A TOPOGRAPHICAL and historical sketch of the town of Hanover cannot fail of being interesting to a large portion o~ the public. We are indebted for most of the facts contained in the following notice of that town, to an account of the place which was written in September 1818, and with which Mr. Daniel P. Lange very politely favored us.
Topography. Hanover is situated in York county, Pa. and is 39 degrees 46 minutes N. L. and 1 degree and 18 minutes W. of Philadelphia. It is distant six miles from the Maryland line; one, from Adams county; eighteen from York, the seat of Justice for this county; forty-two from Baltimore; forty-one, from Frederick town; sixteen from Gettysburg; thirty-six from Harrisburg; and thirty, from Carlisle. The turnpike road leading from Baltimore to Carlisle and the road from Frederick-town to Philadelphia cross each other at the centre square of the town. Along the Roads the greatest part of the houses are built; they form the different streets and derive their names from the different places to which they lead. The street leading from the square towards York, York-street; that towards Carlisle, Carlisle-street; and that towards Frederick town, Frederick-street; a 5th street in which there are a number of buildings, intersects York-street near the square, and runs in the direction of Harrisburg through Abbott's town, Berlin, Dillstown &c. and is thence often called Abbottstown-strcct, although the correct name is Pigeon-street, on account of its leading to the Pigeon hills. Besides these there are a number of back streets on which many neat and convenient buildings are erected. Of the several allies there is nothing particularly to be observed.
There are no water-streams of any consideration in the neighborhood of this town; the nearest are at the distance of three or four miles, and are the Conewago, Codorus &c. The very best limestone water is that daily used by the families in town.
Hanover is one of the largest villages, not a seat of justice, in the state of Pennsylvania. Of its numerous dwelling houses some are very elegant two story brick or frame buildings; others however are but one story high, and are built of various materials.
The public buildings are a very neat market house on the square, and two elegantly built churches, the one belonging to the German Lutheran, and the other to the German Reformed congregation. Almost the only religious denominations are the German Reformed and the German Lutheran: there are however a few families of Roman Catholics whose place of worship is the chapel in Adams county, four miles from Hanover.
The language of the old and young is the German, there being but three or four English families in the town; yet the English language is much spoken by the young, and will probably at no very distant period supplant its older and more energetic Sister.
We believe there is not a town in Pennsylvania where idlers and vagabonds are more rarely to be met with than in Hanover. The inhabitants arc, with few exceptions industrious and economical not only in their mechanical and professional avocations, but also in their agricultural pursuits. Nearly one half of them have lots or small farms near town, from which they raise a sufficient quantity of grain for yearly home consumption, with not unfrequently, somewhat for disposal. There are few if any places in the country of the same magnitude in which there are so many wealthy and so few indigent persons; a very large majority of the inhabitants living in affluent circumstances, and many of them being independent as to their fortunes; but the "propensity for more," so natural to man, admits not of ease.
The local situation of Hanover is truly inviting, it lying as in the fields of Elysium. It is situated in the level and beautiful valley of Conewago, which extends mostly toward the north west, north, & north east, of the town & which in fertility of soil is but little inferior to the best land in the state. The descents from the square of the town are, in every direction, except one, so gentle as hardly to be perceived, and are yet sufficient to drain off the water. The common is large and beautiful, and the whole neighborhood is calculated to excite admiration and delight. About a mile from town in a south easterly direction, begins that very extensive range of country commonly called "the barrens" on account of the poorness of its soil: this neighborhood, together with the Pigeon Hills, distant about four miles in a northern direction from town, can amply supply the inhabitants of Hanover with fruit, and the wealthy farmers of Conewago with chestnut rails for all ages to come.
History. The history of Hanover is almost wholly lost in the graves of its first settlers; the following however is the result of every thing that could possibly be collected on this subject.
Hanover was laid out in lots by Richard M'Alister Esq. in the year 1763 or 1764, at which time the surrounding country had been but lately settled, and wore much the appearance of a wilderness. When the rumour of Mr. M'Alister's intentions was spread throughout the neighborhood, the people generally laughed at his project, and considered it the effect of a wild fancy. A very aged and respectable lady of a remarkably retentive memory related a few years ago the following anecdote on this subject. A certain farmer of those days returning to his family after some visits through the neighborhood, thus addressed his wife in the presence of the lady above alluded to. "Mammy," (this was then, and is yet, a very common address of the Germans to their wives) "mammy, I have great news to tell you - Richard M'Alister is going to make a town." The wife, after some enquiries and observations, said with a sarcastic smile which spoke more than words, "Ha, ha, ha! I am afraid that man will turn a fool at last. - I think he'll call his new town, Hickory town." - The spot on which Hanover is now in part situated, was then covered with large hickory-trees, which stood almost impenetrably thick. The above anecdote although simple is not unpleasant; for it shows how the past has been, and by contrasting that with the present, we see how the world advances. All great undertakings begin in little things, "of so much labor was it to found the walls of lofty Rome."
The account written in September, 1818, of which we have availed ourselves, says: "The farm-house or residence of Mr. M'Alister, is yet in existence, It is a two story log building in Baltimore street, occupied at present by Henry Albright, Jun. This house, in which Mr. M'Alister kept a store and a tavern, (the road from York to Fredericktown then passing his door,) is the second house to the right coming from Baltimore. The first house built on the appropriated lots, is a one story log-house in Frederick street, the second to the right coming from Fredericktown, and at present occupied by Jacob and John Rieder. It was erected in 1764, by a certain Jacob Nusser, who, from his having been the first improver of the place, was afterwards jocosely called the governor of M'Alisterstown, the name by which Hanover was then generally known. A short time afterwards three or four more houses were built, occupied at present by Henry Felty, Charles Barnitz, John Bardt, &c &c. Henceforward the progress of improvement was rapid, until ten or twelve years ago, when it seemed to have made a stand; there are however occasionally some buildings erected, but not more than three or four on an average every year."
Until near the commencement of the American revolution, Hanover was under very singular circumstances. It was exempt from the jurisdiction of any court, and was for many years not improperly called the "rogue's resort." All refugees from Justice betook themselves to Hanover, where they were under no fear of being seized by any officer. If the Sheriff of York county could catch the delinquent one half mile out of town in a north-western direction, then he might legally make him his prisoner under the authority of the courts of this county; but neither in town nor nearer the town than that had he any ministerial power. An anecdote has been related by a respectable old gentleman of Hanover which deserves credit. A number of robbers having broken into the store of the proprietor, Mr. M'Alister, he seized them and conveyed them to York for safe confinement; but the Sheriff refused to admit them into the jail with these observations to Mr. M'Alister, "you of Hanover, wish to be independent, therefore punish your villains yourselves." The officer remembered past obstructions of justice and was not unwilling to retaliate. Although these circumstances may appear strange, yet the account we have given is strictly true.
The reason of this extraordinary exemption from all law was as follows: Charles I. granted Maryland to Cecilius Calvert, Baron of Baltimore, in Ireland, on the 30th of June 1632 - Charles II. granted Pennsylvania to William Penn on the 4th of March 1681. For many years the boundary line between these two grants was not ascertained. Baltimore and Penn claimed each the neighborhood of Hanover as comprised within their several grants, and each so claiming, granted rights to lands in opposition to the other. During this uncertain state of things, consequent on the dispute, a petty nobleman, named John Digges, obtained from the proprietor of Maryland, a grant for 10,000 acres of land; it being left to the option of Mr. Digges to locate said grant on whatsoever unimproved lands lie pleased within the jurisdiction of his Lordship. By the advice and under the direction of Torn, a noted Indian chief, after whom Tom's creek is called, Mr. Digges took up, by virtue of said grant, 6822 acres, contained at present within the townships of Conewago and Germany in Adams county, and the township of Heidelberg in York county. Hanover, which before its incorporation was a part of Heidelberg township, was situated on the south eastern extremity of "Digges' choice." The course pursued by each proprietor of making individual .grants at random, and in opposition to each other was the cause of Hanover and the adjacent country being exempted from all jurisdiction. The laws of neither province could be extended to a place with respect to which the mutual claims were not settled either by survey or charter. The Citizens of Hanover therefore were not liable to be seized by any sheriff, or to be confined in any prison. Delinquents flew to it on the discovery of their crimes and escaped all danger of being brought to justice: the appellation of Rogue's Resort was therefore not inapplicable. It is unnecessary to state any of the grievous evils arising from this state of things; for any one who has any knowledge of human nature, can form a correct opinion of the confusion and disorder then prevalent.
This uncertainty of boundary continued for some years. The division line between Pennsylvania and Maryland was not finally settled till just before the revolution. Mason's and Dixon's line was run in the year 1767 and 1768, and the proceedings thereon were ratified by the king in council on the 11th of January 1769. The proclamations of the proprietaries to quiet the settlers &c. were issued in 1774, that of Pennsylvania bearing date on the 15th of September of that year. Hanover was now determined to be a part of Pennsylvania, and as such fell within the limits of the county of York.
From this time onward we find but little that is worth recording - The town has escaped, with a few exceptions, the ravages of lire: nor have there been many accidents which could operate against its improvement and prosperity. In the year 1804 however the fever and ague raged in excessive violence, and caused a considerable number of deaths.
The town of Hanover was not erected into a borough until the year 1815; the 4th of March in that year being the date of its incorporation. The statute says of the borough that it "shall be comprised within the tract of land of Richard M'Alister, deceased." The first election of burgesses and town council was held on the 4th of March 1815, at the house of Jacob Eichelberger in Frederick-street, and was superintended by Michael Heliman and Henry Welsch. A very handsome market-house was erected in this same year.
The present population of Hanover is about 1100.
Source: Page(s) 47 - 53, History of York County From its Erection to the Present Time; [1729-1834]; New Edition; With Additions, Edited by A. Monroe Aujrand, Jr.