On May 10, 1729 Lancaster County became the 4th county in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It was formed from land that had previously been part of Chester County. In the southern end of the new county, 3 townships existed: Drumore, Martic & Sadsbury. In 1738 two new townships were formed out of Drumore Township—Little Britain & Colerain.
From its inception, Little Britain was a strong agricultural community, a tradition which still holds true today.
A TOWNSHIP IS NAMED. When the time came to find a name for their newly created home, residents rejected many that were being proposed.
The majority of townships in Lancaster had been given names reflective of the original roots of their citizens, such as Caernarvon (Welsh), Conestoga (Native American), Sadsbury (English) & Drumore (Irish). Most landowners in this newly formed township were of Scots-Irish descent.
It was John Jamison one of the oldest and most prominent residents who suggested the name “Little Britain” honoring the combined homeland of the majority of residents.
TOWNSHIP VILLAGES. Originally several villages sat within the boundaries of the township. Kinseyville on a 125 acre parcel of land, sat to the extreme south. Above that was a village whose patent was owned by Edward Griest (for 76 acres). In 1809 Jacob Kirk would inherit land in that area eventually opening his mill & establishing other commercial operations. The former Griest property would become the Kirks Mill village area. 2 miles north of Kirks Mills was Elim now known as Little Britain. The A.H. Brown store, one of the most popular in the area, sat in Elim. The building still exists today as an antiques business.
The hub of business for the township was Oak Hill where public meetings and elections took place and township records were housed.
Moving northeast sat the village of Ashville (now Tayloria) and Oak Shade. Spring Hill which sat west was where the majority of residents resided because of the spring water that flowed there. The village of Fairmont held the distinction of housing the local station for the Peach Bottom Railroad whose prime purpose was to move coal from various parts of Pennsylvania to Philadelphia.
THE NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES--Listed in 1978, the Kirks Mill Historic District consists of 13 properties. They are: “Patience” which was Jacob Kirk’s home, the Brick Mill-Kirks Mill, Log Swisser Barn, the Joseph Reynolds House, Eastland Friends Meeting and Tenant House, Samuel Coale House (Stonehedge), Ephriam B. Lynch House, Henry Reynolds House, Manuel Reynolds House, Log House, Eastland School House, Patrick Brown House (Intrusion), Conrad-Shuler Home (Intrusion). The majority of the properties range in design from early colonial to Federal style. Only 2 properties have been added to the district
since the turn-of-the-century (listed as Intrusions).
The only building missing from the original village is a General Store that sat directly across from the Jacob Kirk mansion. The structure burned down in a fire and was never rebuilt.
In addition to the village, 2 covered bridges also sit on the National Register, White Rock Forge Covered Bridge and Pine Grove Covered Bridge.
THE COVERED BRIDGES OF LITTLE BRITAIN. Two historically significant covered bridges sit within the boundaries of the township. White Rock Forge Covered Bridge was originally built in 1847 by John Russell & Elias McMellen. The bridge is 103’ long & 13’ wide & is a double burr arch, single span structure. In 1884 the bridge was destroyed in a storm & rebuilt that same year. White Rock Forge Covered Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (structure number 80003522).
The Pine Grove Covered Bridge was first built in 1816 & then had to be rebuilt in 1846 after it was destroyed in a storm. The bridge was destroyed again, this time by a flood in 1884 and Elias McMellen rebuilt it that same year for $4295.00.
At 204’ long and 15’ wide Pine Grove is the longest covered bridge in Lancaster County. It also holds the distinction of being the only double span double Burr arch truss bridge still in use in the county. Pine Grove is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (structure number 80003521).
White Rock Forge Covered Bridge.
Photo courtesy of Derek Ramsey
THE TOWNSHIP’S MOST FAMOUS RESIDENT IS BORN. When Robert Fulton & his wife Mary (Smith) Fulton settled in Little Britain Township after emigrating from Ireland. Their dreams were of building a family & a prosperous farm. Eventually they would have five children, Robert Jr., Isabella, Elizabeth, Mary & Abraham. Their dreams of a successful farm, however, were not to be and they relocated to Lancaster City several years later.
From an early age son Robert showed an aptitude for engineering & mechanics. He would visit various businesses throughout the area studying their processes & techniques. By the time he was 13 he was already building paddle wheels for his father’s fishing boats. His fascination with mercury, guns & bullets earned him the nickname “Quicksilver Bob”.
Fulton received little formal education, instead choosing to self-educate in the areas where he had the most interest. This would also include art. An accomplished painter, he relocated at age 17 to Philadelphia, where he gained notoriety as a painter of miniatures.
Six years later, Fulton moved to Europe where he would turn back to his first love. His interests would take him to Paris where he built the first successful submarine or diving boat. It stayed under 25 feet of water for 17 minutes. He named the submarine Nautilus. In 1870, writer Jules Verne in a tip-of-the-hat to Fulton named the submarine in his classic novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Nautilus.
Robert Fulton would eventually partner with Robert Livingston who was the U.S. Ambassador to France, to build a steamboat. Experimentation by many inventors had some early successes, but no one had been able to produce a commercially successful product. Their partnership did produce a boat that ran, but not for long & it sank.
Back in England, Fulton developed naval weapons for the Royal Navy in their war with Napoleon including the first modern naval torpedoes. His inventions were met with limited success & he made the decision to return to the United States
The Robert Fulton Homestead located in Southern Lancaster County. Photo courtesy of Shelley Castetter
The blueprints for The Nautilus
Reteaming with Robert Livingston, Fulton went back to work on his steamboat. By 1807 the North River Steamboat was fully operating & carried the mantel of “first commercial steamboat”. Later it would be renamed & today is known as the Clermont.
His final invention, built for U.S. use in the War of 1812 was a “steam driven warship” named Demologos. The ship, which was not finished until after he died, would be renamed The Fulton.
In 1815 Robert Fulton developed pneumonia after a friend fell through ice & he attempted to rescue him. He died at 49 years old in New York, New York leaving behind a wife (the niece of his partner Livingston) & 4 children.
A beloved figure his funeral remains, to this day, one of the largest in New York history. A statue of Robert Fulton given by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, sits in the National Statuary Hall in Washington DC. The majority of his paintings that still exist are owned by the Pennsylvania Historical Society.
The statue of Robert Fulton that sits in the National Statuary Hall in Washington, DC