Central Market is something that I rarely give much thought to; it's always just been there. Growing up before malls and urban sprawl, going "downtown" was the only true option for shopping. Back then, I never wondered how long the market had existed or even gave much thought to the (at that time) horse-drawn carriages that brought goods into the city for sale, hitched outside the market house for the day.
Our county has many markets that have been in existence for decades - some for a century or more. Green Dragon in Ephrata is one that I researched for a paper in college, and that one has quite a colorful history - including a "roadhouse" period that has a fairly unsavory flavor. At one time, in addition to the Central Market we had Southern, West End, and Eastern Markets that all ran on different, overlapping days, ensuring that there was always good fresh foods available at any given time. The Eastern Market is in the midst of a revival, but Central Market has always been there.
In 1730, Alexander Hamilton included it in the original plan of the city, and conveyed personal property to the City of Lancaster in a deal that ensured that the market would always be there. It has run continuously from that time, with a building being constructed first around 1757, and then being remodeled into our outstandingly beautiful current market building in 1889. The Market House is under reconstruction right now, but the changes are internal. The building itself is about 1/2 block long and half as wide, surrounded by a narrow cobblestone alley on all sides that includes hitching posts that are these days used almost exclusively for our mounted police force.
I remember going to Central Market on rare occasions as a child, mostly for baked goods when we happened to be in town shopping for clothes. We lived out in the country and there was no scarcity of fresh produce and meat for us, and Tuesday nights found our grandfather at Root's Market towards Lititz for produce and donuts to bring home. Home delivery of breads and milk were also a part of life.
Later, my first job and apartment led me to spend more time at market. I lived a block away from market, and worked for a paper supply company a block in the other direction. Each market day, the owner of the company would walk to market and get orders for bags, cake or pie boxes, candy boxes, plates, plasticware, deli-wrap and foil, etc., and then those things would be delivered before the end of the day to the standholders. Nearly everything I ate came from the market, where standholders supplied beautiful produce, fresh meats and fish, dairy goods, and baked goods. At least once a week, I'd take home fresh cut bouquets of flowers for the apartment.
In the early 70's the big mall came to town, and nearly wiped the city out. I married and moved out of the center of the city, making trips into the market a special treat. It began a long, sad period of decline for the downtown area.
The 90's brought about an exciting revival for the City of Lancaster, with arts being the main focus. The town is now full of art studios, specialty shops, a school of art and design, music, theatre, and many incredible eateries. It is once again an exciting hub of activity, and I was so happy when our kids started finding reasons to go "downtown".
Central Market is still the jewel in the crown of the city. On market days (Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday), the city is once again teeming with shoppers. It is a real testament to the vision of Alexander Hamilton that this one vibrant part of our heritage has been the thing that seems to have held steady and given hope and purpose to the people who led us back to our town.
I try to get there at least once a month, although it is a special trip. There is nothing like the offerings of freshly prepared ethnic foods, specialty foods, organic produce and grass-fed beef, fresh ground horseradish, jellies, cider, artisan breads - and so much more - that are beautifully displayed for purchase. The homemade sauerkraut that families have purchased for decades to serve on New Year's Day with fresh pork and potatoes also from market, the fresh turkeys picked up just before the holidays (along with that tender celery for stuffing!), the smoked hams, the first strawberries, spring peas, green onions of spring - they all are part of what makes this place special.
If you visit Lancaster, visit the oldest continuously running market in the US. It is steeped in the work and life of centuries of good people, and is the heart of our area.