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By Fig Contributor Debbie Dawson
Frequently near Central Market, I encounter costumed tour guides passionately sharing Lancaster’s history with groups of visitors who are gathered around listening, looking, and learning. Each time I spot a tour group, I think, “Someday, I want to do the walking tour.” Because of the convenience of being a local resident, it’s easy to be like Goldilocks and want the weather to be not too hot and not too cold. I wanted it to be “just right” for my day to take a quintessential walking tour and play tourist in my own city.
On a recent sunny, but not too hot, Saturday morning, I decided that it was the perfect time to explore Lancaster as a visitor. Ahh, this was the day I’d been waiting for! Time to be a tourist in my own city! I donned comfortable walking shoes and lamented that I didn’t own the iconic tourist fanny pack. Time for Tourist Debbie to head to downtown Lancaster!
Obvious first stop: The Lancaster Visitor’s Center to check out the souvenirs, to gather brochures for local places of interest, and to buy a ticket for the Historic Lancaster Walking Tour.
Purposely arriving several minutes early for the 10:00 am tour, I started mingling with out-of-town tourists browsing at the brochures with their exuberant, inquisitive young children who reminded me of my childhood. I’ve always loved visitor centers because they are stocked full of trifold treasures with tidbits of enticing information. Fortunately, my parents always allowed me to take several because it provided me with free, educational reading material which was probably the impetus for my current love of trip planning and exploring cities. My husband has also learned that he doesn’t need to ask: “Do you want to stop at the visitor center?” The answer is always “YES!” And to make life even better, current travel brochures have website and social media information, providing tourists with infinite resources.
Having purchased a souvenir and made my purse heavier with a plethora of glossy brochures, the time had come meet our friendly tour guide Frank.
Frank moved to Lancaster in 1959 because, simply put, “he liked the city.” His long-time love of Lancaster was evident at each stop along the tour route as he described the efforts to preserve many of the centuries-old buildings and residences. In addition to being knowledgeable about the history and architecture in Lancaster, Frank is also personally familiar with many of the landmark buildings.
A favorite part of the tour was Frank’s reminiscing about banquet events in the top floor of the Griest Building and about his youthful shopping trips to both the Hagar and Watt & Shand department stores. He even recalled paying only 31 cents for a cup of coffee at the Watt & Shand restaurant — a bargain compared to the 35-cent coffee at the nearby Woolworth’s.
After meandering through city streets at a leisurely pace and noting architectural and historical highlights throughout the business district, Frank lead our tour group through Old Town to admire some of Lancaster’s beautifully restored homes, many which had been on the brink of condemnation. Fortunately, the tour was at a slow easy pace and provided plenty of opportunities to stop in the shade, to ask questions, and to take photos.
Surrounded by so much history, our 2-hour tour allowed us to explore only a small portion of the city’s history and left me wanting to take another historic walking tour soon. Historic Lancaster Walking Tours are not scripted to follow a set route which enables each tour guide to establish his/her own path through the city to share historical, architectural, and unique personal knowledge. Lancaster is fortunate to have Frank and the other tour guides dedicate time to offer unique tours, proudly enlightening out-of-town visitors and resident tourists about the historical treasures located on every block and alleyway.
Because the first tour was so enjoyable and informative, I plan to be a resident tourist again soon. Perhaps, I’ll take another Historic Lancaster Walking Tour or maybe the newly created African American Heritage Tour, which I just discovered while reading one of my newly-acquired brochures! Does anyone have a fanny pack I can borrow?
Contact historiclancasterwalkingtour.org for tour details.