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The following is an excerpt from

History of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania with Biographical Sketches of Many of the Pioneers and Prominent Men

by Franklin Ellis and Samuel Evans, Philadelphia, Everts & Peck, Chapter 36 (Washington Borough).

To read the entire book, download it here:

Site, Limits, and Extent

Washington borough extends a distance of one mile on the east bank of the Susquehanna River and is surrounded on its north, east, and south sides by Manor township. It is one mile long from north to south, and one-fourth of a mile wide from east to west, and is situated three miles south of Columbia. A full view is had of Columbia and the river as far north as the bend just south of Marietta, while a fine view is also had of the river to the southward as far as the bend at the upper end of Turkey Hill. There is a large and fertile island in the river opposite Washington, and there are also several small islands. The river is fordable at some points here at certain times. The borough is divided into two wards, corresponding to the two original villages of Washington and Charleston, the former village now comprising the lower or southern ward, and the latter the upper or northern ward. The borough is bounded on the north by William Ortman’s land.

On the east are the lands of William Ortman, William Shertzer, William Siple, John Brush, Daniel Kauffman, Levi Haverstick, and Jacob B. Shuman. Isaac Shult’s farm-the old Blue Rock farm-touches the borough line on the south. William Ortman and John Brush on many lots in the borough, and Isaac Shultz also owns several. The Columbia and Port Deposit Railroad, running along the river entirely through the borough, was completed in 1876. the population of Washington is now over nine hundred, about one-half in each ward.

Present Condition

Washington Borough was formed by consolidating the villages of Washington and Charleston, and was legally incorporated by act of Assembly, approved April 13, 1827. Washington village – originally Woodstock – was laid out by Jacob Dritt, first before 1800, and afterward in 1811. Charleston was laid out contemporaneously by Joseph Charles. Years ago it was a flourishing little town, but it has since deteriorated, and only recently began to improve. The principal business features are lumber and fish. The inhabitants are generally an industrious class of people, and many of them earn their livelihood by piloting rafts down the river, and also by farming tobacco. Washington Borough has at present two churches, Methodist Episcopal and Church of God; three schools, one graded and two primary; two hotels, one a temperance house; two stores, one blacksmith-shop and edge tool factory, two cigar factories, one confectionery, one shoemaker shop, three carpenters, one plasterer, and two stone masons. 

Past History of this Locality

The upper part of Charleston – that part north of the old Conestoga Manor line now corresponding to the road leading from Charleston to Lancaster- was a part of the tract granted to Chartier, the French Jesuit and Indian trader, about one hundred and seventy-five years ago. All the remainder of the borough territory formed a part of the Conestoga Manor, as surveyed for the Penn family by Jacob Taylor, surveyor-general in 1717-18. The lands on the site of the present borough of Washington were first surveyed in 1737, and in addition to all the northwestern portion of the old Conestoga Manor, in all about three thousand acres, were for some time retained by the Penn family. John Keagy afterward settled in that portion of the Conestoga Manor, and sold much of his land to his son-in-law, Charles Smith Sewell, of Maryland, who sold this tract to other parties, as will presently be seen. 

Founding of Washington and Charleston

On June 1, 1810, Charles Smith Sewell and Ann Catharine, his wife, sold one hundred and ten acres to Jacob Dritt, Esq., of Windsor township, York Co., Pa. There was a spring of water in the corner of this tract. Upon this tract Dritt laid out the town of Washington. He sold lots June 11, 1810, to Jacob Habecker, distiller, and to Joseph Habecker, pump maker, one acre and eight perches, in lots which came to the river. 

On Jan. 11, 1811, Andrew Kauffman, Esq., of Manor, and Barbara, his wife, and Charles Smith Sewell and George R. Stake, both of the same place, both house and lot at corner of Lots Nos. 6 and 7, Lot No. 4 being a part of the one hundred and ten acres which Charles Smith Sewell and Ann Catharine, his wife, sold to Jacob Dritt, of Windsor township, York Co. Stake sold to Sewell April 11, 1811.On Sept. 10, 1811,John B. Haldeman, of Donegal, and Ann, his wife, sold to Joseph Charles, of Manor, for six thousand five hundred dollars, a tract of one hundred and thirty-four acres, beginning at the river. This tract was part of four tracts, the one-half part of which Jacob Gish, of Donegal, and Mary, his wife, sold to John B. Haldeman Dec. 17, 1808. By writ of partition the above-named tract was allotted to John B. Haldeman in 1809. John B. Haldeman had married a daughter of John Stehman, who had owned the land.


On the site of Washington the town of Woodstock had been laid out Jan. 8, 1807, as a “free port situated on the east bank of the Susquehanna River, near the Blue Rock, in Manor township, in Lancaster County”. Jacob Dritt, Esq., of Windsor Township, York Co., was the proprietor, and he advertised that he had laid out a town containing three hundred lots, exclusive of four appropriated for public worship by the Mennonite, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Moravian congregations, and one for a market-house. These lots were to be sold by lottery, and were advertised to be drawn Saturday, March 14, 1807, tickets $_ cash. The proprietor agreed to give eight hundred dollars cash to the person who drew No. 16, for the lot of one thousand feet front granted to the public on the river for landings. He obtained an act of Assembly for the privilege of erecting a bridge across the Susquehanna River at that place. A ferry was also to be established here.On July 15, 1811, Jacob Dritt laid out a town “on the east bank of the Susquehanna River, near the Blue Rock, in Manor township, Lancaster Co.”  This town contained one hundred and twenty-two lots to be disposed of by lottery, each ticket to draw a lot. 

This was the town of Woodstock, of 1807, and now named Washington. The lottery took place and all the lots were drawn. Mr. Dritt advertised that he would meet the “adventurers” at the house of Mrs. Jeffries, in Columbia, on the 17th and 18th of May, 1811, and execute the titles for the lots. All who resided in Lancaster or north of that place were privileged to call on Henry Carpenter, surveyor, for their titles after the above date. Jacob Dritt made a will in 1815, and Jesse Roberts and Samuel Bonham were appointed his administrators for the Washington lots. Dritt was drowned while crossing the river in a boat in 1822. 

The town of Charleston, now constituting the upper ward of the borough of Washington, was laid out by Joseph Charles, Jan. 4, 1811. It contained sixteen acres, divided into fourth-seven lots, of sixty feet front, with a spring at the south side. This town was in Manor township, seven hundred feel along the east bank of the Susquehanna River, three miles south of Columbia. The lots were laid out by Joseph Charles, and were sixty by one hundred and eighty feet. The wedge-shaped tract of land in the north of Charleston, separating that village from that of Fairview, was owned by a man named Scott, who afterwards sold his land to the late Henry Ortman, and it is now owned by the latter’s son, William Ortman.

Joseph Charles had bought the lower part of the tract upon which Charleston was built from John Stehman. He had bought the upper part from John B. Haldeman, of Donegal, who had married a daughter of Stehman, the previous owner of that tract. That part of Charleston north of Lancaster Street was laid out first. Joseph Charles advertised lots Jan. 4 and Aug. 16, 1811. The lots were drawn by lottery Sept. 6, 1811, and were assigned to lot-holders Sept. 27, 1811. On Oct. 6, 1811, one hundred and fourty-three parchment deeds were ordered. Joseph Charles died in 1814. The bulk of Charles’ lots were drawn by Chester County people, -the Greenes, the Micheners, the Robertses, and the Mendenhalls.

Early Progress-Washington Borough

In the several decades after their foundation, the villages of Washington and Charleston made considerable progress, and many new buildings were erected. There was great speculation in building and in buying and selling lots from 1811 to 1820. This speculation was prosperous for a time, and lots brought from twelve hundred to fourteen hundred dollars; but eventually disaster came, and many were reduced to bankruptcy and ruin. The villages of Washington and Charleston were incorporated as the borough of Washington by act of Assembly, approved April 13, 1827. There were not many new buildings from 1820 to 1860, and there was a stagnation of about thirty years until about the time of the breaking out of the late war. There has been some progress of late in building, and the most substantial and costly buildings have been erected in recent years. The best buildings have been erected since 1860. there have been more new buildings erected in the last five or six years than in twenty years before.

Washington, Past and Present

In the earlier days of Washington – in the days of its prosperity – its leading business men were Jessse Roberts, lumberman; John Herr, George Brush, Joseph Green, Rhinehart Michener, store-keepers; Joseph Shock, and others. Dr. Benjamin Green was a physician in Charleston about 1820. There were then from twelve to fourteen hotels in the town. The river was at that time, each spring, lined with rafts for four miles, and these hotels were required for the accommodation of the raftsmen. In the days of Washington’s prosperity there were a great number of coopers in the town, where none are now to be found.

William Ortman, Isaac Shultz, and John Brush, the latter two now residing outside the borough limits, are the chief tobacco growers. The Columbia and Port Deposit Railroad, which runs through the town, along the river, was finished in 1876. The population of the borough is now over nine hundred. Washington at present pays fifty dollars per month to each of its three teachers, employing one such teacher as hold permanent certificates or diplomas from normal schools, and has a school term of six months in each year. The present burgess of Washington is George Roberts. The justices of the peace are Harvey Brush, son of John Brush, and S. B. Urban. Joseph Miller, store-keeper, is at present (1883) postmaster. The leading citizens of Washington borough in recent years have been William Ortman, tobacco farmer and owner of a large property in and north of the borough; John Brush, justice of the peace for a long time, and also school director and a large property owner in and out of the borough, now living just east of the borough limits, on the road from Charleston to Lancaster.

Present Business Men and Tradesmen

John Brush and William Ortman are large property-owners in the borough. Drs. Binkley and Grey are practicing physicians. Andrew Kane keeps a hotel in the Lower Ward, and Henry Wertz keeps a temperance hotel and summer resort in the Upper Ward. The business men and mechanics are Joseph Miller, storekeepers; William Mann, confectioner and tailor; George Evans, shoemaker; Lewis Green, Abram Killiard, and Henry Kise, carpenters; Emanuel Fishel, plasterer; John D. Baker and Uriah Douglas, stonemasons; Henry Mellinger, blacksmith and edge-tool manufacturer; A. G. Kise and Brown & Wilson, cigar manufacturers. Levi Haverstick has a lumberyard and a saw and planning mill just north of the borough limits, and Joseph K. Shultz & Brother have a coal and lumber-yard just south of the borough, on the Blue Rock farm, owned by his father, Isaac Shultz.

Lumber, Fishing, and Tobacco-Farming

In the old prosperous days of rafting the lumber trade was the most active line of business in Washington, and there were large lumber-yards in the place. In the earlier days of this town Jesse Roberts was a large lumber dealer. Afterwards Louis Urban had a large lumber-yard. Other lumbermen were Washington Wrighter, Daniel Neff, and House & Shuman, who was elected a member of the Legislature in 1873, had an extensive lumber yard here. At present, Joseph K. Shultz & Brothers have a lumber and coal-yard on their father’s Blue Rock farm, just south of the borough limits. Levi Haverstick has a steam saw and planning-mill and a lumber-yard just north of the borough limits.



...has been one of the means of earning a livelihood by many residents of this place. Great quantities of bass are caught, and they supply the markets of Columbia, Lancaster, and the surrounding country. As rafting began to decline, tobacco-farming became a means of support for many of the citizens of this town. The most successful tobacco-growers have been Isaac Shultz and his sons, William Ortman, and John Brush, who have realized large profits from the sale of their crops.


For a considerable period half a century ago, when rafting was at its height on the Susquehanna, Washington was an enterprising little town, and was noted as a stopping place for raftsmen. There were then from twelve to fourteen hotels in the place. The river in the vicinity was lined with rafts for three or four miles. Timber and lumber were brought down the river in rafts. Boards, shingles, and laths were brought down the river in arks, as were also wheat, oats, coal, and pig-iron. After 1840 rafting gradually declined, and within the last ten years very little has been done in that line of business, once so conducive to the prosperity of Washington borough, many of whose inhabitants earned their livelihood by this occupation. Some of the raftsmen took their horses and mules along on the rafts for the purpose of riding back to their homes, while many walked when they returned.

Great Freshets

Washington Borough has suffered at various times in the past from the destructive effects of ice and water-freshets. A water-freshet in 1832 took away Jacob Manning’s distillery. the streets were covered with water sufficiently deep to admit the sailing of boats. the ice freshet of 1873 also came up into the streets and caused considerable damage.


There are at present only two church congregations in Washington borough, Methodist Episcopal and Church of God. There were at one time in the past four denominations in the place, – Methodist Episcopal, Church of God, Evangelical and Presbyterian. But the latter two congregations have gradually dwindled down and ceased to exist. the old Blue Presbyterian Church was built about 1826, the building being put up by Israel Cooper. For a long time the Presbyterians of Washington borough worshiped in this building. The congregation of the Church of God in Washington at a later period rented the church from the Presbyterians. the building was bought by Mr. John Brush, and torn down by him in 1861, after having for some time been used as a tobacco-house. The Evangelical congregation in Washington borough built a frame edifice for worship about 1838, the work being done by Joseph Stoner. The Evangelical congregation gradually dwindling down, this building was also purchased by John Brush, and has likewise been used as a tobacco-house. The Methodists of Washington erected a frame edifice for religious service about 1837, the building being put up by John Steiner. This building was torn down in 1838, and a brick edifice was erected in its stead. It was rebuilt in 1872. The congregation of the Church of God in Washington erected a house of worship in 1845, the work being done by Jacob Manning. The old edifice was torn down when the present one was built.

General Character of Washington

Washington and Charleston were regularly laid out in streets and alleys, and these remain as they were originally laid out. the borough limits are mainly confined within tracts laid out by Dritt and Charles in 1811. The old buildings of the town are mostly frame structures, but there have been some new substantial brick buildings erected in recent years. 

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