These key projects would improve the quality of life in York County
Fifty years from now, how will historians view the early 2020s in York County?
This issue is there in the light of growth and reform from past conflicts: the Civil War, World War I, the Spanish flu and the York race riots of 1968-69. York County residents did not let these deadly and painful crises go to waste.
Now we are coming out of the COVID-19 years and we must ask ourselves how those of the future will view our actions today – how we have done anything right out of this disorienting and disruptive pandemic.
Last week, I listed 15 planned historical and cultural projects in the city that I think future historians will consider noteworthy. I listed things like the new York County History Center Museum in the old Met-Ed Steamworks, the Crispus Attucks Center for History and Culture, and the Knowledge Park in the old Paper Mill Schmidt & Ault.
The latter particularly captures the change in York County in the early 2020s: the conversion from a low-tech paper mill to a high-tech research park.
So we are now adding 12 historical and cultural projects in the county to the list of towns, starting with several major projects that will preserve large swaths of Hellam Township, the first lands settled in York County.
When Hellam Township, then part of Lancaster County, was formed in 1739, its beautiful rolling lands and hills were already home to settlements and serving as a gateway to the lands west of the Susquehanna River to to the Shenandoah Valley and beyond.
This development pressure has never gone away. The same quality of life attributes that make it attractive for dream homes and warehouses are attracting more developers, which are attracting conservatives.
So when preservation wins are added to the dashboard, the dashboard needs to be updated.
This year, for example, the Lancaster Conservancy added land to the Hellam Hills Conservation Area which largely faces the Susquehanna River north of Wrightsville, close to where Codorus Creek meets the Susquehanna.
“Hellam Hills is the largest contiguous forest within the York, Lancaster, Harrisburg triangle,” the Lancaster Conservancy website says.
Then you have to add to that the saving of the Mifflin House property from demolition, the Horn Farm’s decision to rebuild its farm after a devastating fire, and the ongoing development of Wrightsville’s Riverfront Park.
Hellam Township Supervisor Nedette Otterbein just returned from a tour of the Hellam Hills from the Susquehanna Lookout.
“Hellam Township is a unique gem,” she said. “I love showing it to people and talking about a vision that we can create together that will make it a great place for future generations.”
Here is a list of projects in York County with historical and cultural implications designed to improve the quality of life – based on YDR stories and information from leading organizations.
Eastern York County
Mifflin House: A partnership between the Susquehanna National Heritage Area, Preservation Pennsylvania, the Conservation Fund and others saved the Mifflin House from demolition. A promoter had proposed a warehouse for this site.
The Mifflin House and its grounds constitute an Underground Railroad site and cover part of the terrain of the Battle of Wrightsville. Renovations for interior use are estimated to take four to six years.
Susquehanna Heritage has acquired a vintage electric boat for its Susquehanna Discovery Tours. Tours aboard this boat, Chief Uncas, are scheduled to begin mid-August through late August.
Hellam Hills Conservation Area: The nonprofit Lancaster Conservancy acquires and preserves 1,100 acres overlooking the Susquehanna in Hellam Township. When $12 million is raised and improvements are made, the public will be able to hike, fish and sightsee from the lands of Hellam Township. This is in addition to land the reservation has previously acquired, approximately 1,040 acres which includes the Boy Scouts’ former wizard ranch.
Horn farm: Plans are underway to rebuild the Horn Farm Center in Hellam Township which burned down late last year.
The center has selected an architectural firm and a general contractor and is in the early stages of developing a master plan.
Wrightsville Waterfront Park: Local officials call this progressive riverfront development “York County’s Front Porch.” The third phase of this project includes a recently completed public washroom, new clubhouse and playground equipment, paved pathways, amphitheater landscaping, sidewalks and street integration Front to the park.
Hannover Theatre: This former movie theater closed in the 1980s and has remained largely unused since then.
This year, the county redevelopment authority and Hanover Economic Development Corp. acquired the building and begin the search for developers who will rehabilitate the space.
Hannover tram trail: Work is underway to build a rail trail between Hanover and York using old tram and railway rights-of-way.
The trail grows section by section. This spring, the Rail Trail Authority celebrated the construction of 0.3 miles of trail along a recently acquired inactive rail line. One day this trail will intersect with the York County Heritage Rail Trail.
Heart of Hannover markers: The Heart of Hanover Trail exterior storyboards are built and available for history buffs.
They cover much of Hannover’s history, including its rich Underground Railroad and Civil War past. The streets of Hanover served as the battleground for a major cavalry clash on June 30, 1863, and the markers tell that story well.
Hanover Region Museum: The Hanover Area Historical Society has created an intriguing destination at its Hanover Street campus, with a newly opened museum coupled with the Warehime-Myers Mansion.
Other projects in the county
Former Hyson School: The Stewartstown Area Historical Society has restored this former one-room schoolhouse dating back to 1857.
This site is unusual as its successor school, built in the early 1890s, is across the street. A place near Cross Roads, two generations of schools.
The historical society added programming to the restoration. This year, the old Hyson School served as the headquarters for a tour of six one-room schools.
Trail towns: Wrightsville and Hanover are now part of the York County Trail Towns initiative, bringing the number of participating towns to seven.
This York County Economic Alliance program has far-reaching features. Its Trail Friendly Business program doubled in number last year, and about 30 designated businesses that are part of this welcoming cohort serve trail users. A site development master plan is nearing completion better connecting the trail to Ruins Hall in Glen Rock. A public square next to the hall will serve as a platform for events.
Grant funds have gone directly to businesses and nonprofits covering things like the new canopy for the Jackson House B&B in Railroad, inventory for Simply Local in Glen Rock, and outdoor seating at Fat Bat Brewing in Hanover.
Glen Rock Mill Inn: This fine dining restaurant located along the rail trail received a $40,000 grant, one of 25 going to restaurants nationwide.
It will be used to restore a 1980s facade on the railroad side of the restaurant to an earlier appearance, as well as minor repairs to the side facing Route 216. The Inn operates in the original factory of this southern borough of York County.
Strickler House: Historic York signed a lease to occupy the Strickler Farm near York County Jail in Springettsbury Township. The farmhouse is one of the oldest structures in York County and will serve as the headquarters for this historic preservation organization.
Back in Hellam Township
Nedette Otterbein, the township supervisor, sees this moment as a crossroads for the township, an opportunity to team up with stakeholders, residents, businesses and other communities to form a comprehensive regional plan. This plan would take advantage of economic growth using natural resources and agricultural tourism.
It’s called ‘nature-based placemaking’, a connection between nature, commerce and community.
“The historic nature of our region,” she said, “is a critical part of that kind of vision and can help tie it all together.”
Municipal projects: Based on last week’s column, other York historical/cultural projects are planned or underway: completion of the rail trail, restoration of the Yorktowne Hotel, renovations to the call center, new center museum history in the old Steamworks, Articles of Confederation sculpture, Crispus Attucks Community Center Cultural Center, Goodridge Statue of Freedom House, York City Cemetery Marker, Lebanon Cemetery Restoration, Allen-Schaad Monument commemorations, Keystone Oral Histories Underground Railroad Project, Martin Library and two other county system libraries renovations, York College Knowledge Park renovations, Codorus Greenway works, New York Wire Renovations works.
Jim McClure is the retired publisher of the York Daily Record and is the author or co-author of nine books on York County history. Contact him at [email protected]