Central Market: Lancaster, Pennsylvania


Central Market dates back to the founding of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, when Andrew Hamilton laid out the original town plan in 1730 and included a lot in the center for the town square and an adjacent lot to be used in perpetuity for a market. Nearly 280 years later, Lancaster Central Market has remained in continuous operation in the same location — making it the oldest such marketplace in the country. To help the market remain competitive as well as repair and maintain its building, the city completed a Central Market master plan in 2005.

Designated Area

The brick Central Market building is located downtown adjacent to Penn Square, between West King and West Grant Streets.

Central Market's downtown location makes the place easily accessible to walkers, bikers, and those using public transportation as well as motorists. Photo courtesy P. Craig Lenhard, Senior Planner.

Planning Excellence

The current Romanesque Revival building features twin 72-foot-tall towers on the south corners. It was designed by Philadelphia architect James H. Warner and erected in 1889. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, the Victorian market house is resplendent in architectural detail including Spanish tiling finished off with terra cotta finials, voussoir arches, pilasters, corbelling, dormers and a hipped and gabled roof system supported with timber-framed beams and joinery.

Market shoppers find abundant fresh vegetables, fruits, and flowers, along with locally made breads, jams, and other products. Photo courtesy P. Craig Lenhard, Senior Planner.

Defining Characteristics, Features

Long History

  • After the town's founding, the marketplace functioned as an open air market until 1757 when first market house constructed; current building erected in 1889
  • Present market house designed by English-born architect James H. Warner; renown for his experience in church architecture and construction of large roofs; designed projects in Harrisburg and Reading
  • The 20,540 square-foot, brick market sits at the historic center of Lancaster, adjacent to Penn Square, the old City Hall, city's first skyscraper, and other historic buildings

Public Support for Central Market

  • Market had competition for much of its history including seasonal curb markets (discontinued in 1927) and privately owned market houses (last one closed in 1985)
  • Competition still remains from suburban supermarket chains; Central Market remains operational through city ownership and subsidies
  • Friends of Central Market founded as nonprofit organization in 1997; volunteer effort by customers to raise awareness about market and ensure it continues to serve a public purpose; group has 30 volunteers and 200 members
  • Friends group a key player in the "buy fresh, buy local" campaign designed to increase the market's visibility and customer base.

Unique merchandise, local customers  

  • Majority of vendors sell locally grown or prepared foods and non-food items; regional food specialties include Pennsylvania Dutch sausage, scrapple, headcheese, chowchow,  bread, butter pickles
  • Downtown location makes market easily accessible; thousands of residents live within one-half mile; six bus routes have stops within two blocks
  • 3,000 customers patronize market each week; 82 percent of customers live or work in Lancaster; 33 percent of customers live in same zip code area as market
  • Central Market is not only a place to buy local food and produce, but is also a place to meet friends and socialize; during warm months, outdoor furniture, canvas umbrellas, and hanging flower baskets strengthen Central Market setting as place to socialize
  • Currently has 57 vendors who are socially and culturally diverse — Amish, Mennonite, Latino, African, Asian, German, Greek, and others

The 20,540-square-foot brick market was built in 1889. It sits at the historic center of Lancaster, adjacent to Penn Square and the old City Hall. Photo courtesy P. Craig Lenhard, Senior Planner.