The Lancaster Long Rifle at Landis Valley Museum

March 14, 2012 | Category: Things to Do | Posted by: Sarah

I had the privilege of going to see the new exhibit at Landis Valley Musem, The Golden Age of an American Art Form – The Lancaster Long Rifle on Friday. I met with Guest Curator Patrick Hornberger, a member of the Kentucky Rifle Association and the Pennsylvania Antique Gun Collectors Association.

The exhibit features around 65 Long Rifle guns, as well as early smooth-bore rifles for shooting waterfowl (known as Fowlers), some early pistols, and gunsmithing tools, powder horns and game bags. The exhibit is narrated by historical panels explaining the evolution of the long rifle.

The rifles are in glass cases, which allow for a well-lit, 360° view of the rifles. Patrick explained to me the differences between the rifles as we walked around the exhibit, how the wheellock rifles from the 1500s changed to the flintlock somewhere in the 1760s-80s. The pioneers used these guns because they needed an accurate rifle to bring down large game, as well as for protection. Later, the gunsmiths reduced the caliber and lengthened the barrel because of the smaller game. This allowed for easier travel with the gun, as the bullets were smaller and not as heavy to carry.

My favorite thing about these rifles is the intricate carving done on the patch-boxes, something that was perhaps a request from the buyer before the gun was made. Whether it was a request, or the gunsmith made it up as they went, these are beautiful carvings, some raised carvings, some incised. I asked if people would ever get their initials or names carved into the guns, and Patrick informed me that there was a spot on the thumb piece for intials, although not everyone got them carved in. The gunsmith would sign on the top of the barrel.

I’ll leave you with a very interest fact, and one that ties this exhibit to Downtown Lancaster. It’s a story about Melchior Fordney, a famous gun maker who had a gunshop at 508 Queen Street in Downtown Lancaster. John Haggarty, a neighbor of Fordneys with a troubled past, apparently bludgeoned Fordney and his wife to death, and severely injured one daughter. The trial is the first recorded time in the United States that insanity was used as a defense. Haggarty did not get off on insanity plea.

So what are you waiting for? Head on over to learn more history about the Lancaster Long Rifle! The gunsmith shop will also be open on the ground of Landis Valley, where you can hear more and maybe even see someone making rifles!

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  1. Rip Graham
    on June 27th, 2012

    Hello. I’m descended from the Ferre’s of Lancaster. Any Ferre examples on display?

    Rip Graham
    407/ 415- 4320

  2. Helen Pratt
    on August 13th, 2012

    I help with the genealogy of the Western Pennsylvania Cory Genealogy.
    There are 2 known Cory long rifles. Are there any known to this group? The families lived in Beaver and Enon Valley.
    Thank you

  3. Rich Bulak
    on November 25th, 2012

    Where can I find out info on guns made by John Guest as their value?

  4. Sarah
    on November 29th, 2012

    Hi Rich – Your best bet would be to take it to an antiques appraiser. Sorry that I can’t be of more help! The volunteers at Landis Valley Museum are very knowledgeable, and they might be able to give you an estimate, but I don’t think they would say they could give you a definite like an appraiser or specialty pawn shop could.

  5. Keith Fortney
    on August 20th, 2013

    I’m a descendent of Melchoir Fordney and would like to know if any of his rifles ever come up for sale? I would be interested in purchasing one.

  6. Rick Schreiber
    on January 18th, 2014

    Yes I recently bought one…a very heavy, plain Kentucky rifle of about 70 calibre, likely made for tough use In the west, perhaps for a mountain man.

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