MHS Archives

Maytowns 250th birthday

Museum Info      

by The Rev. Robert M. Lescallette

On May 1, 1760, Jacob and Elizabeth Downer, German Mennonite land speculators who had earlier been active in the real estate market on the eastern side of Lancaster County, laid out the town of Maytown, in Donegal Township, on acreage that they had just purchased from Scots Irish landholder, Lazarus Lowery.

Their dream was to create a community on the frontier, near the Susquehanna River, in the environs of Great Peter's Road, where German, English, and Scots Irish immigrants could find a home and serve as a supply center for the legions of pilgrims who would follow after them ever westward. Of course, the Downers also hoped to become rich, themselves, through the sale of town lots and through the collection of annual rental fees on each deeded property.

So it was, that they devised a town plan, which would feature a central "diamond" square and a grid pattern of surrounding streets with "High" Street serving as the main thoroughfare bisecting the square on the East West axis, and bring pioneers from civilized Lancaster to wild York County, via the Vinegar Ferry crossing of the river. A North South artery bore no name, originally, but it too bisected the square and eventually became known as River Street.

Alleys or "Back" Streets were created parallel and perpendicular to the main axes, and so it was that the town site consisted of 16 blocks, measuring 250' x 250', arranged in 4 tiers. Each block was then subdivided into four lots, creating space for a moderately sized dwelling, a small barn or stable, and a goodly sized garden although many townspeople felt compelled to own acreage outside of town to raise crops for cash, or feeding livestock, or gaining additional foodstuffs for themselves.

All original town lots, with the exception of 4 lots with frontage on the town square, therefore measured 62' x 250'. They were numbered, in sequence, beginning with lot #1, which was located on the Southwest corner of the square (where the former Washington House restaurant now stands) and proceeding to lot #8 on the south side of West High Street, at King Street (home today, to the Diems). Numbers then went up the entire North side of High Street from King to Queen Street, and from lot #9 until lot #24. Lot #25 was opposite #24, and the sequence continued back to the square along the South side of East High Street, arriving finally at lot #32. Numeration next turned un South River Street to Elizabeth but then the plan gets murky and awaits further discoveries.

Anyway....we know that on November 10, 1770, James Webb, the sheriff of Lancaster County, sold all of the town site with its "quit rent" deed rights, to Alexander Lowery, the son of former owner, Lazarus, because the Downers had gone bankrupt. We also know that Alexander Lowery, on November 4, 1771, sold lot #2 to one ENOCH HASTINGS for 2 pounds and 10 shillings, with the understanding that Hastings would have to pay Lowery and his heirs 1 shilling of rent, every May 1st, forever. (Deed Book W, Vol. 5, p. 16.)

Why is that important to us, for the purpose of this history? For several reasons:
1) The small price suggests that lot #2, on the corner of the town square, where the former Shenk's store now stands, was probably "unimproved" with no previous building on it or no previous tenant.

2) And most importantly, it mentions that the man who bought lot #2, ENOCH HASTINGS, also owned lot # 3 at the time, and lot #3 is where the Maytown Museum site is now located! So who was this Enoch Hastings who may have built our house? Enoch was born in 1727, in Salisbury Township, Lancaster County, near Gap, the second son of Thomas and Mary Hastings and the grandson of John. Enoch married Sarah Richards at St. James Episcopal Church in Lancaster on November 27, 1766, and the marriage produced three sons: Howell, William, and John in that order with John, the youngest, being born in 1773. Enoch Hastings, apparently not long after his marriage, moved west to Donegal, for his name first appears in the local tax rolls as early as 1768, and he is credited with owning one cow. In 1779, the tax rolls first make specific mention of Enoch's owning a house and two town lots here plus 3 acres of country land and two cows and practicing the trade of carpentry. Clearly, the two lots are #2 and #3, and just as likely, the house mentioned is the house that now is our museum site! (Is it not likely that a carpenter would have built it?)

In 1781 and 1782, Enoch Hastings was the captain of a company of colonial militiamen that had been raised in his native Salisbury Township. (Pa. Archives, Vol. 7, Series 5, pp. 42, 56, 78.) After the war, Captain Hastings returned to life as a carpenter and shingle maker in Maytown although his material circumstances improved. 1785's tax rolls show his property valued at $60, and they show him in possession of 2 horses and 3 servants in addition to the cow, 2 lots, and 1 house!

Then, in 1786, his "boat" really came in, as his grandfather, John, died, and he sold the 360 acres of Salisbury Township farmland to Joseph Haar and Christian Hummel for 2,603 pounds. (The land had been acquired on August 2, 1766 by the patriarch, who had intended to leave it to his son, Thomas, but, because Thomas, Enoch's father, died before him, on June 3, 1783, and Enoch's older brother, John, pre deceased him, Enoch was made the executor of the estate, and he benefitted as the heir (after money had been set aside on interest, for his mother, Mary, for an annual income for the rest of her life.) (Deed Book EE, p. 508ff.)

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PO Box 293
Maytown, PA
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Maytown Wood Block House Collection
Maytown Wood Block House Collection