Remembering Besser’s on the Susquehanna Trail

Besser’s Restaurant ad in Oct. 9, 1954 issue of The Gazette and Daily

Besser’s Restaurant ad in Oct. 9, 1954 issue of The Gazette and Daily

Liz Holtzapple provided some neat memories of Besser’s in response to my post Susquehanna Trail WWI Memorial Sycamores.  Her comments are amongst those that have been accumulating in my files since I did a 19-part series on the Susquehanna Trail, two years ago. Information from that series, plus new research and reader comments provide the material for my newest presentation: History of the Susquehanna Trail. The initial talk kicks off as an OLLI presentation next week and is now available to be booked at other venues.

Besser’s began as a 1934 Esso Service Station, 11-miles south of York, on the Susquehanna Trail in Shrewsbury Township, York County, PA. It quickly evolved into a destination, with the addition of Tourist Cabins, a Department Store, a Restaurant and a Park. In 1954, the restaurant served dinners priced from 50-cents; up to $1.50. Besser’s was one of the few early businesses on the Trail open 24/7. In terms of present landmarks, Besser’s was on the east side of the Susquehanna Trail, just north of presently named Theater Road; which is about 1/2-mile north of The Markets at Shrewsbury.

Liz Holtzapple’s Memories of Besser’s … plus Additional Details

These memories of Liz Holtzapple were in response to my post Susquehanna Trail WWI Memorial Sycamores.

I grew up along the Susquehanna Trail and remember my dad talking about the public planting of the sycamores. It was his responsibility to water the trees on his property. He was always proud to say that none of his trees died. Most of his neighbors had several of their sycamores replaced. Dad talked about the one-time replanting of the sycamores, to replace the dead trees. Afterwards it was up to the property owner to replace any additional dead sycamores, if they so desired. I’m sad to say I do not remember any other things about these memorial sycamores, which my parents probably knew about.

We were a Besser’s family. Many a summer was spent playing with my sister in the park next to Besser’s. My mom worked there as part time help. She was allowed to bring us to work, where we either played in the park or in one of the cabins when it rained. In addition to factory work, my dad routinely did odd jobs for Austin Besser.

Dad always joked with Austin about his advertising the cabins were fireproof, even after one or two of the cabins burned down on occasions. Besser’s must have been making good money, since Austin nearly always got a new car every year. I always looked forward to Austin taking our whole family for a ride, as he showed off his latest car.

My mom talked how Hilda Besser had many of the ideas for expanding Besser’s. Mom said Hilda just had to mention an idea for Austin to quickly get the expansion underway. Hilda was responsible for the naming of the paths through the collection of cabins. I remember my dad making the signs. Relief, Restful, and Slumber are a few of the path names that come to mind.

Even after I got married, if we ate out, it was usually at Besser’s. This was especially true after the Trail Drive-In opened. The routine became dinner at Besser’s followed by a movie at the drive-in, right next door. The movies at the Trail were family friendly until the sad end, when not so much. I was back in town, visiting with my parents, when Austin Besser died. We all attended his funeral. I understand that his widow Hilda sold Besser’s that same year.

I did some Besser family history research and discovered Austin Besser died on July 13, 1964. He was in his early 60s. His wife Hilda lived to be 98-years old; she died in 2001. Austin Besser married Hilda Hershey on October 23, 1923. The 1930 United States Census records Austin and Hilda Besser living at 1229 Mt. Rose Avenue in Spring Garden Township; that house is on the north side of Mt. Rose Avenue, several houses west of Hill Street.

Deed searches revealed Hilda Besser sold Besser’s on October 21, 1964 to James and Marguerite Carey. Austin Besser had first purchased the initial part of the property on May 20, 1933 and added an additional acre with a purchase on August 14, 1935. The earliest records, discovered thus far, have Besser’s in business at this location in 1934. Thus Austin & Hilda Besser operated Besser’s at this site along the Susquehanna Trail for 30-years (1934-1964).

Besser’s Restaurant ad in Aug. 18, 1956 issue of The Gazette and Daily

Besser’s Restaurant ad in Aug. 18, 1956 issue of The Gazette and Daily

The U.S. Route 111 in this ad is interesting. Over the years 1925 to 1928, the “modern” state route numbering system was implemented. Named roads signs, such as Lincoln Highway and Susquehanna Trail, had to be taken down and were replaced with numbered signs. Within York County, the Susquehanna Trail became State Route 111.

Townships within York County were still free to give a name to Route 111, within their township, for postal address purposes. Many townships selected a name most residents were already familiar with; Susquehanna Trail.

By 1956, the initial routes had been selected for the Federal Interstate Highway System. State Route 111 was the York County route selected by the Federal Government for an upgrade to a 4-lane limited access divided highway. As a result, State Route 111 became U. S. 111.

A Drive-In Theatre adjoins Besser’s Restaurant, per the 1956 ad. The following 1955 vs. 2016 aerial photo comparison is used to point out the locations of Besser’s and the Trail Drive-In Theater.

1955 vs. 2016 Aerial Photo Comparison of a Section of Susquehanna Trail in Shrewsbury Township, York County, PA (1955 Photo from York County Archives and 2016 Photo from Bing.com)

1955 vs. 2016 Aerial Photo Comparison of a Section of Susquehanna Trail in Shrewsbury Township, York County, PA (1955 Photo from York County Archives and 2016 Photo from Bing.com)

The October 9, 1955 aerial photo is from the York County Archives. The pencil markings on these photos were made by Township and County Planning agencies back in the 1950s. Besser’s complex of buildings and cabins are under the number 14, along the Susquehanna Trail. The Trail Drive-In Theater was opened in the summer of 1956 just south of Besser’s. The Trail Drive-In Theater was built where the number 15 is shown on the 1955 aerial photo; at the time that site was on the corner of Susquehanna Trail and Mt. Zion Road in Shrewsbury Township.

The 2016 Bing.com aerial photo of the Susquehanna Trail in Shrewsbury Township is a direct comparison to the 1955 aerial photo. When I-83 was completed in the late 1950s, Mt. Zion Rd. could no longer reach the Trail at this point. The short remaining section of this road, west of I-83 was renamed Theater Road, since it primarily extended along the south side of the Trail Drive-In property. The Trail Drive-In Theater site is presently occupied by VCA Old Trail Animal Hospital at 84 Theater Road. Besser’s site, at 11505 Susquehanna Trail South, is presently occupied by Shrewsbury Township, who purchased the property from United Tote Company during December 2006.

Links to related posts include:

Reading the HEADLINES; A Quick Index to ALL YorksPast Posts

About Stephen H. Smith

Stephen H. Smith is a design engineer who worked at York International Corp. for 33 years before retiring several years ago to research and write books full time; his second career. The initial emphasis was on family history when he won a national award during 2002 for his first book “Barshingers in America.” Positive feedback and that award were influential in his decision to retire early from engineering and start a retirement career.

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