You might have an “Hessian” ancestor too

Our area has a high concentration of descendants of so called “Hessians.” This general term was applied to those soldiers from German-speaking regions whose rulers hired out their regiments to fight on the side of the British during the Revolutionary War. (Germany did not become a confederated nation until 1871, so the area we now know as Germany consisted of many smaller principalities during the time of the American Revolution.) British King George III hired about 37,000 soldiers to fight on Britain’s side. They were called “Hessians,” because a good proportion came Hessen-Kassel, but Braunschweig(Brunswick)-Wolfenbüttel, Hessen-Hanau, Waldeck, Ansbach-Bayreuth and Anhalt-Zerbst, were well represented.

Since the “Hessians” were not fighting for a country or cause in which they believed, they were susceptible to desertion. Many a time a deserter would be welcomed in joining the American troops. The regiments of “Hessians” were raised in Europe by voluntary enlistment and by draft. Some enlistees were said to have done so because of the prospect of a free trip to America, to which they wanted to emigrate anyway.

Many of the Hessians who ended up settling in our area were among those troops surrendered at the Battle of Saratoga in late 1777. After being held in Massachusetts for a year, they were marched right through here on their way to prisoner-of-war camps in Maryland in Virginia the next winter. I recently discovered that is how one of my ancestors ended up here, marrying a local girl and putting down roots. The author of a new book worked with many civil and church records, and, in most cases includes information on their wives, many of whom were local women, and on their subsequent children. Here is the story from my recent York Sunday News column: Continue reading

Posted in 1770s, 1780s, 1980s, Adams County, authors, Camp Security, Frederick Co., MD, genealogy, Germany, Great Britain, Hellam Twp., immigrants, Lewis Miller, Lower Windsor Twp., Lutherans, Maryland, military units, ministers, occupations, Pennsylvania Germans, prisoners, Revolutionary War, settlement, soldiers, Universal York, Windsor Township, York County | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on You might have an “Hessian” ancestor too

Broadway star guests with York Little Theatre

I try to get to at least a few performances at the Belmont Theatre (formerly York Little Theatre) each year. They always do a great job. Click this link for my York Sunday News column on the history of the theater, which dates back to 1933.

Besides the talented local participants, some of the guest performers have been fairly well-known stars of stage and screen. A June 1941 York Gazette and Daily article tells that “Broadway star Lenore Ulric is ‘looking forward’ to her appearance with the York Little Theatre on Monday evening in ‘The Bridge of San Luis Rey.’” It was being directed by Kenneth L. Haynes, who had adapted the 1927 Pulitzer prize winning novel by Thornton Wilder into a play. Ulric, the protégé of well-known Broadway produces, David Belasco, appeared in many plays and films during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.

Ulric was enthusiastic about appearing in the play here, noting that she enjoys working with local theater groups. The production with Ulrich would be staged at the William Penn school auditorium at 8:30 on a Monday night, with theater officials hoping for a sellout. Thornton Wilder was invited to the York production, but instead sent best wishes to the Little Theatre, Miss Ulric and Mr. Haynes.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey has been made into a motion picture three times, in 1929 (silent), 1944, and 2005. I could only find references to it being performed as a play in two other instances, with none in New York, so I am assuming it still hasn’t hit Broadway.

Click this link for a look at Ulric and her impressive New York townhouse. She sounds like quite the diva, despite her Minnesota roots. I wonder what she thought of York—and what York thought of her.

Posted in 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, actors, entertainment, Motion pictures, theater, Universal York, York County | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Broadway star guests with York Little Theatre

Family history research can lead to interesting relatives

The Reno Gang
Photo courtesy of Genealogy Trails History Group

I am on a History Channel list that emails me a “This Day in History” tidbit every day. Today’s commemorates the first robbery of a moving train.  The robbery was committed on October 6, 1866 by the Reno gang. Click here for the story.

It caught my eye because my husband’s great-grandfather, Ovid Reno, was a distant relative of the Reno brothers. How Ovid got to York County and became the ancestor of many present day York countians, the majority of which are not named Reno today, is an interesting story in itself.

The Renos (Reynaud) were French Hugenots. Immigrants Lewis Reynaud/Reno came to Virginia about 1697. Lewis’s son John moved to Washington County, Pennsylvania, and Lewis’s son, the Reverend Francis Reno, was one of the first settlers of Rochester, now in Beaver County.

Francis’s grandson, Ovid, became a boatman on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and, along with some other northern boatmen, was in New Orleans when the Civil War broke out and was drafted into the Confederate Navy. Captured by Union forces, these young men explained their situation and promised to return home if they were released. Instead of going back to western Pennsylvania, Ovid Reno came along back here with one of the other men, Benjamin Lidy/Leighty. He enlisted in the Union Army from here and then returned to York County to raise a sizable family. (Thanks to Richard Konkel and Olga Shaull Eveler for all their extensive genealogy research on the Renos.)

There are several other historically noted Renos who also descend from the early Reno generations. One is General Jesse Reno who was mortally wounded at the Battle of South Mountain, near Boonesboro, Maryland in 1862. Reno, Nevada is named for him.

Another member of the clan is Major Marcus Reno, accused of cowardice at the Battle of Little Big Horn, but later exonerated.

You just never know who might pop up in your family tree.

Posted in 1690s, Chanceford Twp., Civil War, crime, genealogy, Universal York, Virginia, York County | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Family history research can lead to interesting relatives

From York to Washington for the Garfield inauguration

Some time ago I wrote a York Sunday News column on Dr. William Bigler’s 1890 trip to Florida to visit his son. In those days of railroads snaking all over the county, it might have been easier to travel from here to many other parts of the United States than it is today. Dr. Bigler lived and practiced in the very small community of Springvale in Windsor Township, just outside of Red Lion. Springvale was a stop on the Peach Bottom Railway (later part of the Maryland and Pennsylvania), so the doctor could catch a train from there. With a few connections, he arrived in Orlando, where his son was living, in a couple of days. Click on this link to read that column.

I was reminded of Dr. Bigler’s trip by a notice in the February 16, 1881 York Daily. It reads: Continue reading

Posted in 1880s, 1890s, celebrations, doctors, Ma & Pa Railroad, Northern Central RR, railroads, transportation, travel, U.S. Capital, Universal York, Washington, Windsor Township, York County | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on From York to Washington for the Garfield inauguration

Other Revolutionary War patriots homes like Jonathan Mifflin’s have been saved

Hybla, home of Jonathan Mifflin at Wrightsville




Jonathan Mifflin was also a prominent Revolutionary War patriot, even going contrary to his Quaker religion to become an officer and assistant Quartermaster General for the entire American army. He also became a friend of George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette during the war.

Harriton, Charles Thomson’s house at Bryn Mawr
(photo courtesy Harriton House)

Charles Thomson was a leading patriot during the Revolutionary War. He was quite a revolutionary activist at the time, although he is best known today for serving over 15 years as the only secretary to both the first and second Continental Congresses.

Besides their active participation, although in different ways, in the American Revolution, there are other similarities in the lives of Charles Thomson and Johnathan Mifflin. They both married into prominent Pennsylvania Quaker families. In fact, Mifflin’s first wife, Mary Harrison, and Thomson’s second, Hannah Harrison, were sisters. Both Thomson and Mifflin retired to sturdy stone farmstead mansions that came to them through their wives, Thomson to Harriton at Bryn Mawr and Mifflin to Hybla at Wrightsville on Wright settled land. (Mifflin married Susanna Wright after losing two young wives.)

The big difference: The public can learn about our young country’s struggle and way of life by touring Thomson’s Harriton, whereas Mifflin’s Hybla is in grave danger of being demolished as part of an industrial park. What is wrong with this picture?

Therefore, without even considering the extremely important role the Mifflins and their house later played in the Underground Railroad, I firmly believe that it deserves to be saved as the longtime home of an individual who played an important role in the creation of our nation.

Click here for my previous Universal York blog posts and column on Jonathan Mifflin and Hybla.

And here are Scott Mingus’s Cannonball blog posts on the importance of the Mifflins and Hybla in the Underground Railroad.

Posted in 1770s, 1780s, Continental Congress, Hellam Twp., Underground Railrod, Universal York, Wrightsville, York County | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Other Revolutionary War patriots homes like Jonathan Mifflin’s have been saved

Artists recognized the Susquehanna’s beauty

Courtesy of Brunk Auctions

We are blessed with an abundance of gorgeous scenery in York County. It seems especially striking when you get away from the towns into some of the more remote corners. The long eastern border along the Susquehanna River affords many striking views from near Harrisburg to the Mason-Dixon Line. We who live in this area, near “The River,” are so used to it, that we are often surprised to see the much narrower and shorter streams that are called rivers in other areas.

Besides its scenic beauty, the Susquehanna has played many roles in history, including being viewed formidable enough to be a desirable barrier between Continental Congress in York and the British occupying Philadelphia in 1777-78.  If the war moved up from Virginia during the America Revolution, guards at Camp Security were ready to “throw” the British prisoners across the river so that they would not be liberated.

Many ferries were established, since crossing the Susquehanna was necessary as settlement spread from the northeast. This link will take you to my previous York Sunday News columns on some of those ferries. My current column, transcribed below, tells of a noted American landscape artist and his depictions of McCall’s Ferry in Lower Chanceford Township:

McCall’s Ferry painting in White House collection

Earlier this year a striking painting of our area by noted German-American artist Herman Herzog was sold by an Alexandria, Virginia gallery for a tidy sum to an unknown buyer. The seller listed it as “McCall’s Ferry, Susquehanna River,” but, on Herzog’s own inventory list, the artist called it “Team Crossing McCall’s Ferry.” The painting, infused with Herzog’s signature use of light and shade, depicts a wagon piled with golden hay or straw being offloaded from a flat ferry boat. The wagon is pulled by two dark-colored mules, one hitched behind the other, and guided by a red-shirted rider on the back of a white horse. A ferryman with a pole over his shoulder still stands on the flat craft. The painting came to light in May 2016 when it was sold at Brunk Auctions in Asheville, North Carolina as part of an estate from Richmond, Virginia.

This work is especially intriguing since there is a companion piece in the White House Collection, purchased by the White House Historical Association in 1975. The White House painting could be called the precursor of the recently sold work. It shows the ferry just a few feet away from the landing, ready to touch the bank. There are two ferrymen on the front of the barge, each with a pole to guide the ferry barge. Behind them is almost certainly the same two-mule wagon, accompanied by the man with a red shirt on a white horse. Rowboats rest in the foreground, as they do in the other painting.

Herman Herzog (1831-1932) was born in Bremen, Germany and studied in Dusseldorf, coming to America in his late thirties, after already becoming an established landscape artist in Europe. He settled in Philadelphia and painted many Pennsylvania and New Jersey scenes, eventually traveling to depict the Chesapeake Bay, Maine coast, the American West and, after 1880, to Florida, to create his atmospheric landscapes and seascapes. He is said to have invested proceeds from his successful art career in Pennsylvania Railroad stock. The investment paid off so well that in later years he painted for pleasure, keeping the canvases since he did not need the funds. One source says that hundreds were still in the family “until quite recently.” His last show was a joint one with painter son Lewis at a New York gallery in 1931. Herzog celebrated his 100th birthday during that show, passing away in early 1932 at his Philadelphia home.

McCall’s Ferry seems so remote today, even to people like me who grew up not too far from there. It doesn’t seem possible that it was such an important spot from the mid-1700s until the early 1900s. It is it said to have been the most important crossing on the lower Susquehanna for over 150 years, and the large McCall’s Ferry hotel was viewed as a pleasant resort. Names of the ferry changed with the owners over the years. The ferry was probably established before 1740 by an Ashmore, followed by Nelson, White and Stevenson. George Stevenson, land agent for the Penns and Clerk of Courts and Recorder of Deeds for York County 1749-1764, owned the ferry from 1757 to 1772, when he sold the ferry and rights to John and Matthew McCall. John moved to South Carolina and Matthew owned it until his death.  Other owners followed, but the McCall name stuck.

Why that site? Because the lower Susquehanna is at its narrowest at that point, making for a shorter crossing. Prowell’s History of York County says that Native Americans crossed there before the white settlers came. You have to study maps today to try and figure some of them out, but then main roads led from McCall’s Ferry to Philadelphia and Baltimore as well as to York. Records show that many delegates to Continental Congress crossed there on their way to or from York in 1777-78. While meeting here, Congress resolved to instruct the Board of War to “…employ proper persons accurately to examine the river Susquehanna and its several fords, from the mouth to Harris’s Ferry…” to scout out river crossings for troops. A transcribed report in the files of the York County History Center states: “NELSON’S OR MCKALL’S FERRY. A half mile above this place the river is only [blank] feet wide; however, the current is not at all rapid, although the depth is considerable. The ferry is very good because of the short time required for the flat-boat to cross. Thus, it should be noticed that, if the army were to cross the river here, it would be necessary to repair the road that leads to Baltimore and Yorktown; that which comes from Wilmington, Newcastle and Charles-town in Maryland is very good.” (The river here is indeed very narrow and very deep. When Benjamin Henry Latrobe did his important mapping of the Susquehanna from Columbia south in 1801, he noted that the river there was only 16 perches (264 feet) wide, but his crew let down a line of 180 feet without touching bottom.)

Narrows are not best when you are dealing with a river that periodically freezes deep enough to create massive ice jams during a quick spring thaw, especially if you build a wooden covered bridge, as leading bridge builder Theodore Burr did near McCall’s Ferry. Burr stated that the spot he chose was 348 feet across the river at low water. Burr and his crew fought ice while erecting the bridge in the winter of 1814-15, but they managed to complete it. Burr’s masterpiece was no match, though, for the tremendous breakup of a massive ice jam, which swept it away just three years after completion, on March 3, 1818.

Today you can still turn off the Delta Road (PA 74) onto McCall’s Ferry Road and pass the McCall homestead. It becomes River Road as you near the river. You cannot get quite to the exact spot Herzog depicted, nor to where the hotel stood nearby, The riverside was flooded after the Frey family sold the ferry land “…with all its rights and privileges…” in 1905 to the McCall’s Ferry Water and Power Company to build a dam 55 feet high for producing hydroelectric power. The power plant, now known as Holtwood, has been generating electric energy since 1910. (River Road curves to the south from the McCall’s Ferry site, taking you by the river and dam to the Lock 12 historic area, where you can connect with Holtwood Road (PA 372) to take you back to Route 74 or across the 1968 Norman Wood Bridge to Lancaster County.)

Courtesy of the White House Historical Association

Here is a link to my previous column on the short-lived 1815-18 Burr bridge at McCall’s Ferry.

The York Furnace covered bridge was only open for a short period before it was swept away.

Posted in 1770s, 1800s, 1810s, 1880s, 1930s, 1970s, 2010s, bridges, Camp Security, Continental Congress, dams, electricity, ferries, Lower Chanceford Twp., Native Americans, Revolutionary War, roads, settlement, Susquehanna River, Universal York, York County, York Furnace | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Artists recognized the Susquehanna’s beauty

York traffic accidents, 1884 style

Just because they didn’t have automobiles doesn’t mean streets and roads were free of accidents in the 19th century. The accounts below appeared on the front page of the November 19, 1884 edition of the York Daily under the heading “Driving Accidents”: Continue reading

Posted in 1880s, horses, hunting, roads, transportation, Universal York, wagons, York County | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on York traffic accidents, 1884 style

Photography caught on quickly in York County

In 1826 Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833) created the first real photograph known to exist today. The view from a window at Gras, France is also known as the “First Photograph,” and it is in the photography collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Niepce’s process was known as heliography, with the image produced on a plate of pewter. His accomplishment was overshadowed at the end of the next decade when fellow Frenchman Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851), with whom he had partnered, introduced the Daguerreotype. Dauguerre’s process, announced in 1839, produced a sharp image on a polished silver plated copper sheet and quickly spread throughout the world.

As a young man York native William Wagner (1800-1869) was druggist and printer, and then he became nationally known as an engraver and a prolific creator of seals for businesses and government entities. He had a long career as Cashier at the York County National Bank and served as the Chief Burgess of York (similar to Mayor). Wagner was also, as far as I know, the first resident photographer in York County.

A 1845 York newspaper ad reads:

LIKENESSES. THE subscriber, having purchased one of VOIGTLANDER’S CELEBRATED INSTRUMENTS, respectfully announces to the citizens of York and vicinity that he is now prepared to take Daguerreotype Likenesses, in the most perfect style of execution. Persons wishing to have their likenesses COLORED can have them done so without any extra charge. Prices from $1.50 to $2.50. WILLIAM WAGNER York, February 21, 1845.

Before long photographic studios were cropping up all over. Photographers in both York and Lancaster counties wooed prospective Wrightsville customers, as shown in two competing ads shown below, from the May 7, 1857 York County Star and Wrightsville Advertiser. Continue reading

Posted in 1820s, 1830s, 1840s, 1850s, advertising, Columbia, PA, engravers, Lancaster County, mayors, newspapers, photographers, photography, Universal York, Wrightsville, York County | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Photography caught on quickly in York County

2017 Journal of York County History just off the press

If you are a member of the York County History Center, you have probably already received the 2017 edition of Journal of York County Heritage. As part of the YCHC publications committee and one of the editors of the journal, I am again proud of this issue, the eighth in a continuing series of publishing interesting articles exploring our unique local history. Extra copies are available at the YCHC museum shop. (I personally have found them to be reasonably priced and easy to transport host/hostess gifts. Several go south with me each year.)

In the first piece “Settlement West of the Susquehanna River prior to 1741,” Rev. Dr. Neal Otto Hively shares his vast knowledge of early York County settlement. Another article is by James M. Loyer, “Hinkey Haines: Two-sport Star.” It looks at the never-duplicated pro football and pro baseball career of the 20th century Red Lion athlete.

An unpublished paper by the late historian, Dr. Charles H. Glatfelter, tells the little-known story of “Catherine Snyder and the Confederates in York, 1863.” (This article was submitted in honor of Dr. Glatfelter by Glen Rock area historian John Hufnagel before he too passed away last year.)

Daniel Roe, YCHC Vice-President of Interpretation, writes on “Telling Everyone’s Story: Finding Historical Perspective in York County.” Continuing transcriptions of letters written by York’s Signer of the Declaration of Independence, James Smith, are also included, as is a list of books on York County history added to the YCHC Library/Archives over the past several years.

Submissions are invited for the ninth edition of the Journal of York County Heritage, to be published in the fall of 2018. The deadline for articles is December 1, 2017. The journal was created in 2010 to celebrate York County history, material culture, cultural heritage, and people. The manuscript must be original, unpublished and limited to 3,000 words.

Click here for information or contact Lila Fourhman-Shaull, Directory of Library & Archives at the York County History Center.

The YCHC Publications Committee has chosen these themes for the next three editions:

• 2018: World War I era

• 2019: York race riots, race relations, and diversity

• 2020: York County women’s history

Please note that manuscripts on other topics will be accepted for these publications. Preference will also be given to those that use the York County History Center’s collections for research, either in full or in part. Photos and illustrations are welcomed, but not required.

Posted in 1730s, 1740s, 1770s, 1780s, 1790s, 1800s, 1860s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, books, Civil War, ferries, Hellam Twp., James Smith, maps, Red Lion, settlement, sports, Susquehanna River, transportation, travel, Universal York, York County, York County History Center | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on 2017 Journal of York County History just off the press

York City vineyard thrives during Prohibition

A vineyard in the heart of the City of York? Less than three blocks from the square? During Prohibition? Who would have thought it? See below for my recent York Sunday News column on John K. Gross and his prize-winning grapes: Continue reading

Posted in 1880s, 1900s, 1920s, 1930s, 2010s, agriculture, exhibits, fairs, fruit, temperance, Universal York, vineyards, wine, York County, York Fair | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on York City vineyard thrives during Prohibition