You are here

Adams County

-A A +A

Adams County is bordered on the east by York County, while its south border is a continuation of the Mason-Dixon Line that established the Maryland–Pennsylvania boundary. The so-called East Big Flat Ridge of Piney Mountain bounds it on the northwest. Because of its different underlying geology with less of the agriculturally rich limestone soil than neighboring counties, Adams County farmers largely rely on apple and peach orchards for their principal crops. The rolling hills are notable for their endless orchards that stop at the Piney Mountain line. In late April, hillsides are covered in blooming fruit trees, in the summer the trees redden with apples, and in early autumn the roads are filled with trucks moving the crop to the great apple processing plants in Biglersville that perfume the air with the scent of cider. Arendtsville to the northwest of Gettysburg is another apple processing center.

The Penn family acquired the land that is now Adams County in the treaty with the Six Nations that was signed October 12, 1736, thereby establishing rights to the area south of the Blue Mountain and west of the Susquehanna River. It was officially opened to settlement shortly thereafter though settlers had already reached the east face of the Tuscarora Mountain by 1734. By that time the migrations from the British Isles and the Palatinate were at full flood. Adams County, however, was largely settled by Scots-Irish whose desire for political representation resulted in the partitioning of the county in 1800 from York County. It was named for the new president, John Adams. This eliminated the fifty-mile trip to the county seat at York and gave the Scots-Irish a voice separate from the German community of York and Hanover.

From the beginning, the county was connected to the eastern portions of the commonwealth by the Monocacy Trail; later it was reached by the westward extension of the Lancaster Turnpike (U.S. 30). This highway passes through a largely agricultural zone and then three towns, Abbottstown, New Oxford, and the county seat of Gettysburg, each of which were laid out with central squares. Gettysburg, because of its pivotal role in the eastern theater of the Civil War, has held the national interest since 1863 and has shaped much of the regional heritage. As a result and unlike the counties to the east, for the first time the Revolution and its architecture are no longer the central narrative, and again for the first time, Victorian buildings are valued, particularly if they were constructed before the battle. Equally crucial, the battle and its memorials brought nationally important architects to the region and, in recent years, Gettysburg College has attracted important modern architects.

Interspersed among the mid-nineteenth-century buildings are log houses of the early settlers, the brick houses with paired front doors and date plaques of the Germans, the narrow English tenant houses, as well as broadly proportioned and massive early Georgian houses, and, occasionally, Adamesque detail on houses of the Federal era. These are all in evidence along U.S. 30, culminating with the powerful Classical Revival building of Gettysburg College's Pennsylvania Hall (Old Dorm; AD10.1), which denotes the transfer of allegiance to the classical styles, as had happened a decade before in Philadelphia. Thus, Adams County architecture picks up the Pennsylvania narrative and extends the complex weave of English, Scots, and German practices beyond the Susquehanna River, but because of the Civil War, it does so with an awareness of the later mid-nineteenth-century narrative.

Writing Credits

George E. Thomas

If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.

SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.