More on York’s Weaver Organ and Piano Company factory complex

1882 Weaver building designed by Dempwolf architects


As promised in a recent post, here are more graphics showing the remarkable growth of the Weaver Organ and Piano Company factory in just 22 years.

The 1882 building, designed by the Dempwolf firm of architects was of fair size, but the 1892 and 1898 additions added much more room to produce the parlor organs and upright pianos of the day.

The factory was expanded to the east in 1898, but it still had three main floors and retained the cupola and triangular pediments.

The 1904 renovations were vertical, adding a fourth floor, another smokestack and the one-story building on the angle to the thriving business.

As you can see these Google satellite views, the Weaver complex had not changed much since 1904 until the tragic fire that cost the life of two York City firefighters in March, 2018. The products did change with the times, though. Organ production ceased about 1916 and “organ” was eventually dropped from the company name. My upcoming York Sunday News column will share more of the history of the company and its instruments.

I am also reposting two Dempwolf drawings from the York County History Center Library/Archives below. The first one shows both the floor plan and elevations of the 1882 building.

The other shows a cut-away view.

Dempwolf drawing, 1882 showing elevation and section

We have some sizable industrial buildings in the York area still turning out manufactured goods, but I am fascinated by the number of huge, multistoried factories that operated here over 100 years ago, employing many workers turning out quality products. Some of the buildings are now gone, but Google satellite view shows quite a few still standing. Many have been repurposed into apartments and other uses while some still await renewal. It is easy to spend hours poring over the 1903 Frederick Roe Atlas of the City of York and Goggle satellite views, comparing the blocks taken up by major industry then with the present day configuration. (The 1903 York City atlas, combined with the Beach Nichols 1876 Atlas of York County is available at the York County History Center bookstore.)

Posted in 1880s, 1890s, 1900s, 1910s, 2010s, architecture, business, craftsmen, firemen, fires, industry, manufacturing, maps, Universal York, York County | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on More on York’s Weaver Organ and Piano Company factory complex

Astronauts Armstrong and Scott rescued by York Countian and his crew

Astronauts and USAF Pararescue team. Huyett in center back. (NASA photo)

We might be familiar with the quote “Houston, we have a problem” from the Apollo 13 flight to the moon in 1970 (actually a slight misquote) but not as familiar with a similar phrase: “We have a serious problem here,” uttered by astronaut David Scott, to Houston Control just four years earlier.

Scott as his fellow Gemini 8 astronaut, Neil Armstrong, had just performed the first docking of two spacecraft in orbit, when the mission went terribly wrong. If that incident, on March 16, 1966, had not eventually had a happy ending, the whole United States space race would have had a serious setback, with the possibility of it being complete scrapped. Here is my recent York Sunday News column with the story of the open sea rescue of the astronauts and of the York County native that played a big part in it.

Aboard the USS Mason. Armstrong, Moore and Scott standing; Neal and Huyett kneeling. (NASA photo)

York County native helped save astronauts

March marked the 52nd anniversary of the manned space mission of Gemini 8, whose crew, Neil Armstrong and David Scott, successfully performed the first docking of two spacecraft in orbit. The docking came on March 16, 1966, ten hours after Gemini 8 blasted off from Cape Canaveral in pursuit of the Agena target rocket. After the initial success, however, the mission quickly went awry.

When Gemini came out of a dead communication spot, NASA Houston Control heard Scott’s voice “We have a serious problem here.” Locked together, both Gemini and Agena were spinning wildly. At the controls, Armstrong detached the Gemini capsule, but it continued to spin. As it reached one revolution per second the astronauts vision blurred with loss of consciousness imminent. Armstrong fired the reentry thrusters, which stabilized Gemini 8 in orbit, but that action used up 75 percent of those rockets’ fuel. The only move possible, as commanded by Houston, was to renter the atmosphere immediately and splash down where there was a chance of rescue. If they did not survive, besides the tragic loss of life, it could very well mean the end of the United States space program. There would have been no walk on the moon, no space stations, no Mars rovers, at least not by the United States.

We know now that the episode had a happy ending, but we may have forgotten that a York County native played a significant role in the rescue and recovery of Armstrong, Scott and the Gemini 8 capsule. United States Air Force Staff Sergeant Larry D. Huyett (1937-2011) headed the pararescue team that parachuted into the vast Pacific to save the astronauts and secure the space capsule.

Larry D. Huyett grew up in Manchester, graduating from Manchester (Northeastern) High in 1955. He attended Millersville State College for a year and worked at York Container for nearly a year before enlisting in the Air Force in 1957. After completing rigorous training, Huyett became a member of the elite USAF Pararescue Service. These individuals had to be “qualified parachutists, medical technicians, SCUBA divers, mountain climbers, survival experts and firefighters,” according to an Air Force Times article written in 1966, about the time of the Gemini 8 rescue. The article also points out that in 1966, of 2,500 Air Force candidates interviewed for the pararescue training, only 16 were selected and 12 or less were expected to graduate.

After training, Huyett was stationed on Okinawa with the 33rd Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, joined by his wife Fern and young son Scott. As he told the York press two weeks later, on March 16th he was in charge of his three person rescue team; Staff Sergeant Huyett, Seaman /First Class Eldridge Neal and Seamen Second Class Glenn Moore were on a routine mission in their C-54 plane, essentially a Douglas DC-4 retrofitted for transport and rescue. The 170 Air Force flying paramedics were constantly on duty, ready to answer distress calls, civilian and military, on land or sea. When the call came in they thought it might be a Japanese fishing boat in trouble. Their pilot was directed to a remote spot in the Pacific where Gemini 8 should splash down. Huyett, Neal and Moore jumped from 1,000 feet. The pilot then made a lower pass, dropping the flotation collar and rescue raft. Landing extremely close, Huyett and the others floated over to attach the collar, which took about 20 minutes, and secure their inflated survival raft. As soon as they ascertained that Armstrong and Scott were all right, Huyett radioed that information to the plane which passed it on to Houston and the world.

Huyett related that when the space capsule’s hatches were opened, the astronauts said “We’re very glad to see you.” Astronauts and rescuers introduced themselves to each other. With a laugh, Huyett said “I don’t know who else they expected to see out there.”

It took over three hours for the destroyer USS Leonard F. Mason to arrive to pick up the astronauts, pararescue team and Gemini 8 spacecraft. Armstrong and Scott elected to stay in the capsule, while Huyett, Neal and Moore waited in the raft. Huyett said they tried not to bother the astronauts, which was probably just as well, since Armstrong and Scott reportedly suffered seasickness bobbing on the sea for those three hours.

Photos show the astronauts and rescuers jubilantly posing in front of the retrieved Gemini 8 aboard the USS Mason. As the destroyer docked at Okinawa, “…well inside the restricted U.S. military harbor, crowded with ships being loaded for Viet Nam,” they were met with a crowd of servicemen and families, a “Welcome Astronauts to Okinawa” banner, military honor guard and band. Three NASA officials, including astronaut Walter Shira & Dr. Duane Patterson, chief of flight medicine at Houston Space Center, had flown in just before the destroyer arrived to confer with the astronauts. Dr. Patterson ordered an immediate physical exam, and the space capsule was covered with a tarp. All was well with Armstrong and Scott. A short circuit in one of the eight thruster rockets seems to have caused the near-disaster. Before going ashore, the astronauts shook hands with crew members and hugged the pararescue men who had jumped into the ocean to retrieve them. The pilot of the C-54 rescue plane later said: “It looked awful lonesome down there. They were just little dots on the great big ocean.”

Huyett was almost immediately sent on a “whirlwind” United States tour. He was given special recognition at the Air Force Association Convention in Dallas, honored at the Houston Space Center, and appeared on the Ed Sullivan and Today television shows. The York Area Chamber of Commerce honored him with a reception at the Yorktowne Hotel on April 4. The postcard invitations declare “A HERO IS IN OUR MIDST!”

After the home town visit, Huyett went back to the Air Force. He died in 2011 in Englewood, Ohio at age 74. His obituary in the York Daily Record reports that he served 29 years with the Air Force Pararescue and 23 years with Special Services.

In 1969 Neil Armstrong (1930-2012) was the first man to walk on the moon as commander of Apollo 11. Two years later David Scott commanded Apollo 15 and also trod the surface of the moon. Larry Huyett and his crack pararescue team helped make those events and the space stations, Mars rovers and space feats still to come possible by saving the astronauts and, quite possibly, the U.S. space program

Larry Huyett at the reception with Chamber of Commerce members Charles Wolf and George Aulbach

This link will take you to a series of 23 photos of the mission from training to arrival at Okinawa after the rescue.


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Dempwolf architects designed first Weaver Piano and Organ Company building

1903 Roe atlas showing Weaver site.

When I was very young, I used to amuse myself with my grandparents’ parlor organ, very probably made by the Weaver Organ and Piano Company. As a teenager I took piano lessons, as my daughter did later, on a York upright piano, another Weaver product.

I am working on an upcoming York Sunday News column summarizing the history of the Weaver Company. The manufacturing firm was established in 1870 and incorporated in 1882, moving into its new building in 1882 and continuing at that site until 1949, when it went out of business. This post concentrates on the first of the conglomeration of buildings that made up the Weaver manufacturing complex at East Philadelphia and North Broad streets from 1882 until the recent tragic fire.

The full page advertisement above, from the 1904 book: York, Pennsylvania,  published in Philadelphia by the Shelden Company, shows how the facility greatly expanded from the first Weaver factory.

Details of the original 1882 building designed by the noted Dempwolf architectural firm of York, can be better seen on the enlarged engraving above, taken from the 1904 ad.

Dempwolf drawing, 1882 showing elevation and section

The two architectural drawings included in this post of the 1882 Weaver building are from the Dempwolf collection at the York County History Center.

An upcoming post will share enlargements from the ad of the 1892, 1898 and 1904 additions to the building, as well as additional illustrations.

The Dempwolf drawing below, from the York County History Center Library/Archives shows the floor plan as well as front, back and side elevations:

Posted in 1870s, 1880s, 1890s, 1900s, 1940s, advertising, architecture, archives, buildings, industry, manufacturing, music, Universal York, York County | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Dempwolf architects designed first Weaver Piano and Organ Company building

Freysville School alumni keep tradition alive.

Freysville School in its last days as a school, Spring 1952

There are still a fair number of people around who attended the rural one-room (sometimes two-room) schools that dotted York County until the mid-twentieth century. Ask your parents or grandparents and you might get some interesting tales. (Including how they had to walk five miles through the snow, uphill both ways, to get to school.) Seriously though, walking was the usual transportation and the schools were several miles apart, so students did get some serious exercise. Click the links at the end of this post for some of my previous posts on these country schools.

Former students of some of them, such as the two-room school at Freysville, Windsor Township, have been holding annual reunions to keep up with their childhood friends. This year’s Freysville School reunion will be held at the Equine Meadows Condominium Community Building, 3360 Cape Horn Rd., Red Lion on Sunday, May 20, 2018. Anyone who attended Freysville School is welcome; they and their guests are asked to bring a dish to share. Drinks and setups are provided and registration is from noon to 1 p.m.

This is anticipated to be the last annual Freysville School reunion, but alumni will continue getting together at 9 a.m. on the third Wednesday of even months, starting June 20, 201,8 at Meadow Hill Family Restaurant at Longstown. Questions can be directed to alumni Shirley Paules Zerbe at

An account attributed to Lizzie Paules, one of the hundreds of children that attended Freysville School over the years, says that the frame two-room school replaced an overcrowded brick one-room school that could have dated to the 1850s.

Windsor Manor School consolidated the smaller Windsor Township schools when it opened in 1951, but the new building wa not to be large enough to accommodate all eight grades of students from throughout Windsor Township.  It was decided to bus seventh and eighth graders to the two-room Freysville School for nearly two years until a Windsor Manor addition was completed.  (I was one of those students.)

The Red Lion Area school district deeded the building, said to be built in the latter half of the 19th century, to Windsor Township in 1966.  They used it for community activities such as scout meetings and storage.  The October 14, 1954 Gazette and Daily announced that the Windsor Township PTA was sponsoring an evening eight-week Ford Foundation adult education class to be held at “the old Freysville school.”  The subject was “Great Men and Great Issues.”

After nearly 30 years, the township sold the building, which is now a private residence.  At the time of the sale a newspaper article recounted the memories of a former student, Phyllis Stauffer.  She remembered the lack of running water, which meant buckets of water were carried for drinking and outhouses had to be visited.  Each of the two rooms had a potbellied stove, fueled by coal, which the students helped carry from the cellar.  The school yard was “a sea of mud” when the spring thaws and showers arrived.  Stauffer remembered the last day of the school year being the best day, since the students got to roast hot dogs and marshmallows.

Former Freysville students are invited to attend the May 20 lunchtime reunion as well as the subsequent bi-monthly breakfasts starting in June.

Interior of Freysville schoolroom after it was home to scouts. School desks removed, but blackboard still intact.

Click the links for more on York County’s rural schools:

1855 book spelled out school plans and much more.

Listing of York County rural schools from 1943.

Knaub 1940s album of one-room schools in northern half of York County.

Fissel’s one-room school near Glen Rock.

Will’s School, Delroy, Lower Windsor Township.

Will’s School students of nearly a century ago.

Eighth grade exams.

Chanceford Township consolidation, 1958.

Chanceford School dedication book.

Chanceford closes after only 50 years of use.


Posted in 1850s, 1950s, 1960s, 1980s, Chanceford Twp., Delroy, Glen Rock, historic preservation, Lower Windsor Twp., schools, Universal York, Windsor Township, York County | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Freysville School alumni keep tradition alive.

Subject of a well-known painting has York County roots

Thomas Sully ( 1783 – 1872), Lady with a Harp: Eliza Ridgely, 1818.
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

Eliza E. Ridgely was a beautiful young woman born into a prosperous Baltimore family. The Marquis de Lafayette was said to be charmed by her during his 1824 visit to Baltimore, and she played her harp for him when he was a dinner guest of her parents. Eliza’s letters at the Maryland Historical Society show that she and Lafayette carried on a friendly correspondence until he died in 1835.

She was 25 when she married John Ridgely, a distant cousin and son of former Maryland Governor Charles Carnan Ridgely. Her husband inherited the Hampton mansion and surrounding 4,000 acres of land a few years later.

You can tour Hampton, perhaps the largest house in America when it was built by John Ridgely’s great-grandfather in the 1780s. It is a National Historic Site in Towson, Maryland. Click here for the National Park Site and an overview of the mansion and other structures in the complex.

This link will take you to information on each of the seven generations of Ridgely’s, complete with portraits or photos of the family that built and occupied Hampton mansion from the 1780s through the 1930s. The York County connection comes in with Eliza E. Ridgely (1803-1867), the lovely young woman painted by Thomas Sully in 1818, when she was just 15 years old. The original painting can be seen at the National Gallery of Art, and a very good copy hangs in the hall at Hampton.

See below for my recent York Sunday News column on The Lady With a Harp and how Sully’s famous painting saved the mansion,  The column also explains that very deep York County connection: Continue reading

Posted in 1780s, 1810s, 1830s, 1860s, 1940s, African Americans, artists, Baltimore Co., MD, buildings, Civil War, gardens, iron, Revolutionary War, Universal York, York County | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Subject of a well-known painting has York County roots

More on the Mifflin House–Rally next week

Preservation Pennsylvania, in cooperation with Kreutz Creek Valley Preservation Society; Historic Wrightsville, Inc. and others, has announced a public rally for the threatened historic Mifflin House in Hellam Township, outside Wrightsville. The rally will be held Wednesday March 21, 6 to 8 p.m. at the John Wright Restaurant, 234 North Front Street, Wrightsville.

Click this link to Scott Mingus’s Cannonball blog for more information on the speakers and activities for the evening. See below for more Mifflin House related links, including my several Universal York blog posts and York Sunday News columns on the importance of the Mifflin House. It is not only one of the few documented Underground Railroad stations in the area, but it is also significant because of Jonathan Mifflin’s (1753-1850) prominence as a Revolutionary War figure. In addition, the house itself is a remarkably well-preserved example of a substantial “mansion” of the late 1700s/early 1800s.

There are other notable early York County ties. One example is the inscription on the photograph above, from the York County History Center Library/Archives. The explanation on the back, in the hand of late-19th/early-20th century historian Dr. Israel Betz, reads: “House of Miss Anna Huber. Before or until 1840, the property of Jonathan and Susannah Wright Mifflin. Mrs. Mifflin was a sister of William Wright and were both children of James Wright who was a son of John Wright the first, and a brother of John Wright, Jr., the second. Patience Wright Ewing and Susannah Wright Huston were cousins of Mrs. Jonathan Mifflin. Samuel W. Mifflin took possession of Hybla in 1840 to 1846. He was a civil engineer. He is dead. His son Geo. B. Mifflin lives at Wayne, Pa.”

A few identifications: Miss Anna Huber was the founder of the York County Visiting Nurse Assoc. The Mifflin House, named “Hybla” by Jonathan Mifflin, was owned by Miss Huber’s family for much of the latter part of the 19th century. Patience Wright Ewing was the wife of Revolutionary War General James Ewing (1736-1806). Susanna Wright Huston was the wife of Revolutionary War surgeon Dr. John Houston. Samuel W. Mifflin was the son of Jonathan and Susannah Wright Mifflin; all three are said to have been quite active in the Underground Railroad.

Hope to see you next Wednesday.  Here are some links for more information on the Mifflin House:

Preservation Pennsylvania’s Mifflin House page.

The Help Save Mifflin House Facebook page.

This link will take you to my five Mifflin House posts about the house and the Mifflins.

Posted in 1790s, 1800s, Civil War, Hellam Twp., historic preservation, restaurants, Revolutionary War, Underground Railrod, Universal York, York County, York County History Center | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on More on the Mifflin House–Rally next week

York doctor served under Czar, saw the Amber Room

Henry L. Smyser (courtesy York County History Center)

There has recently been some discussion on Retro York on Facebook about the Historic York Inn (also known as the Smyser-Bair House Bed and Breakfast) on South Beaver Street, just off of West Market. Their website condenses the history of the wonderful house and includes some beautiful interior photos.

Dr. Henry Lanius Smyser is one of my favorite old Yorkers, partly because he left behind some fascinating letters of his adventures. They are in the York County History Center Library/Archives. I included transcriptions of the hard-to-read correspondence in lengthy papers I did while working my graduate degree in American Studies at Penn State Harrisburg. (Copies of those papers are also at YCHC.)

Using these letters and papers as a basis, over the years I wrote several York Sunday News columns on Smyser’s travels. Two are on his 1849 gold-seeking quest to California with other like-minded men from the area, and one is on his 1855 European venture to serve under the Czar of Russia as a doctor during the Crimean War. I previously shared the Gold Rush columns on this blog (see links below), but I just realized I had never posted the column on the Crimean War here on the blog. It is perhaps the most fascinating of all, so here it is:

Continue reading

Posted in 1840s, 1850s, California, Civil War, doctors, museums, travel, Universal York, York County History Center | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on York doctor served under Czar, saw the Amber Room

Hanover area news from 1898

Utz chip ad from 1956 Hanover Evening Sun

It used to be common to see newspaper features repeating news tidbits of the past. Some used a specific formula, like 50 or 100 years from that date. The Hanover Evening Sun seems to have been a little more arbitrary. Their feature, “Looking back over 50 years,” wasn’t as precise. They included ads for the sponsors of the regular Friday full-page feature.

Ads in June 19, 1956 issue took up three-quarters of the “looking back” page. They included Lloyd’s of Hanover (women’s clothing), E.J.J. Gobrecht, (appliances). Hanover Fuel & Supply (plumbing and heating supplies); Columbia Jewelry, Utz Potato Chip Co., Cut Rate Shoe Store, Hoffman’s (variety store), The Style Shop (children’s clothing), J.C. Tanger & Son (hardware) and Baker’s (children’s clothing).

Still, the paper managed to fit in a good many small news items on the page, in this case from the week of June 28-July 5, 1898, 58 years before this particular issue of the Sun was published. Here are some examples: Continue reading

Posted in 1890s, 1950s, accidents, advertising, Hanover, Heidelberg Twp., music, potato chips, retail stores, Spring Grove, Universal York, York County | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Hanover area news from 1898

York County welcomes the Justice Bell

The Justice Bell is now at Valley Forge

We are coming up on the 100th anniversary of national woman suffrage in 2020. Before the passage and ratification of the 19th amendment of the United States Constitution, which granted all American women the right to vote, women could vote in relatively few states. While working toward a national constitutional amendment, women and many men were also working at the state level to amend constitutions of the individual states to allow women to vote.

Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts voters would each have a question on their fall 1915 ballots whether their state constitution should be amended to give woman the vote in their state. The Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association and county committees were very organized, hosting local, state and national speakers; attending fairs; organizing entertainment; and spreading the word of the injustice of denying half of its citizens having a say in how they were governed. Anna Dill Gamble, an extraordinary organizer, was called upon to head the York County Committee. I will be sharing more on the varied 1914 and 1915 activities in York County in the future. In the meantime, my recent York Sunday News column below tells the story of the Justice Bell, its role in the woman suffrage campaign and the bell’s tour 2015 of York County. Continue reading

Posted in 1910s, 1920s, elections, fairs, fund raising, organizations, Universal York, women, York County | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on York County welcomes the Justice Bell

Rare York County-made tractor finds a new life.

Photo from Antique Power taken by Dave Gerlach





Leafing through a recent issue of a magazine for tractor collectors called Antique Power, I found an article “Resurrecting a Pioneer Diesel” by Dave Gerlach. The photos show a gleaming orange farm tractor with a bold nameplate reading “Sheppard Diesel.”

The article relates that in 1933, after graduating from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Richard H. Sheppard experimented with diesel engine compositions, patenting several fuel injection pumps. He founded the R. H. Sheppard Company in Hanover in 1937, eventually producing “diesel engines, generator sets, steering systems and farm tractors.”

The author says Sheppard got into the farm tractor field in 1949 by offering his three-cylinder diesel engines to repower International Harvester Model M Farmalls. Soon the company introduced a line of their own tractors, with engines varying from one to four cylinders. The customers had a choice of wide or narrow front axels and could also choose models designed to work in orchards.

Because of being handcrafted, the Sheppards were expensive. They lost out to tractors mass produced by other manufacturers, and the company stopped tractor production in 1956.

The R.H. Sheppard Company is still going strong in Hanover, according to its website, supplying “components for the trucking and transportation industry worldwide,” with more than 900 employees. It was acquired by WABCO (Westinghouse Air Brake Company) in September 2017.

Back to the bright orange tractor and why it was the cover story for the January/February 2018 issue of Antique Power: Continue reading

Posted in 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 2000s, 2010s, agriculture, Hanover, inventions, manufacturing, Universal York, York County | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Rare York County-made tractor finds a new life.