The most historic town in Pennsylvania Dutch Country… was actually founded by a Frenchman.
It was 1693 when French hunter and fur trader, Pierre Bezaillion, put down roots in one of the most scenic spots in Lancaster County establishing trade with the local Delaware Indians. That’s right, French. More French people – Huguenots from France’s Alsace region – soon followed. Curious, isn’t it, that a town and countryside that’s been alive with a bustling Amish culture for centuries traces its roots back to France?
The name of the town never actually came to be until the mid 1700s when, again, the French named it in honor of Strasbourg, the cathedral city of their Alsace homeland.
In the early days of the village, Strasburg was little more than a cluster of crude log homes, about two dozen of which still stand today – a number of them lovingly restored by their residents. As Strasburg began to blossom, it became an important crossroads town – growing and prospering as a trade center and stagecoach stop on the road between Philadelphia and Lancaster.
As the Amish populated the area in the early 1700s(?), farms were established in the beautiful countryside surrounding Strasburg. Today, many Amish farmers continue to work their land in much the same way as their ancestors did centuries ago.
The second half of the 1700s was known as Strasburg’s “Golden Era.” Heavy Conestoga wagon traffic and trade helped the fledgling town grow stronger economically. But, as is often the case, with this prosperity came a certain, shall we say, “rowdy” element. In fact, for a time, Strasburg was known as “Hell’s Hole,” a nickname that befitted the town’s reckless period. Of course, that’s all in the distant past.
Strasburg’s commercial prosperity hit some bumps in the road, however. In the late 1700s, the Lancaster Turnpike (America’s first) was completed, taking a huge portion of Strasburg’s commercial traffic away. Even though the Strasburg Rail Road, chartered in 1832, was to connect the community to the nation’s passenger and freight system, in the end, major rail traffic never made it to Strasburg.
The Strasburg Rail Road – the oldest continually operating public utility in Pennsylvania – exists to this day. It was saved by the Strasburg Rail Road Company in 1957 to become one of Pennsylvania Dutch Country’s most beloved family tourist attractions – and a cultural icon of Strasburg.
Despite the trade setbacks Strasburg experienced in its early days, this quaint crossroads village managed to continue to thrive. Strasburg Road, a route between West Chester and York, kept a steady stream of wagon and stagecoach traffic flowing.