The history of Ephrata is very evident in the architecture of this beautiful small town nestled in the rural countryside. Its austere colonial roots are on display at the historic Ephrata Cloister. Its place as a hub of commerce can be seen in the Colonial style of the Historic Smithton Inn. Fast forward to the twentieth century and you’ll witness the Art Deco treatment of the popular movie theater, The New Main.
Like many small Lancaster communities, Ephrata was established as a refuge from religious persecution. In 1732, the Ephrata Cloister was founded by German immigrant Conrad Beissel. Descended from Anabaptism, the religious sect was known for its German Fractur calligraphy, a cappella music, devotion to scholarship and its promotion of celibacy. At the request of the Continental Congress, Cloister member Peter Miller translated the Declaration of Independence into seven languages. By 1813, the Ephrata Cloister sect had all but disappeared due to its celibate teachings.
In 1848 the Mountain Springs Hotel was built. Famous for its spring water, the hotel became a popular resort for important dignitaries including several presidents. In the late nineteenth century, Ephrata became a popular stop for the Columbia and Reading railroads. The easy access to the railroads and proximity to Lancaster County’s tobacco farms helped Ephrata become a nerve center for commercial trade. Ephrata was home to twenty-four cigar factories, a shoe factory and a coach factory.
Today, downtown Ephrata is still readily accessible. Its close proximity to Route 222 make it a popular location for business commuters and tourists. With historical landmarks, entertainment and shopping, it’s easy to see why Ephrata is a popular destination.
The Ephrata Performing Arts Center is a community theater group known for its unique productions. On Fridays, the local shopping scene is dominated by the Green Dragon, one of the largest farmers markets in Pennsylvania. The famous fair-trade retailer, Ten Thousand Villages features products from 130 artisan groups from all over the world.
Situated along Main Street or Route 322, visitors will find two craft breweries, St. Boniface Craft Brewery and Black Forest True Tavern Ales, as well as a craft wine bar and tasting room, Weathered Vineyards.
Starting at the Visitor Center in the heart of downtown is a rail trail where you can take a stroll of about 3 miles to see sites like Veterans Plaza, home of the Winters Leadership Memorial, multiple murals, some friendly goats and the Nibbles McGibbles Gnome Village.
This year the Ephrata Fair - the largest street fair in Pennsylvania and Voted the Best of Lancaster – will be celebrating its 101st year. It has been a significant part of local history, promoting and preserving Ephrata’s agricultural heritage while showcasing many agricultural events and exhibits. From Tuesday, September 24 – Saturday, September 28, Main and State Streets will be closed as rides and local food stands offer fun, entertainment, relaxation and a chance to mingle with friends. You won’t want to miss the silent auction, petting zoo, tractor events, prize winning animals or the parade that fills the streets on Wednesday evening of the fair.
Of course, a trip to Ephrata wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Ephrata Cloister where its early history has been pristinely preserved.