THE HISTORIC 18th CENTURY HOME OF GENERAL EDWARD HAND
Rock Ford Plantation is the preserved 18th Century home of Edward Hand who served as Adjutant General to George Washington during the American Revolution. Today, Rock Ford is comprised of 33 acres at the southeastern edge of Lancaster City surrounded by Lancaster County Central Park. The mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places and is recorded in the Historic American Building Survey. Rock Ford is widely considered to be one of the most important examples of Georgian domestic architecture surviving in Pennsylvania and the most intact building predating 1800 in Lancaster County. The mansion’s elegant rooms are furnished with an outstanding collection of period furnishings and decorative arts. Rock Ford offers visitors an authentic example of refined country living as it existed during the early years of the Republic.
GENERAL EDWARD HAND
Edward Hand was born on December 31, 1744 in Clyduff, King's County (now County Offaly), Ireland. Following medical training at Trinity College, Dublin, he was enlisted as Surgeon's Mate with the 18th Royal Irish Regiment of Foot and sent to garrison Fort Pitt in America.
He resigned from British service in 1774 and came to Lancaster to practice medicine. In 1775, Edward Hand married Katherine ("Kitty") Ewing, who was the niece of Jasper Yeates. Edward and Katherine Hand had eight children: Sara b. 1775. Dorothy b. 1777, Katherine b. 1779, John b. 1782, Jasper b. 1784,Mary b. 1786, Margaret b. 1789 and Edward b. 1792. Hand joined the Continental Army as Lt. Colonel of the 1st Battalion of Pennsylvania Riflemen in July of 1775. He led troops at Boston, Long Island, White Plains and Trenton, becoming Adjutant General to Washington in 1781.
At War’s end, Hand returned to Lancaster and entered politics as a Federalist. He served in Congress, the Pennsylvania General Assembly and was elected Burgess of Lancaster. Edward Hand and his family moved to Rock Ford in 1794, and he died there on September 3, 1802.
THE HOUSE AND PLANTATION
Edward Hand purchased the "plantation tract of land" upon which he would later build Rock Ford in two transactions: 160 acres in 1785 and 17 additional acres in 1792. (In the 18th Century, "Plantation" was the term for a farm under cultivation). Rock Ford stands on the banks of the Conestoga River, one mile south of downtown Lancaster. In the 18th Century, no bridges spanned the Conestoga River. Therefore, one forded the river at a spot with rock outcroppings. This location is most likely the origin of the name "Rock Ford.”
While owned by the Hand family, the property was a working farm with fields, livestock, and extensive orchards. Edward Hand, an avid horticulturist, is remembered for introducing a strain of plum, which subsequently bore his name. By the late 1790's, in addition to the mansion, the plantation boasted a tenant house, springhouse, two barns, and numerous outbuildings.
On July 4, 1791, General and Mrs. Hand entertained George Washington for tea during the President's visit to Lancaster. Although the precise location of this tea was not contemporaneously documented, it was traditionally believed to have taken place at Rock Ford Plantation.
After being sold from the Hand Estate in 1810, the property was operated as a tenant farm into the mid-20th century. The tenant farmers living here for about 150 years made almost no changes to the house.
By the 1950's, it was owned by the Lancaster Area Refuse Authority, and the mansion was threatened by demolition and was slated to be the home of a trash incineration plant and landfill. In 1957, the house with adjacent acreage was bought by the Junior League of Lancaster. In May 1958, the Rock Ford Foundation was established to restore and maintain the property. The house was opened to the public in 1960, and the restoration of the wooden piazzas was completed in 1964.
General Hand's estate inventory was instrumental both in locating specific articles from his residency and in furnishing the rooms. Archaeological excavations in the surrounding grounds have unearthed well preserved artifacts, in addition to foundations of outbuildings mentioned in tax records.
The four levels of Rock Ford conform to the same plan - a center hall with four corner rooms. The interior paint colors are based upon analysis used to determine the original colors. The furnishings and interior arrangement shown seek to convey the lifestyle of the Hand family as they lived at Rock Ford circa 1794 to 1802.
The chief guide for the furnishings has been the detailed inventory taken of the “Goods and Chattels” of Edward Hand after his death in 1802.
THE ROCK FORD BARN
The current barn is not original to the property. However, it stands on the original location of General Hand's barn, stockyard and hog pen. This barn was built in Manor Township in the 1780's. It was purchased from PP&L in 1973, dismantled and reconstructed at Rock Ford.
The Rock Ford Barn and grounds are available to rent for wedding receptions, office meetings and parties, and other special events. If you are interested in holding your special event on 33 picturesque acres surrounded by gardens, woodlands, the Conestoga River and General Hand's mansion estate, please contact our Rental Coordinator at 717-799-8751 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for rates, information and date availability.
Drone video fly-over of Rock Ford Plantation and grounds courtesy of Orbit Creative, Inc.