Lebanon Valley History

What is now the Lebanon Valley was once part of a 1681 land grant by King Charles II of England to William Penn, from whom the State of Pennsylvania adopted its name. Before this time, Algonquin Indian Tribes occupied the land. Pennsylvania was a desirable escape for Europeans—it was described as an oasis of religious sovereignty and inexpensive land. Prior to 1720, its inhabitants were of Scotch-Irish descent. The area was first settled in 1723, and by 1729 the area’s predominant settlers were German.

The years surrounding the French-Indian War were especially brutal for the Lebanon Valley. Forts were constructed in an attempt to stop Indian attacks, but regardless, they continued until 1763. The Revolutionary War was another significant event in the history of the Lebanon Valley—British and Hessian prisoners were held captive in the region and worked for the Cornwall Furnace, making cannons and munitions for the Continental Army.

By 1790, a new group of people was emerging from the Lebanon Valley. Middle-class German settlers who immigrated to the Valley for the purposes of religious freedom became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. This group included the Mennonites, the Dunkers, the German Reformed, the Lutherans and the Moravians, and had a very large influence on the way the Lebanon Valley functions today as far as industry, farming and religion are concerned.

Lebanon County was formed in 1813. Lebanon, the county seat, received its charter as a borough in 1821 and as a city in 1885.

Of great significance in the Lebanon Valley’s history was the construction of several transportation systems. Construction of the famous Union Canal began in 1821 and connected the Schuylkill River with the Susquehanna River. In 1827, the first tunnel built in the United States for canal passage through a mountain was built in Lebanon County. The Union Canal Tunnel is the oldest existing tunnel in the United States and is still a notable landmark today, drawing a large number of visitors each year.

The introduction of rail travel was also a significant development for the Valley. The Lebanon Valley Railroad was completed in 1857 and was later taken over by the Reading Railroad. Additional lines were constructed throughout the years, making the exporting and importing of goods to and from other areas possible. The Lebanon Valley began to cement its reputation as a strong business and commercial center—a hat it still proudly wears today.

– Courtesy of the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce