York County covered bridges had rules

We look at covered bridges, or memories of the now mostly extinct bridges, as picturesque remnants of the past. But they were not built to be charming. They were vital links in the transportation system. The walls and roof were added to protect the bridge from the elements, preserving its life. Some sources suggest that they also added structural strength and calmed crossing livestock.

Bridge rules were necessary. Traffic across the covered bridge needed to be fairly slow for safety and for less wear and tear on the bridge deck. Also, with all that wood, fire was a constant danger. Below is a transcription of rules found on an old photograph of bridge rules at the York County History Center Library/Archives: Continue reading

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Burr’s 1815 McCall’s Ferry bridge was no match for Susquehanna ice

Interior of covered bridge with Burr arch truss
Courtesy of pennsylvaniacoveredbridges.com.

In 1801 famed engineer and architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe was commissioned by Pennsylvania to survey the Lower Susquehanna, with an eye to navigation and canals. A few years later, in 1807, Latrobe also reported on the Susquehanna to the U.S. Congress: “Four miles below Burkhalter’s ferry, the river arrives at the high range of granite hills, abounding in copper, in which the gap mine is situated, and at a place called McCall’s ferry, it narrows to the width of sixteen perches. Here I attempted to find bottom with a line of one hundred and eighty feet, but failed, notwithstanding every precaution taken to procure a perpendicular descent of the weight attached to it. Through this pass the water is rapid, but smooth and safe. The river rises here rapidly, and very suddenly after the fall of rain above; and it will never be possible to erect a safe bridge at this place, so often mentioned as the most practicable.”

That advice was not heeded. See below for my recent York Sunday News column on prominent bridge builder Theodore Burr’s dramatically successful, but short-lived, bridging of the McCall’s Ferry gorge. Continue reading

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1920s York bank designed to recognize World War One veterans

1920s First National Bank, courtesy of Google street view

Most people know the imposing stone building on the northeast corner of York’s Center/Continental Square was erected as a bank building in the 1920s and that it served in that capacity until just a few years ago. It is now awaiting another use. But, did you know that the bank’s impressive arched entrance was planned to serve as a World War One war memorial?

Here is an April 5, 1921 news clipping that tells the story:

Continue reading

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One more Lincoln at Hanover Junction encounter

This photo, one of six taken at the same time, shows a camera with its black cloth in the center of the photo. (Library of Congress photo)

President Lincoln at Hanover Junction was a hot topic during the 1950s after some previously misidentified photos taken at Hanover Junction were discovered. Below is still another second generation account of Lincoln at Hanover Junction, taken from the October 25, 1952 York Gazette and Daily. It reads:

Clayton Strickhouser, 89-year-old son of a late Hanover Junction, Pa., hotel owner, says his father often told of shaking hands with Abraham Lincoln on the town’s railroad station platform when the president was en route to Gettysburg to deliver his famous address.

The recollection adds a bit of authenticity to the currently-debated premise that Lincoln appears in an 1863 photograph taken at the station, although the location shown in the picture also is controversial. Strickhouser says his father’s hotel is shown in the picture.

The historical debate began when Russell Bowman of Seven Valleys, convinced officials of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., that the photo was snapped at the York county Hanover Junction and not in Hanover Junction, Virginia, as the Archives’ files indicated. Bowman also is trying to prove that a tall, stove-pipe hatted figure pictured in front of the station is Lincoln.

Strickhouser, who lives at 204 South Duke Street, said his father, Peter Strickhouser, although elected a county commissioner on the Democratic ticket in 1872, was politically broad-minded, and was one of the few prominent men of the area allowed to know Lincoln would be stopping at the station for a short time. This explains the fact that no crowds are pictured at the station to see the president, he feels. Opposition to “Abe’s” Republican administration was strong in the area and the president was heavily protected, he continued.

Historians have believed heretofore that Lincoln was not photographed during his Gettysburg trip, and a letter sent to the New York Herald Tribune this week by a Lincolnian author supports the opinion.

Stefan Lorant of Lenox, Mass., pointed out in the letter that Matthew Brady, famous Civil War photographer who, according the National Archives, took the picture never tried to sell any prints of the picture. He also emphasized that the beard of the figure in the debated photo is thin, but fully grown in a picture taken by Alexander Gardner three days before the Gettysburg address.

Lorant also doubts that the cumbersome dark room equipment necessary in those days, when wet photographic plates were used, could have been at the station; that the sun was bright enough at 5 p.m. when Lincoln would have arrived to produce a clear picture, and that the people photographed at such a distance could have stayed still for the one minute necessary for an exposure under those condition. Lorant is author of “Lincoln, a Picture Story of His Life.”

Elected recorder of deeds for York County in 1895 and chairman of the county’s Democratic party in 1896, the younger Strickhouser also was a delegate to the party’s national convention in Chicago which nominated Williams Jennings Bryan for president in 1896. He left the post of minority registrar in the county courthouse four years ago after serving for eight years.

The controversy still continues. Check out Scott Mingus’s Soldiers, Spies & Steam: A History of the Northern Central Railway in the Civil War for some of the latest research, available at the York County History Center bookstore and other retail outlets.

Click here for my previous Hanover Junction posts.

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Did colonial courthouse windows end up in the Dover area?

See below for the transcription of an interesting clipping from the September 23, 1937 York Gazette and Daily found in the York County History Center files. It reads: Continue reading

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Jonathan Mifflin turns down York County post

Jonathan Mifflin’s 1804 petition

While researching my recent York Sunday News column on the Hybla mansion near Wrightsville and the Mifflins who lived there, who were instrumental in York County Underground Railroad activity, I came across an original letter written by Jonathan Mifflin (1743-1850).

The letter (memorial/petition)was addressed to York County judges, and in it Mifflin declined the post of Constable of Hellam Township, to which he had been elected. The letter reads: Continue reading

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Stauffer’s chocolate stars–one of York’s best exports

Holiday cookie assortment in Bicentennial tins with York buildings

The Holiday Season—when thoughts turn to Stauffer’s chocolate coated stars.

Over the years the Stauffer family has shared company history with the York County History Center. One of my favorite artifacts is the long cylindrical animal cracker cutter at the Agricultural and Industrial Museum on West Princess Street. They have also shared company papers and photographs.

See below for more photos and for my previous York Sunday News column, based on an oral history interview I did some years ago with David Stauffer, Sr. Mr. Stauffer, who was 103 at the time, told me all about their crackers, cracker meal, animal crackers, May blossoms and many other baked goodies. He became my instant hero when he related that, as a young man, he had invented chocolate stars.

Continue reading

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How did York’s 1898 courthouse escape the wrecking ball?

This building almost replaced the domed courthouse

 

Last month I did a blog post about the impressive turn of the century York County courthouse and its narrow escape from the 1950s mentality of tear it down and build something new. The nicely restored building now serves at the York County Administrative Center in the first block of East Market Street.

I found a lot of material on the almost done deal in the York County History Center files, including the reason the demolition didn’t happen. See below for my recent York Sunday News column, which tells the rest of the story: Continue reading

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York church building to restaurant, with a few stops along the way

Victor’s interpreted as a Cat’s Meow wooden cutout

A Facebook friend asked about the history of Victor’s Italian Restaurant on Ogontz Street, knowing that the building was a former church. I looked through the York County History Center files and City Directories as well as online sources. Several newspaper articles on Victor’s in the YCHC restaurant file recapped the history of the site.

The Green Hill Evangelical Association built Bethany United Evangelical Church on the then named Bolls Avenue in 1905. After the congregation, now Bethany United Methodist Church, built their present building down the street at the corner of Mount Rose Avenue in 1925, the building housed various businesses over the next 60 years before becoming Victor’s. A sampling of city directories at the York County History Center shows Shellenberger’s grocery store there from the late 1920s up into the 1940s. Then Wilt and Miller had the grocery in the 1950s, and Eugene Weller was a barber at the same address. By the late 1950s the barber was still there, but the grocery was gone, replaced by Mount Rose Bar and Grill. The bar and grill continued business in the late 1970s through 1983, with the Phyllis Kohler Beauty Salon replacing the barber shop. (The street name was changed from Bolls Avenue to Ogontz Street in the early 1930s.)

One article says that Eunice and Harold Fitzkee purchased the building in 1984 and opened Victor’s Italian Restaurant. A February 1997 York Daily Record article relates that the Fitzkees named the restaurant after the first chef they hired, who was from South Philadelphia. The chef never showed up for the job, but they kept the name anyway.

The restaurant suffered a significant fire in April 2001, but the Fitzkees quickly renovated and reopened a few months later. They sold the restaurant in 2007 to a partnership of Lucien and Deb St. Onge, Mark and Marie Sindicich and Sam and Ann Marie Yost. According to Victor’s website, The Sindichiches and Yosts are the current owners, and George Sheffer, who worked there in his teens, has been the chef since 2008.

An extra tidbit:  John Grisham, the well-known author, has mentioned Victor’s in his writing. This stems from his discovering the restaurant about 20 years ago when his then teenaged son was playing in a baseball tournament at Memorial Stadium.

Speaking as an advocate for adaptive reuse of structures, Victor’s is a very positive example of what can be done with an older building, creating space for a successful business while retaining the character of the structure.

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John Glenn orbits spurred space travel connection to Yorkers

The McDevitt family of York in 1962

A friend who now lives out of the area responded to my recent post that included the iron arched entrance to a lane that leads off Haines Road to several houses, including Mahlon Haines’s former home. She remembered playing with a childhood friend, Diane McDevitt, who lived on one of those houses and thought the family was connected to a comic strip, perhaps Buck Rogers.

Sure enough, the York County History Center Library/Archives, has a McDevitt family file. It is a slim file, since that is not a common name in the area, but there was a nice article in it that made the connection. It appeared in the February 26, 1962 York Dispatch and reads: Continue reading

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