Who knew? Lancaster was hemp farming mecca

By on May 13, 2015

Les Stark, whose ancestors were hemp farmers in Lancaster County, will present this fiber’s fascinating history on Tuesday, May 19, at 7 p.m., at the Reamstown Community Center, 24 E. Church St., Reamstown.

According to Stark, the culture of hemp was nearly universal centuries ago. William Penn recognized the enormous potential of this crop and founded Pennsylvania in 1681 specifically intending for the Commonwealth to produce hemp.

Photo courtesy Reamstown Historical Society and Museum Les Stark with hemp stone at Hans Herr House, West Lampeter Township, Lancaster County. Stark will provide a history of hemp farming in Lancaster County during a free community lecture at the Reamstown Community Center on Tuesday, May 19 at 7 p.m.

Photo courtesy Reamstown Historical Society and Museum
Les Stark with hemp stone at Hans Herr House, West Lampeter Township, Lancaster County. Stark will provide a history of hemp farming in Lancaster County during a free community lecture at the Reamstown Community Center on Tuesday, May 19, at 7 p.m.

The Pennsylvania German people were said to grow some of the best hemp in the world and made the finest hemp products. The first permanent settlers of what is now Lancaster County started farming around the year of 1710 and immediately planted hemp.

In the 1720s the General Assembly encouraged all Pennsylvania farmers to grow hemp, and granted them a series of ever-increasing bounties for every pound of hemp they could produce fit for market.

The farmers of the new settlements responded to the calls for hemp so much so that when the new County of Lancaster was formed in 1729 it included the original Hempfield Township named for the “Vast Quantities of hemp raised there.” Stark has documented more than 100 water-powered mills that processed hemp fiber in Lancaster County between 1720 and 1870.

That hemp fiber was used for everything from coarse cloth to fine linen. It covered vast fleets of Conestoga wagons and ships, was used to make grain bags for millions of bushels of wheat, thousands of miles of rope, curtains for homes, tablecloths, handkerchiefs, napkins, pillow cases, sheets, towels, bedding, trousers, belts, shirts, suspenders, shoes, hats, dresses, and all sorts of fabrics.

Les Stark, who currently resides in Berks County, is a native of Ephrata. The history of hemp farming in Lancaster County is one in a continuing of free lectures sponsored by the Reamstown Historical Society and Museum. Parking is in the rear of the Community Center. For more information call 717-364-0865.

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