Philadelphia 23d December 1796
When I had the pleasure of seeing you on Wednesday, you were pleased to desire me to give my opinion of the present value of Lands situate between the Susquehanna and the Potomac. I cannot answer with actual certainty at the moment but imagine that the following extract of a Letter dated the 24th September 1791 which I had the pleasure of sending to you, may be very properly taken into view—as I wrote that Letter upon the best information, It will be afterwards necessary to add the supposed rise in the price of Lands since that period with such other observations as may occur to me.
"You were pleased to direct my enquiries chiefly towards York and Franklin Counties in this State, I have accordingly done so, and beg leave in order to be better understood in my answers, to divide York into three Districts and call Franklin the fourth District.
1st District, York valley beginning at the Susquehanna at Wrights Ferry and running through York County including York Town, McAllisters Town (alias Hanover) Petersburg (alias Littlestown) to the Maryland Line near the latter place in length about thirty nine Miles in breadth from three to four Miles.
2nd District, The Lands lying on the right of that valley adjoining the same, and bounded by the River Susquehanna the South Mountain and the Maryland Line.
3rd District, The Barrens of York including the lands to the South of York Valley to the Maryland Line.
4th District, Franklin County
Answer to the first. The fee Simple price on farming lands in the first District may be averaged at six pounds and fifteen shillings the Acre, Dollars at seven shillings and six pence. Arrable Lands near the Susquehanna will sell from £12 to £20 an Acre some Fields have furnished the Grower a clear profit of £4 a year for three years following—Cash price for arable Lands in the neigborhood of York, Ten pounds an Acre, Meadow from £30 to £50 an Acre, and they will demand the same price at McAllisters Town.
York Town lies 56 Miles from Baltimore 45 from Rock-Run, 55 from Christiana Bridge, and 80 Miles from the Philadelphia Market.
McAllisters Town is 18 miles form York, 45 from Baltimore, Petersburg is 7 Miles from McAllisters & 48 from Baltimore.
The Soil of the valley is of the Limestone kind, and is rather of a rich quality when fresh it is generally covered with a black Mould, some spots however are inclined to Gravel or Slate, from the intrusion of a few small Hills. The proportion of Meadow Ground to Arable Land, may be as one to twelve more than one half of the arable Land is generally in Grass for Pasture sown every third year with red clover or Timothy Seed, the Timber Locust, Walnut, Wild Cherry, Hickory, Black Oak, White Oak &c.
In the second District the Fee Simple price of farming Lands may be averaged at three pounds and ten shillings the Acre, the Soil is generally of a reddish Color, but sometimes mixed with Sand, we call it, Sand Stone Land. I have said the Land is generally of the Sand Stone kind, but there are two large bodies at the foot of the South Mountain formerly held by Messr Carrols, called Carrols burg, and Carrols Delight, they were originally held under Marylands Grants, but now within the limits of Pennsylvania, they are of the Limestone quality and so excellent that the arable Lands would sell as high as those in the Neighbourhood of McAllisters Town, from £6, to £10 an Acre, Timber Walnut, Black Oak, White Oak—Poplar, Chestnut &c.
3rd District, This District is in general badly timbered and the Soil poor of the Gravelly or Slate kind, and of a reddish cast, often mixed with Sand; notwithstanding these disadvantages more than half the Barrens is under cultivation, the Wood composed of dwarf White Oak, Chesnut & the price Acre may be estimated at Thirty five Shillings.
The Lands in the third District have been averaged only at thirty five Shillings to the Acre, but I would mention that there is a Tract of fine Land in this District on the Susquehanna called Conejochola—formerly the Lands upon which the Marylanders & Pennsylvanians used to meet in Battle array, contending for boundary—say upwards of 2,000 Acres at from £10 to £15 an Acre, a considerable share of the Tract has been worked for upwards of forty or fifty Years, and is still capable of producing the best of Grain without any Manure.
Before I proceed to Franklin, I would observe that the great South Mountain (or blue Ridge as called in Virginia divides York from Franklin County, and is from seven to ten Miles in breadth a very small proportion of it can be cultivated.
4th District, Franklin is a compact County including Cumberland Valley, between the South and North Mountains for upwards of twenty five Miles and part of the rich Settlement of Conecocheague, and Antitem, few situations in America can claim a superior Soil, it is nearly all Limestone Land, Timber White Oak Locust Walnut, Hickory &c. The County Town is Chambersburg distant 80 Miles from Baltimore, 90 Miles from George Town and 24 Miles from Potomac River at Williams Port, Green Castle is a handsome Village lying 11 Miles from Chambersburg nearer the Potomac on the Road to Williamsport 75 Miles from Baltimore."
Thus most respected Sir, I have made the extract, and I may safely say I considered the calculations just at the time I wrote, posterior to the 24 September 1791 Lands in the Counties I have described have risen from fifty to one hundred per Cent.
The Lands round Frederick Town are good, they sell as high (so far as I know) as those in the Neighbourhood of York or Hanover.
I presume the Lands from Wrights Ferry—to Nolands Ferry, may be placed under one or other of the classes I have stated, I have no precise knowledge of the Ground between Nolands Ferry and the Federal City, but the Land from Green Castle to Williamsport is of first rate quality, in short, no country in America has better prospects than the Country you wish me to speak of, There may be some small difference in the price of lands (of equal quality) in Maryland and Pennsylvania, but if the general Government is happily administred this will be soon done away, I have then hastily endeavoured to answer your request. Farming and Gardening please God shall be my principal pursuits, I shall be particular in taking Memorandums, on cases which I conceive to be anywise interesting—Grains and Grass seeds will draw my attention, the discovery of a cheap and useful Manure is highly worthy of enquiry. I wish you every happiness, & am, with the greatest respect, yr most Obt H. Servt
My Letter of 24, September 1791, which may be somewhere among your files, contains information, which I think is generally correct and may be depended upon, It will also give me great pleasure to answer any queries you may be pleased to put to me.
DLC: Papers of George Washington.