The northeastern part of Lancaster County offers many intriguing small towns and attractions. Coming from Ephrata on Rte. 322, you will arrive in Blue Ball and the intersection with Rte. 23. The town got its name from the Blue Ball Hotel, built more than two hundred years ago. In the early 18th century, John Wallace built a small building in Earl Town at the intersection of two Native trails, French Creek Path (now Rte. 23) and Paxtang (Rte. 322). He hung a blue ball out front from a post and called it “The Sign of the Blue Ball.” Locals soon began calling the town “Blue Ball” after the inn, and in 1833, Earl Town officially became Blue Ball. Continuing west, you will arrive in the town of New Holland.
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The unstable situation in Europe in the late 1600s spawned and nurtured the pioneer interest in the deep forest lands of Pennsylvania—60 miles inland from Philadelphia. In 1681 William Penn received his 40,000 square-mile land grant to settle King Charles’ debt to his father. Being a Quaker, William Penn had experienced religious persecution firsthand and decided to establish his American colony on the idealistic basis of complete religious freedom.
This entire century had been one of continued misery for the peasants of the Palatinate (western Germany). The Thirty Years’ War has raged across the area with barbaric ruthlessness. Some towns were burned out two or three separate times during the period. The peasant inhabitants fled to nearby Holland for refuge. And within a decade of the end of that conflict, King Louis XIV of France started a new religious war in the same general area.
These Palatinate peasants were exhausted by war’s desolation and were ripe for a new start. Traveling land agents for William Penn’s new colony found willing ears. In addition to complete religious freedom and peaceful existence, Penn offered cheap land. The stated price was 100 English pounds for 5,000 acres. (At today’s rate exchange, this would be less than $.06 an acre, plus a small annual “quit rent.”) By the year 1702, a goodly number of Palatinates had immigrated to Pennsylvania, and Queen Anne, newly reigning in England, was delighted that Penn was colonizing his immense grant without drawing off the population of Britain.
The area now called New Holland was practically covered by virgin forests—sturdy timber of oak, ash, chestnut, and walnut. By 1728, William Penn had been dead for 10 years and his American colony called Pennsylvania was being administered by a proprietary governor while the sale of land was formalized by patent deeds.
In 1729 the Proprietary Legislature started to establish inland counties, and the following year Lancaster County was divided into 17 townships. Because the first settler in this general area was at Groffdale, the township was named after him, with the English equivalent of his German name which is Earl. Consequently, the settlement was referred to as “Earltown.” Michael Diffenderfer named his real estate development New Design in 1750. In 1802 when a post office was established and an official name was necessary, there was no dissension to naming the town New Holland.
The Dutch assistance is thought to have included funds to cover the cost of the refugee German immigrants’ ocean voyage. It was no small matter when the alternative was indentured service for a period of years. For adults, indenture frequently meant four to seven years without pay. Minors served until their 21st birthday. But William Penn’s Quaker Pennsylvania was a liberation compared to the Europe they fled. Except for the Netherlands, there was no other country that offered complete freedom of religion, assembly, and speech to all.
The village founders were German, not Dutch. They were surrounded by English and Welsh Quakers, Episcopalians, a few Swiss-German Mennonites, and some Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. The Amish arrived later.
Although these pioneer settlers found all they had hoped for in peaceful existence and freedom of worship, it should not be thought this was necessarily a land of “milk and honey.” There were many hardships during these early years. Swarms of locusts ravaged the area in 1732. Severe earthquakes were active throughout eastern Pennsylvania in 1737. Two successive seasons of poor crops (1750-51) followed by three years of drought(1752-54). A hailstorm in 1763 dropped hailstones as large as turkey eggs killing many small animals. During the very hard winter of 1780 twenty inches of ice formed on the ponds, and the ears of sheep and cattle had frozen.
New Holland was laid out as a “street town” in the typical European style of having the villagers live in a central location along both sides of the street, but each having an outlying plot of land to cultivate in addition to his trade as a craftsman. Even today, the main street of New Holland has major “kinks” or bends in it. Unsympathetic visitors claim it looks as if the town were built along a “cow path.” If one looks with a discerning eye, the street also follows the high ground. The land on the ridge was the driest and in winter it would be blown clear of much of the snow. These settlers made the obvious facts of nature work for them rather than against them.
Surveying as practiced in the 1700s was not a precise craft. The records show that the Horse Shoe Road was one of only three public roads in early Lancaster County. (Today it’s mostly Rte. 23.) It was surveyed in 1737 to connect Lancaster with the Coventry Ironworks in Chester County. But in 1795, when Earl Township supervisors had it resurveyed, they found the correct location where it passed through New Holland was somewhat to the south of the existing Main Street. Furthermore, the roadway was only 33 feet wide instead of the 50 feet supposedly specified. The citizens appealed to the County Court for relief, which was granted, so the Horse Shoe Road through New Holland was accepted as it existed in fact, and the maps were changed accordingly. Most of Main Street remains only 33′ wide today.
New Holland is a charming small town similar to many small towns in rural America. The strength of New Holland lies in its people, who “want to be free to work hard, strive for excellence, and have a pride in their rich heritage.”