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Lancaster, Ohio: A Quaint Historic Getaway

Visit Historic Lancaster, Ohio for a Weekend Getaway

by Susan McKee

Lancaster remains a picture-postcard perfect Midwestern town, from the compact historic district to thriving Main Street. It has managed to survive, in part, because it's far enough from the nearest interstate highway to have resisted urban sprawl — yet close enough to big cities to maintain a healthy economic base.

Historic Houses Downtown Lancaster

Historic Houses in Lancaster, OH

On U.S. 33, about 30 miles south of I-70 in east central Ohio, Lancaster a great place to visit for a brief weekend getaway. Lancaster has two centuries of history to celebrate, and its story begins in 1797, when Ebenezer Zane received a commission from Congress to blaze Zane's Trace into the forests of the Northwest Territory.

Following long-established American Indian trails, Zane cut a rough road stretching about 250 miles west and south from Wheeling (then in Virginia) to a point opposite what now is Maysville, Ky., across land that later became Ohio. Lancaster was platted in 1800 on part of the land deeded to Zane as payment for his work.

Zane received three square-mile tracts of land where his Trace crossed a trio of rivers — the Muskingum (the future Zanesville), the Hockhocking (Lancaster) and the Scioto (near Chillicothe).

As early as 1800, Lancaster was platted into 20 numbered squares. Residents still refer to those numbers when giving directions. Most of the 24-block historic district, for example, is Square 13. Many of the early residents came from Lancaster, Pa., helping give Lancaster, OH its name.

While residents further west were still constructing rustic log cabins, the merchants, lawyers and businessmen of Lancaster were building substantial stone and brick mansions, adding intricate detailing in carved wood, plaster and wrought iron and furnishing them with the finest European furniture.

Several of these houses are still standing, and you can see them on a self-guided walking tour through Square 13. In fact, this 24-block area contains 89 historically significant buildings and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Pick up a cassette tape or a map at the Visitors Bureau or Shaw's Restaurant & Inn, both on Zane Square. Look first for the City Hall, which was built from local sandstone. Located at 104 East Main St., it features a clock tower with a bell imported from the Caribbean island of Santa Domingo.

Zane Square — the heart of Lancaster — features a fountain purchased in New York City with funds raised in the 1890s by a group of local women. It’s also the site of a statue of a local hero, William Tecumseh Sherman, who was born here in 1820.

The Sherman House in Lancaster, Ohio

The Sherman House in Lancaster, Ohio (Photo by Susan McKee)

Nearby is the boyhood home of this Civil War general (best known for his rapacious March through Georgia that torched many a Southern town). His equally renowned brother, John Sherman, was an Ohio senator who penned the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.

These days, the Sherman House, at 137 East Main St. (in Square 13, of course), is a museum that’s a stop on the Civil War Discovery Trail, which links 600 historic sites in 32 states. The wood-framed saltbox house was built in 1811 by Charles Sherman, and expanded in 1816 to house his growing family, including not only William and John but their nine siblings.

The Sherman House is one of the few examples of New England-style architecture in Lancaster. In an area where most settlers came from the Southern and Middle Atlantic states and favored homes of brick or stone, Charles Sherman hailed form Norwalk, Conn. — where frame construction was more common.

Just up the block, at 145 East Main St., is the Reese-Peters House, built in 1835 in the Greek Revival style by local politician William Reese. It was transformed a couple of years ago into the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio with both a permanent collection and temporary exhibits to entice visitors.

Nearby, at 105 East Wheeling St., is the Georgian home built in 1832 for Samuel McCracken and refurbished to reflect the era of its construction. Called the Georgian Museum, this restored 1832 Federal-style home was rescued from demolition in the 1970s.

The Ewing House, 163 East Main St., was home to Thomas Ewing, a United States Senator from Ohio who also served as Secretary of the Treasury under President William Henry Harrison and Secretary of the Interior under President Zachary Taylor.

William Tecumseh Sherman Mural

William Tecumseh Sherman Mural on Fairfield County CVB Building
(Photo by Susan McKee)

Right in the center of Lancaster's Historic District is Shaw's Restaurant & Inn. A century-old commercial hotel at 123 Broad St. next to Zane Square has been converted into a bed-and-breakfast with a twist. All 22 rooms are suites, and seven of them include whirlpool baths. Each suite is decorated with a different theme such as Napa Valley.

Visit Shaw's for dinner, but for lunch, head over to Annie's Cheesecake & Tea Room, 161 West Main St. Save room for dessert. You'll have 27 flavors of cheesecake from which to choose – yum!

One of the newer attractions in downtown Lancaster is the Ohio Glass Museum, 126 East Main St. The city and surrounding Fairfield County has been a center of glass production since the late 1880s because of an abundance of natural gas and sand, two of the key resources needed for glass production.

In 2002, the same year Lancaster was designated "Pressed Glass Capital" of Ohio by the state legislature, the museum opened. Its displays cover the development and production of not only industrial glass, but also pressed, blown and art glass, and the gift shop features Ohio-produced items.

Lancaster is located in the picturesque Hocking Hills area of Ohio, which boasts nine state parks and four nature preserves.

Learn more about Historic Lancaster.

If You Go…

Fairfield Count Visitors & Convention Bureau
P.O. Box 794
Lancaster , OH 43130

Shaw’s Restaurant & Inn
123 North Broad St .
Lancaster , OH 43130

Sherman House Museum
137 E. Main St .
Lancaster , OH 43130
(740) 687-5891

Ohio Glass Museum
126 W Main St .
Lancaster , OH 43130

(740) 687-0101