Lancaster Township was established in 1729 as one of seventeen original townships in Lancaster County. It was the smallest of the townships with its boundaries defined by the Conestoga River, Manor Township, the Little Conestoga Creek, (East) Hempfield Township, and Manheim Township. A two- mile square was later cut out of the northern part of Lancaster Township to create the county seat and Lancaster City.
Early settlers started moving to the area in 1717 following the “new surveys”. With the establishment of the county seat came an influx of merchants, physicians, and lawyers and the Township’s population grew to approximately 200 people. The development of Lancaster Township was strongly influenced by the growth of Lancaster City. Between 1730 and 1742 the major tracts of land were almost all laid out in residential lots, each with their own street patterns.
In 1744, Lancaster served as the meeting place of the treaty-making sessions among the Six Nations of Indians and the colonies of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. Visitors to the area were greatly impressed by the sophistication of this town in the wilderness. By 1760 Lancaster had become a borough of major importance in colonial America, economically, politically, and socially. A large number of skilled artisans and mechanics moved to the area, who, coupled with established industries and experienced merchants, thrust Lancaster into the role of making and supplying goods for the French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, and the subsequent westward expansion.
Increasing commerce demanded an adequate transportation network. Major through-roads were established in a radial pattern with Lancaster City at the center. Those affecting Lancaster Township directly were the Philadelphia/Lancaster Turnpike, the Lancaster/Columbia Turnpike, the Lancaster/Marietta Turnpike, The Lancaster/Millersville Turnpike, the Rockville (now Rock Hill) Turnpike, and the Stumptown Turnpike (now Old Philadelphia Pike).
The waterways also played a part in transportation with the completion of the Conestoga Navigation Canal on the Conestoga River connecting Lancaster to Safe Harbor on the Susquehanna River. Lock No. 2 was located at present-day Second Lock Road. The railroads were equally important. The Millersville Railroad and the Quarryville Railroad passed through Lancaster Township and the Philadelphia/Columbia link of the State Works ran through Lancaster City just to the north of the Township. This expanded transportation network created a demand for appropriate resting places. Taverns, such as Deering’s Ford (at Bridgeport) and Graeff’s Landing (at Engleside), accommodated travelers with food and lodging.
Lancaster Township’s growth was slow but steady, seldom increasing by more than 150 people each decade prior to 1900. With major changes in the transportation network and its subsequent impact on related industries, the Township saw a decline in industrial land use and an increase in residential land use. This established the Township as a strong residential municipality.