Light's Fort

Coordinates: 40°20′57.048″N 76°25′50.3760″W / 40.34918000°N 76.430660000°W / 40.34918000; -76.430660000
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Light's Fort
The southwest view of Light's Fort in Lebanon, Pennsylvania.
Light's Fort is located in Pennsylvania
Light's Fort
Light's Fort is located in the United States
Light's Fort
Former namesJohannes Leicht (John Light) Homestead
General information
Architectural styleCOLONIAL: Pennsylvania German Traditional
LocationLebanon, Pennsylvania
Address660 North 11th Street, Lebanon, PA
Coordinates40°20′57.048″N 76°25′50.3760″W / 40.34918000°N 76.430660000°W / 40.34918000; -76.430660000
OwnerHistoric Preservation Trust of Lebanon County
Technical details
Structural systemLimestone Building Stones (14 inches thick)
Floor areaCellar: 1200 sq. ft.; First Floor: 1200 sq. ft.; Second Floor; 600 sq. ft.; Attic: 300 sq. ft.

Light's Fort was built in 1742 by Johannes Peter Leicht [John Light] (1682-1758). Light's Fort is the oldest standing building of any kind in the county and city of Lebanon, Pennsylvania. [1] John Light, an immigrant, purchased the land on December 29, 1738, from Caspar Wistar, and wife, Katherine, of the City of Philadelphia, Brass Button Maker, for 82 pounds and 4 shillings. Light's Fort was built in 1742 on a tract of land, which was situated on a branch of the Quittapahilla Creek in Lancaster County (now Lebanon County) at North 11th and Maple Streets. It contained 274 acres including an allowance of 6% for roads together with woods, water courses, etc.[2]


A circa 1915 picture of the south side of Light's Fort with the grain hoist way.

The historic uses of Light's Fort were a frontier homestead, a community meeting hall, a Mennonite Religious meeting facility, a storage warehouse when the Union Canal (Pennsylvania) was operating and a private fortress during the French and Indian War that could shelter up to two hundred settlers during Native Indian uprisings. In modern times, it has been used as a grain storage facility, a distillery, a beverage distributorship, apartment building and museum.[3]

Building Description[edit]

A circa 1895 picture of the original configuration of Light's Fort.

The dimensions of Light's Fort are 30 feet (9.2m) by 40 feet (12.3m). It is built of local limestone and timbers. Its architectural style is Colonial: Pennsylvania German Traditional, which was used by early German speaking settlers in the southeastern and central Pennsylvania area in the 1700s. When it was built, it had two and a half stories, but due to strong storms and renovations part of the second story and most of the attic have been removed. It also has a large arched basement that is accessed by a set of limestone stairs. The cellar was built over a constant running fresh water spring and was used for cold storage. The fresh water spring survives today. A bronze plaque is attached above the west side entrance door that reads: “Home and Refuge of Johannes Leicht – (John Light) D. 1759, LIGHT’S FORT, Built 1742, Placed by the Tulpehocken Chapter of the Daughters of the American Colonists, 1974”.[4]

A view of the bronze plaque at Light's Fort.
A view of the original limestone steps that lead to the Arched Cellar of Light's Fort.

Light's Fort During the French and Indian War[edit]

Since the Lebanon area was a crossroads in the expanding North American frontier skirmishes with Native Indians did occur. As a precaution, many fortifications, forts and blockhouses were constructed in this area during the French and Indian War. These strongholds included seven private fortresses: Bethel Moravian Church Fort (Fredericksburg), Benjamin Spycker's Stockade (Jackson Township), George Gloninger's Fort (Pleasant Hill), Isaac Meier Homestead (Myerstown), Light's Fort (Lebanon), Ulrich's Fort (Annville) and Zeller's Fort - Heinrich Zeller House (Newmanstown); one fort built by the Pennsylvania Colonial Militia: Fort Swatara (Inwood); and four blockhouses: Adam Harper's (Harper Tavern), Joseph Gibber's (Fredericksburg), Martin Hess’ (Union Township) and Philip Breitenbach's (Myerstown). The Pennsylvania colonial militia used Light's Fort and other strongholds when troops were scouting or deployed in the area.[5]

Most residential buildings during this time were built from wood logs and did not provide much protection against warfare. The Chestnut Street Log House is an excellent surviving example of how most residential homes were built in this area during the 18th century. The large masonry constructed Light's Fort building provided a safe haven for townspeople if any skirmishes with Native Indians occurred.[6]

Light's Fort was a private fort (it was not built or funded by the British government or the Pennsylvania colonial militia). The structure was funded and built by John Light (a private citizen and frontier settler). With its fourteen-inch thick exterior walls made of limestone and its roof covered with clay tiles to prevent fires from flaming arrows it stood as a formidable force against Native Indian attacks. Most other buildings in the area during the French and Indian War were made from logs and were susceptible to raids and fire. Local settlers and townspeople found shelter in Light's Fort during raids and attacks. The sturdy Light's Fort served as a deterrent against major Native Indian aggression during the French and Indian War and assisted the British in their defeat of the French and their allies.[7][8][9]


The large arched cellar in Light's Fort was used as refuge for townspeople from marauding Native Indians during the French and Indian War. There were tunnels that ran from the Light's Fort cellar for almost a mile. These tunnels were used by nearby townspeople when they had to travel to the safety of Light's Fort during Native Indian uprisings. The tunnels had two entrance/exit points: one was hidden in a wooded area (near present-day North 10th Street and Willow Street, Lebanon, PA), and it connected to another tunnel in a residential area (near present-day North 8th Street and Cumberland Street, Lebanon, PA). The tunnel network became obsolete after the French and Indian War. In 1818, the original Lebanon County Courthouse[10] was built over one of its entrance/exit points at North 8th Street and Cumberland Street. As late as the 1890s, portions of this tunnel network were still accessible through the basement at Stevens School (present-day Stevens Towers at North 10th Street and Willow Street). Because these tunnels were abandoned the openings in the Light's Fort cellar walls were closed with limestone building stones and plastered with concrete sometime during the mid to late-1800s. These tunnels have been part of local folklore for many years and mysterious stories about them survive and prosper. [7][11][12]

The Arched Cellar in Light's Fort.

Ghosts of Light's Fort[edit]

Over the decades many ghost sightings have occurred at Light's Fort. Most notably, is the sighting of a Native Indian girl that was reported by apartment tenants during the 1960s. Historically, there was a foiled Indian attack at Light's Fort in 1757. Marcella Light (daughter of John Light) thought she was doing a good deed on a bitterly cold November night in 1757, as she discovered a crying Native Indian girl outside of Light's Fort that claimed she was lost from her tribe, cold and hungry. Marcella brought the Native Indian girl inside to the kitchen and feed her a hot pork dinner and then took her upstairs to sleep. As the Native Indian girl laid down on a bed a tinderbox fell from her clothes. Marcella thought this was odd because she had the ability to light a fire to keep warm, but failed to do so. Now suspicious, Marcella pretended to fall asleep and she soon saw the girl sneaking downstairs so she quietly followed her. The Native Indian girl went out to the barn and was attempting to set it aflame. Marcella proceeded to knock her unconscious and then called for her father who went out to the barn to investigate the incident. John Light handed Marcella a hunting knife and told her to finish off the Native Indian girl, which she promptly did. A vacated camp near Light's Fort was soon discovered and it was assumed that the Native Indians realized their plot to raid and burn Light's Fort failed so they fled the area.[7] Another apparition reported at Light's Fort was a man dressed in colonial-style clothes that was seen on the second floor. In 2015, a lone workman performing repairs on a warm day reported cold eerie feelings while on a ladder.[13][11]

Work in Progress Renovations[edit]

The Historic Preservation Trust of Lebanon County is conducting work in progress restorations to the interior and exterior of Light's Fort. Exterior renovations will include the reconstruction of the portion of the exterior walls and roof that were removed in the 1900s. Old limestone building stones were donated that are currently in storage and will be used to complete the exterior walls. New wood roof rafters will be installed and the roof will be covered with clay tiles to complete the building to its original external configuration. Interior restorations will include the plastering and painting of all interior walls, covering all floors with wood plank boards, replacing current doors and windows with Colonial style products, building solid wood shutters that hinge and swing from the inside on all windows, installing a public accessible restroom on the first floor and rebuilding the fireplace with its original bricks. The end result envisioned will be to make Light's Fort a living museum of United States colonial history.[1]


  1. ^ a b McAteer, Patricia; Sandy Jones; Jim McAteer; Patricia McAteer; Allen Light; Sue Davis (2013). "Home Page: The Friends of Light's Fort". p. Home Page. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
  2. ^ History of Lebanon, PA - Old Light's Fort. Lebanon Daily News, May 19, 1930.
  3. ^ Light's Fort Saga. Lebanon Daily News, September 30, 1972.
  4. ^ Light's Fort. Lebanon Daily News, February 25, 1975.
  5. ^ Waddell, Ronald. Forts Built Along Blue Mtns in 1775. Lebanon Daily News, February 25, 1975.
  6. ^ Jaye, Randy. Light's Fort: Lebanon's Oldest and Most Mysterious Building. LebTown, May 18, 2023.
  7. ^ a b c Miller, Leon P. Light’s Fort Sheltered Lebanon’s Hardy Pioneers From Marauding Indian Hordes. Lebanon Daily News, January 16, 1955.
  8. ^ Waddell, Ronald. Indians Slew Hundreds in 1754-63 Era. Lebanon Daily News, February 26, 1975.
  9. ^ Waddell, Ronald. Settlers Knew Constant Fear of Attacks. Lebanon Daily News, February 27, 1975.
  10. ^ Carmean, Edna J., editor. Lebanon County, Pennsylvania – A History. Lebanon County Historical Society, 1976.
  11. ^ a b Falk, Jeff. (2020, May 20). Light’s Fort a poster child for need of local historical preservation. LebTown. Retrieved from
  12. ^ Shelly, Nora. (2020, February 21). Light's Fort: Lebanon's oldest structure slowly decays despite struggle to save it. Lebanon Daily News. Retrieved from
  13. ^ Odyniec, Fran. Light's Fort oldest structure in Lebanon. Lebanon Daily News, June 24, 2016.

External links[edit]