretch of the river that borders the Lancaster County Park. This is the stretch that starts at the South
Duke street bridge, runs along the road through Williamson Park and loops up close to Chesapeake Street at the main entrance of the park and then bends south again to the Meadia Heights golf course.
Lancaster County Park
Lancaster County Park is a 544 acre park on the south side of the city of Lancaster. The park has many features including the County Swimming Pool, Garden of the Five Senses, hiking trails, camping, picnic pavilions, a skate park, garden plots, and an environmental center. Native Americans from the Susquehannock tribe once lived in this area and there is a burial site on the grounds marked with a plaque.
Rock Ford is the 18th century home of General Edward Hand. General Hand was an Adjutant General to George Washington during the American Revolutionary War. Edward Hand purchased the land in 1785 and moved with his family into the house in 1794. General Hand died in 1802, so if you do the math, he only lived in the house for approximately nine years. General Hand is buried in the Saint James cemetery on North Duke Street. The farm was operated as a tenant farm for about 150 years during which time little changes were made to the house.
In the 1950s, the farm was owned by the Lancaster Refuse Authority who planned to demolish the house and use the land for an incinerator and a landfill. Fortunately before that could happen the Junior League of Lancaster purchased the house and the adjoining land and the Rock Ford Foundation was established to manage the property. Today the mansion is open to the public for guided tours from April through October.
Indian Rock is an outcropping that rises above the Conestoga River near to the Williamson Park area. Indian Rock once extended into the River until the road was cut along the river bank. Earl F. Rebman, in his book “Conestoga River Watershed” mentions a folklore legend of an Indian maiden who leaped to her death from there. However, this legend is connected to many places in the United States including Multnomah Falls in the state of Oregon and the Niagara Falls in New York (Maid of the Mists) so I sincerely doubt that there is any truth to this claim.
At the bottom of the hill below the Rock Ford mansion is a plaque that memorializes the fact that Robert Fulton experimented with paddle wheels on the Conestoga near this location. Fulton’s name appears all over the city of Lancaster, the Fulton Opera House, Fulton Elementary School, Fulton Bank, Robert Fulton Fire Company, etc. However, I would like to set straight some misunderstandings regarding Fulton’s actual activities as it relates to the Conestoga River.
- Robert Fulton did not invent the steam boat. The first steam-powered boat was built in France in 1783 by the Marquis Claude de Jouffroy. Later, John Fitch made a boat that operated commercial service on the Delaware River in 1788. An engineer named William Symington built a steamboat with a stern-mounted paddle wheel in 1785. So where does Robert Fulton come in? Fulton observed the early attempts at steam powered boats by the French and the British, and built his own version that sailed on the River Seine in 1803. Finally, he returned to New York and built the Clermont which carried passengers on the Hudson between New York City and Albany beginning in 1807. So it can be said that Robert Fulton built the first commercially successful steamboat.
- Robert Fulton did not experiment with steam boats on the Conestoga. It turns out that, when Robert was 14 years old, he and a friend were fishing on the Conestoga with a flat-hulled skiff. Robert built a set of side paddles that were powered by a hand crank to move the boat. So, as the plaque states, he “conducted his first experiment with paddle wheels for the propulsion of boats” on the Conestoga River.
The Lancaster County Park is a real treasure with something for everyone. I have lived in Lancaster County all of my life but was not aware until recently what all is available in the park.
I know, I’ve been spending a lot of time on the “lower” Conestoga. I’ll get to the “upper” river eventually, I promise. If you have specific areas that you are curious about and would like me to cover, let me know in the comments.