Ephrata – A Place of Fruitfulness

The Borough of Ephrata is a small town that wields a powerful punch. Its name comes from the book of Genesis in the Scriptures and means “fruitfulness.” Considered a “second city” with a population of 13,800, second only to the City of Lancaster, Ephrata is strategically located between Lancaster and the City of Reading by way of Rt. 222, providing easy access to Ephrata’s Downtown Central Business and Historic Districts. Because of its geography, Ephrata is referred to as the gateway to Northern Lancaster County, an area of the County that produces millions of dollars in manufacturing revenue.

Ephrata boasts a rich history starting with the historic Ephrata Cloister, a grouping of 18th century, Germanic structures which housed religious celibates led by German immigrant, Conrad Beissel. As many of these celibates broke rank and eventually married, their descendants quickly established the village of Ephrata, and, by 1871, Ephrata was described as “a well-built country town of about one hundred and twenty families, and very beautifully and healthily located.”

In 1848, PA state senator Joseph Konigmacher established his homestead on the edge of the Ephrata ridge (now 320 E. Main Street). The site was home to a natural mineral spring, and by 1860, Konigmacher had expanded his home into a 400-room hotel and resort centered around the “healthful waters” of the spring and sweeping views from the ridge. The property was called the Ephrata Mountain Springs Hotel. Konigmacher hired experienced staff from Philadelphia to cater to high-end clients who traveled from New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, including former presidents Lincoln, Buchanan, and Grant. A trolley system was built to connect the hotel with the town of Ephrata down the hill. At its peak, the hotel could accommodate up to 500 visitors who would stay throughout the summer.

By 1883, the Reading & Columbia Railroad was completed, bringing on a cigar manufacturing boon fed by the vast number of local tobacco farms transporting the cash crop into the downtown railroad station. The horse trade also grew, bringing horses shipped into the Borough from as far as Virginia and some midwestern states. Into the 20th Century, factories manufacturing silk, assorted textiles and shoes became the primary economic generators. One could purchase all of one’s needs in downtown Ephrata – appliances, bedding, shoes, clothing, groceries, jewelry, school supplies, furniture, hardware, toys and newspapers.

Present Day Ephrata

Ephrata’s many historic buildings continue to add a special charm and character to the town and stand as important reminders of the borough’s history. The community’s first bank, Ephrata National Bank, still serves customers today behind its Georgian style structure built by renowned architect, C. Emlen Urban.

The grounds of the former Mountain Springs Hotel, which was demolished in 1990, was completely redeveloped to be a commercial revenue generator with a portion of the old hotel modified into office space. Also included on this site is the Hampton Inn (one of the busiest in the entire state) and Applebee’s Restaurant.

Located near the town’s square sits the circa 1880’s railroad station. In the late 1960’s, plans were made to demolish this building, but through the efforts of the Historic Conservation Trust of Ephrata, it was saved and carefully restored. Today, the building is owned by the Ephrata Borough and serves as home to Mainspring of Ephrata, economic development corporation for the borough. The area surrounding the station has been beautifully landscaped and is known as the Whistle Stop Plaza. Many events, services and even weddings are held at this popular gathering place. The community’s Welcome Center is also located in this building. From here, visitors and residents alike can download a historic walking tour through the Uniquely Ephrata app.

For more information concerning the history of the community please contact the Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley, located at 249 West Main Street, Ephrata, by calling Phone 717-733-1616.

In addition to the historic heritage of the community, Ephrata boasts of its many recreational resources. The Ephrata Rec Center offers numerous programs for people of all ages. It also manages the Ephrata Community Pool and maintains the parks within the borough. The Ephrata Unleashed Dog Park opened in Spring 2023 and is free to use for residents and visitors alike.  The Warwick-Ephrata Rail Trail connects Ephrata to neighboring town, Lititz. From this trail, people can rent bicycles at the Ephrata Bike Share and go “in-country” at the Heatherwood Bike Park, pump track and trail cycling.

The borough also offers both public and private school choices to provide quality education for future generations. Health care services are available at the award-winning Wellspan Ephrata Community Hospital.

Ephrata Borough offers a wide variety of traditional municipal services, including a police department, code enforcement, and snow, leaf and trash removal. The Borough is unique in that it owns its own electric company from which residents and commercial properties within the Borough access their power.  The Borough also operates the water system of the Ephrata Area Joint Authority and operates the sewer system of the Ephrata Borough Authority. The borough is committed to offering dependable service to the community.

Ephrata of the Future

Today, Ephrata is experiencing some significant revitalization that will secure a vibrant, healthy town for future generations.  The borough, under the auspices of Mainspring of Ephrata, completed a walkability project in the downtown area that enhanced pedestrian safety, and launched a Façade Improvement Grant Program and Revolving Loan Fund Program to improve aesthetics and help businesses to expand. The borough continues to strengthen the economy by promoting available leased space within commercial properties, attracting specialty retailers, and preserving historic buildings.

Additionally, over 200 acres of public wooded land is owned by the municipality and is affectionately called the Ephrata Mountain. It from this ridge that the healing waters flowed during the height of the Mountain Springs Hotel. Plans to open hiking and bicycling trails and place some acreage into conservation easements are being explored.

Developing these assets will provide a pleasant community in which to live, work and play.

History and Heritage:

1732 Ephrata is Born

Ephrata Cloister: In 1732, Conrad Beissel came to the banks of the Cocalico creek searching for religious freedom. He would go on to build a prosperous religious community that consisted of both celibate and married members who were well known for their art, music, and printing press. The last celibate member passed away in 1814 and the remaining married members that were a part of the congregation sold the remaining buildings and land to the state of Pennsylvania in 1941. Today, the Historic Ephrata Cloister now survives as a national historic landmark.

1891 Ephrata is organized:

The Ephrata Borough was officially incorporated on August 22, 1891. Overall, the 19th century was a time of change for Ephrata. The town became a regional center of commerce, the famous Mountain Springs Resort opened, the Mount Vernon Hotel was operating, and the Reading & Columbia railroad forever changed the town’s landscape. The railroad station that welcomed visitors to Ephrata still stands today and serves as the community’s Welcome Center and home to Mainspring of Ephrata.