Vandals strike house where Thomas Paine reportedly labored

The Cookes House, one of York’s overlooked landmarks, has not escaped the notice of vandals.
On several occasions, vandals have struck one of York’s oldest buildings. (See writer Ted Czech’s York Daily Record/York Sunday News story below.)


Johannes Guckes built the house beside the Codorus Creek in 1761, and it became commonly known as the Cookes House.
According to tradition: The house became a tavern in the Revolutionary War era. Tom Paine, whose fiery writings fueled the Colonial cause, stayed and wrote there.
The house was the finest stone house west of the Codorus, and members of the Continental Congress, then meeting in York, occupied prime lodgings near the Colonial Courthouse. So, Paine lodged away from the downtown.
In the 20th century, the house passed from owner to owner and fell into disrepair until its restoration in the late 1970s. Today, the house, listed on the National Historic Register, stands in Martin Luther King Park in York’s west end. It is used as a private residence.
So there it is, overlooked county treasure No. 5. (See earlier posts on the Little Courthouse, Prospect Hill Cemetery, War Mothers Memorial and York County Academy’s former gymnasium.)
From the York Daily Record/Sunday News, Oct. 30, 2005:

For more than a month, vandals have ravaged York’s historic Cookes House, smashing a screen door, yanking up a buried electrical wire and launching a rock and a stump through its windows, said its owner, Baron Garman.
The stone two-story house, built in 1761, is the third oldest in York and the city’s first example of Germanic architecture, Garman said. Built by Johannes Guckes, it was a tavern in the Revolutionary War era.
Political firebrand Thomas Paine is rumored to have written his series of pamphlets “American Crisis V” at the house. Members of the Continental Congress boarded there in 1777. Local folklore indicates the house served as refuge for fleeing slaves as part of the Underground Railroad in the 1800s.
Garman, who grew up in Spring Grove, bought the Cookes (pronounced “Cook-iss”) House in 1999 from Historic York Inc. The technician with York Hospital’s psychiatric department wanted to renovate it and show it to anyone who was interested in the city’s history. Now he’s not sure he’ll stay.
“When I do do the work, people just destroy it,” he said.
Tucked into the southwest corner of Martin Luther King Park, the house, at 430 Cookes House Lane, is isolated from other houses. To its rear is a parking lot for dental equipment maker Dentsply International; to the south, the Codorus Creek. The park borders it on the north and west.
Garman’s metal shed was damaged three times, he said. First, its front doors were smashed in. Then he found the roof dented, as if someone had jumped on it. Finally, the sides and back were caved in, he said.
But Garman, 42, didn’t remove the shed. Instead, he spray-painted “Why?” and “What did I do wrong?” in black letters on it.
Landscaping — shrubs, rhododendrons and in-ground lighting — that ran across the front of the house have been uprooted. Two weeks ago, his mailbox was smashed into small shards, he said. He figures the total for the damage is about $1,000.
When he found the rear screen door demolished, he could tell the wooden door had been kicked, but it did not give.
York City Police Capt. David Arnold, who patrolled the park as an officer, said the house’s remote location might be a factor in the vandalism. He said he would ask patrol officers to keep an eye on the house.
If somebody is trying to get into the house, “that is a concern to the gentleman (Garman) and to us,” he said.
Historic York Program Director Karen Arnold, no relation to the captain, said the organization occupied the house from 1952 until Garman bought it.
In 1972, it was included on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Nine years later, it was restored in honor of Rebecca Yeagley Baker, an elementary school teacher and civic leader.
“It’s a shame,” Arnold said of the vandalism. “A very horrible shame because it’s a very significant building to York’s history.”

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. East Region Editor, Digital First Media. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.
This entry was posted in American Revolution, Archives, all posts, Explanations/controversy, Genealogy/research, Local journalism & Web, Local landmarks, People, Underground Railroad, War. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Vandals strike house where Thomas Paine reportedly labored

  1. Jim Fahringer says:

    While there is apparently no absolute proof that Thomas Paine stayed in the Cookes House, I have read that he kept his horses in a shed on an island in the middle of the Codorus Creek close to the Cookes House. But, if the following story is true, then the Federal Government may have added credance to the tradition that Thomas Paine may have stayed there during the time the Continental Congress met in York.
    Approximately 15-18 years ago, while purchasing tickets to tour the Gates House, Golden Plough Tavern, and the reconstructed Colonial Courthouse in the little brick building to the rear of the Gates House(the one that once served as a small gift shop and ticket sales for the Historical Society’s properties), I heard the following astounding story.
    I am not sure, but I sometimes believe that there is writing on my face that tells everyone who sees me, “You can tell this guy anything and he will believe you.” While what I am about to share with you definitely sounds like an urban legend, the fact that two of the docents who worked in this gift/ticket sales shop told me this, seems to imply that it could be true.
    This is what the guides told me. They said that a few years before, the United States Government, I forgot the name of the Government Agency, but it could have been the United States Dedpartment of the Interior, had come to town one day without prior notice. The guides continued to tell me that the Government sealed off the area around the Cookes House for several days. The Government agency brought with them the most sophisticated military x-ray and sonar equipment that they had. They used this equipment for several days inside the Cookes House scanning all the walls, floors, and ceilings.
    Guess what they were looking for? According to the Historical Society’s guides, they had information that perhaps an original copy of the United Staes Declaration of Independence was hidden somewhere in the rafters, floors or walls of the Cookes House. The guides continued to tell me that the Government finally left York after several days. No one ever heard if the Government found the copy of the Declaration of Independence or not.
    Has anyone else ever heard this story? It does sound like an urban legend and yet, I have trouble dismissing this report because two respectable Historical Society guides willingly told me this story while I was gathering photos and info for a local history project for my school.

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