Lancaster (local pronunciation is (or even ), rather than the wider American pronunciation -kast-ər) is a city in Fairfield County, Ohio, United States. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 38,780. It is located near the Hocking River, approximately southeast of Columbus, Ohio. It is the county seat of Fairfield County. The current mayor of Lancaster is Republican David S. Smith, who took office in January 2004. In November 2007, Smith won reelection to a second four-year term commencing in January 2008.
The earliest known inhabitants of the southeastern and central Ohio region were the Hopewell, Adena, and Fort Ancient Native Americans, of whom little evidence survived, beyond the burial and ceremonial mounds built throughout the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. Many mounds and burial sites have also yielded archaeological artifacts. (See also: Serpent Mound and Hopewell Culture National Historic Park, which though not located in Fairfield County proper, are close by.)
Prior to and immediately after European settlement, the land today comprising Lancaster and Fairfield County, Ohio was inhabited variously by the Shawnee, Iroquois, Wyandot, and other Native American tribes. It served as a natural crossroads for the inter-tribal and intra-tribal wars fought at various times. (See also: Beaver Wars) Noted frontier explorer Christopher Gist reached the vicinity of Lancaster on January 19, 1751, when he visited the small Delaware town of "Hockhocking" nearby. Leaving the area the next day, Gist rode southwest to "Maguck," another Delaware town near Circleville.
Having been ceded to the United States by Great Britain after the American Revolution by the Treaty of Paris, the lands north of the Ohio River and west of the Appalachian Mountains became, in 1784, incorporated into the Northwest Territory. White settlers began to encroach on Native American lands in the Ohio Territory. As the new government of the United States began to cast its eye westward, the stage was set for the series of campaigns that culminated in the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, and the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. With pioneer settlement within Ohio made legal and safe from Indian raids, developers began to speculate in land sales in earnest.
Knowing that such speculation, combined with Congressional grants of land sections to veterans of the Revolution, could result in a lucrative opportunity, Ebenezer Zane in 1796 petitioned the US Congress to grant him a contract to blaze a trail through Ohio, from Wheeling, West Virginia, to Limestone, Kentucky, (near modern Maysville, Kentucky) a distance of . As part of the deal, Zane was awarded square-mile tracts of land at the points where his trace crossed the Hocking, Muskingum, and Scioto rivers. Zane's Trace, as it has become known, was completed by 1797, and as Zane's sons began to carve the square-mile tract astride the Hocking into saleable plots, the city of Lancaster formally came into being in 1800. It predated the formal establishment of the State of Ohio by three years.
The initial settlers were predominantly of German stock, and emigrated from Pennsylvania. Ohio's longest continuously operating newspaper, the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette was born of a merger of the early Der Ohio Adler, founded about 1807, with the Ohio Gazette, founded in the 1830s. The two newspapers were ferocious competitors since they were on opposite sides of the American Civil War, as was the split populace of the city itself, until they merged seventy-two years after the war's end in 1937. This was shortly after the Gazette was acquired by glassmaker Anchor-Hocking. The newspaper is currently part of the Newspaper Network of Central Ohio, which is in turn a unit of Gannett Company, Inc.
Initially known as New Lancaster, and later shortened by city ordinance (1805), the town quickly grew; formal incorporation as a city came in 1831. The connection of the Hocking Canal to the Ohio and Erie Canal in this era provided a convenient way for the region's rich agricultural produce to reach eastern markets.
Modern Lancaster is distinguished by a rich blend of 19th-century architecture (best evidenced in historic Square 13, part of Zane's original plot) and natural beauty (best evidenced by the famous Standing Stone, today known as Mount Pleasant) with all the typical modern accoutrements of a small-medium-sized American city.