Part II: York, Pa.: ‘It’s a midsize city with an interesting history’

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In a case that has captured national attention, York, Pa., City Police said Sinhue Johnson and Luann E. Bowers lived at 734 S. Duke St., with their five children in the end home pictured here. Law enforcement officials said the home had no utilities, no functioning toilet and a leaky roof. Johnson and Bowers have been jailed on charges of endangering their children’s welfare. Also of interest: A list of traumatic, painful incidents that rocked York County and For years, York countians part of major court cases.

National media have referred to York as a steel town.
We have metal fabricators, but no steel mills here.
York had been called a hard-knock river town and a rustbelt town on the banks of the Susquehanna River.
Among other quibbles, the river is 12 miles away.
York had been described as a red-brick, Mason-Dixon-line factory town.
That’s getting closer. York has been shaped by its proximity to the South, but we’re 15 miles away from that long line where the surveying team of Mason and Dixon did their work about 1770.
Now the city is home to another national story – the case of the five children police say were hidden from society… .


And we have The New York Times in town to do what journalists term a write-through.
So what does the Times say about York in its report, Officials Struggle to Unravel Tale of 5 Children Being Raised in Secrecy”?

The story of these hidden lives has shocked many in this south-central Pennsylvania manufacturing town, where the colonial architecture reflects its Revolutionary War past. The city is prosperous in some areas, but it can be rough around the edges; 23 percent of residents live below the poverty line.

That last part is right. Springdale, York’s best-kept neighborhood, is just a few blocks from the 700 block of South Duke Street where the couple allegedly hid the children.
It’s a manufacturing town, or at least could have been characterized like that at one time… .
It’s a town that takes pride in its Revolutionary War past, although the “Creativity Unleashed” theme unveiled in the downtown does not immediately bring the American Revolution to mind.
It’s the Times’ Colonial architecture assessment that is most puzzling.
The housing and building stock throughout the city of York comes from the Victorian era, reflecting the latter part of the long life of the British monarch Queen Victoria: 1819-1901.
Putting it another way, the architecture indicates the post-Civil War growth owing to the Industrial Revolution. York, which gained city status in 1887, grew four-fold between 1880 and 1930.
To accommodate this growth, much of the city’s housing stock went up.
This is not to say that the Times is completely wrong on the American Revolution thing. A few buildings from before, during or after the American Revolution stand today: The Gates House and Plough Tavern, Cookes House and others.
The Colonial Courthouse replica and Sovereign Bank’s downtown office – soon to be become city hall – were designed to remind folks of that Colonial past.
Here’s one diplomatic assessment from a historical preservation official a couple decades ago:
“York’s role in the Revolutionary War cannot be underestimated, and the efforts to promote this are valid. But of far greater importance in terms of the impact of the York of today is York’s great industrial and manufacturing past.”
But the Times story provides a hidden point that city – and particularly county – leaders must get.
People from outside York County’s borders define green, bucolic still beautiful York County from impressions gained from the City of York.
York’s problems are the county’s problems. They can’t be separated and must be addressed by leadership throughout county.
As to how to describe York in a nutshell, I like NPR’s assessment of a few years ago: “It’s a mid-sized city with an interesting history.”
Also of interest:
York, Pa.: ‘It’s a midsize city with an interesting history’
– CNN’s report on the case.
Archives:
All York Town Square posts from the start. (Key word search by using “find” on browser.)
– Of course, you can always search for York Town Square post on Google.

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.

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