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.

You couldn’t keep this Dover boy down on the farm

The November 20, 1917 York Daily tells the story of a very eager World War I recruit from Dover. The article begins:


Dover Boy Anxious to Get to France “Now That Corn Husking is Over”

Edward Stubbins told the Daily reporter “Every able bodied young man in America ought to be over there fighting in the trenches. I am 18 years old and as healthy and sound as a bullock. So here I am, ready to enlist and ready to go to France.” The son of William Stubbins of Dover, Edward had just been accepted into the United States infantry by Sergeant Wall at the recruiting station in the Hartman building on York’s square.

The excited Stubbins continued to share: “I would have been in the army a year ago, but I have been waiting for my eighteenth birthday. I was 18 years old on the first day of October. I was working for a farmer near Dover and I did not want to leave him in the lurch as farm help is mighty scarce, you know. Now that corn husking is all but over, I thought this is my time to come to York and sign the papers that’ll make me one of Uncle Sam’s boys. On the farm where I worked I was paid 50 cents a day and was given my board. Uncle Sam pays better than that I know. I read somewhere that a private in the United States army gets as much pay as a general in the Russian army. Say, does it take very much education to get to be a corporal?”

The article relates that Stubbins passed his physical examination in excellent shape and that he was assured that the army offered educational opportunities that could lead him to the rank of corporal.

I often wonder what happened to the persons who pop up in these intriguing old newspaper stories. Thanks to Google and such sites as Find A Grave (free), (subscription), (subscription) and others, you can often piece together more of their story. Since the chatty Mr. Stubbins shared his exact birthday, it made it easier.

I found information and photo of his grave marker on Find A Grave that tells us Edward J. Stubbins, Sr. was born October 1, 1899 and died February 17, 1973. He served from Pennsylvania as a PFC in the US Army during World War I. He is buried at Grand Mound Cemetery, Rochester, Thurston County, Washington.

His obituary in the Centralia, Washington Daily Chronicle, found on, confirms that he was born October 1, 1899 at York, Pa. It adds that he had been a Centralia area resident since 1922, moving there from Pennsylvania. Goggle maps shows that Centralia (2010 population—16,336) and Rochester (2010 population—2,388) are about 11 miles apart. I only checked the 1940 census on, but it says he was living then with his wife Leone on James Town Road, Grand Mound, Washington [the same area]. So we know Stubbins made Private First Class, not quite to Corporal, but he did survive the war, spending the rest of his years far from the cornfields of Dover. We also know he married, and he must have had at least one child, since his grave marker gives his name as Edward Stubbins, Sr. Further searching could probably uncover more of his life.

(The York County History Center Library/Archives has subscriptions to the library editions of,, and Fold3 [military records] for the use of the library/archives patrons.)

Posted in 1890s, 1910s, 1920s, 1970s, Army, Dover, farming, newspapers, soldiers, Universal York, veterans, Washington, World War I | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on You couldn’t keep this Dover boy down on the farm

Delta bank funds saved by York safe

Tucked down in the far southeastern corner of York County, Delta has always been pretty quiet. According to the April 10, 1897 Gazette, some would-be bank robbers livened up the town two days before.  The front page article in the York paper goes into detail:

The writer says that the only usual excitement in Delta is when hard-driving boys from the countryside tear down the street about a mile, from the tavern at one end of town to the one at the other end, “in an effort to keep the interval between drinks down to a minimum.”

The two-story brick Miles National Bank stood in “South Delta,” which must mean the section adjacent to Cardiff, Maryland, since that is as far as you can go and still be in Pennsylvania. The three burglars gained entrance by climbing a ladder and going through a window in the rear of the building. They were allegedly prepared with “…saws, sledges, breast drills, files, chisels and in fact everything necessary to make an attack on a big safe or vault.”

The bank vault boasted three-feet-thick walls of brick and stone with a fire-proof vault door. A burglar proof York safe was inside the vault. After drilling a hole through the vault door and disconnecting the bolts, they went to work on the safe with nitroglycerine. The resulting blast destroyed the thick vault that held it, but not the safe.

The bank building, and just about everything in it except the safe, was badly wrecked, with the front of banking room and its plate glass windows scattered everywhere. Counters and desks added to the wreckage. The county-made York Safe held, only losing some exterior levers and a slight malfunction to the time lock, resulting in the bankers having to wait until noon to open it instead of the usual 9 a.m.

The burglars had managed to get into some safe deposit vaults outside the main vault, but the only loss reported was $75 from carriage builder Bulett’s safe deposit box.

The writer speculates that the burglars did not expect such “havoc and noise” and that as lights quickly appeared in neighboring windows, residents saw the three of them make off from the back of the building, disappearing into the hills by the dim light of morning.

Here is a link to a previous post with photos of some York Safe and Lock burglar proof safes.

And here is a link to some successful safe cracking in Red Lion and Dallastown.  Perhaps those post offices that were hit didn’t have York made safes.

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York County insects at Harvard, thanks to the Melsheimer family

Hanover Lutheran pastor Frederick Valentine Melsheimer has been called the father of American entomology (insects). He was also a “Hessian,” who came to America with troops fighting on the British side during the Revolutionary War. If you have Melsheimers in your ancestry, there is a good chance that you descend from this family of clerics, physicians, printers and scientists who made their mark in early York County.

Melsheimer’s extensive collection of insect specimens ended up at Harvard, where they reside today. See my recent York Sunday News column below for more on the family and their scientific labors as well as a link to the Harvard collection: Continue reading

Posted in 1770s, 1800s, 1840s, 1850s, doctors, entomology, Great Britain, Hanover, Hessians, insects, Lancaster County, Lutherans, pastors, prisoners, Revolutionary War, soldiers, Universal York, York County, York County History Center | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on York County insects at Harvard, thanks to the Melsheimer family

York County History Center shares unpublished Lewis Miller drawings online

(Resolution is much better on the YCHC website)

The York County History Center has entered into an exciting new partnership with the Google Cultural Institute.   The first project was the digitalization of Lewis Miller’s own annotated and illustrated copy of Henry Lee Fisher’s ‘S Alt Marki-Hous Mittes In D’r Schtadt (The Old Market House in the Middle of the Town). Fisher grew up in Franklin County, but his mother was a Harbaugh from York County, making him a descendant of some of the earliest settlers of York County. Fisher became an attorney, and then spent the rest of his life in York, becoming a prominent citizen.  Click here to access the November issue of Center Piece, the YCHC newsletter, and go to page four to learn more about the partnership.

Continue reading

Posted in 1800s, artists, Continental Congress, court house, Lewis Miller, markets, Pennsylvania Dutch, Universal York, York County, York County History Center | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on York County History Center shares unpublished Lewis Miller drawings online