York Springs Yesteryear (1976)

By Wreatha E. Glatfelter

     This book is presented by the Mademoiselle Club of York Springs----The only sponsors of the York Springs Public Library started in 1941 and incorporated in 1961. The Library is located on Main Street in the former Post Office Building.It is maintained by various money making projects carried out by this group of women.

     The borough of York Springs is located on the eastern line of Huntington Township on the Carlisle and Hanover road, west of the Sulphur Springs, and on a branch of Latimore Creek. The village was plotted in 1800 and named Petersburg in honor of Peter Fleck. Mr. Fleck's cabin was the first home built and his store was the first mercantile venture. There are 56 springs in the borough.

     The Sulphur Spring is located within one and a half miles east of the borough and dates back to 1790, when explorers, traveling through the Jacob Fickes tract, discovered several deer licks and in following them, came upon the spring. Buildings were erected by Robert Long and Joseph Worley. The surrounding grounds were laid off and the locality became a famous health and pleasure resort.

     The story is told by the old timers of the town, that once George and Martha Washington were visiting incognito, at the Sulphur Springs Hotel. However, their secret was discovered by Captain Thomas Dill, who with his wife Priscillia (Wireman) was having a fancy dress ball at their home in York Springs. Captain Dill, an influential man of town, invited George and Martha and they accepted the invitation. The house where this event took place is the home of the late Mrs, Mettie Griest on the corner of Main and Willow Streets.

     The Sulphur Springs Hotel and Health Resort flourished for awhile. Then a fire destroyed the hotel and it was never rebuilt. The stones in the Donald Miller home, which stands near to the site of the old hotel, are the same stones from which the hotel had been built. The old sulphur spring can still be seen near Mr. Miller's home and across the Bermudian creek. Down the pike from the resort, the first crossroad left is Huntington Meeting House. William Penn gave the land. The first church built in 1750 was log. The present structure was built in 1790.

     Below the Huntington Meeting House is Trostle's Quarry, which was opened to provide material for building roads. Workmen found fossils, including dinosaur tracks. Some were sent to the Congressional Library and the rest went to the State Museum in Harrisburg.

     The village of York Springs was incorporated in 1868 and organized January 8, 1869 under the name of York Springs Borough.

     From the "History of Adams and Cumberland Counties", we read this: "In 1886, the number of tax payers in the borough was 144; the value of real estate, $106,547; the number of horses, 59; the number of cows, 31; the value of money at interest, $63,182; the value of trades and professions, $9,805; the number of pleasure car-riages, 26; the number of gold watches, 16; the population in 1880 was 378."

     The Presbyterian Society of York Springs was organized April 14, 1818. Services were held in George Smith's barn. In 1826, the Petersburg Academy was built. The Academy was a school for young ladies and was located somewhere between the Episcopal and the Trinity Lutheran churches. The Academy or female seminary, was established by Miss C. J. Reynolds in 1847. The grade school was erected in 1851.

     The Methodist Episcopal church was organized in 1844. However, the Rock Chapel Church near York Springs was the first Methodist Church in Adams County, built in 1773.

     Christ Protestant Episcopal dates back to 1756 when Rev. Thomas Barton arrived from England and began preaching the crusade against the French and the duty of winning over the Indians. An interesting story of a happening in this church -- On September 22, 1777, Daniel Shelly of Carlisle, a prisoner on charge of treason, made an oath before John Agnew and John Creigh that in April, 1777, Rev. Mr. Batwell of the Protestant Episcopal Church preached in favor of aiding the English and conspired to destroy the United States posts and stores in Carlisle, York and Lancaster. His arrest was ordered and he was imprisoned.

     In April of 1861, Leander Welsh, Frances Greaves, Henry Naylor, and Augustus Welsh of York Springs responded to the first call for troops and were mustered in with Company E. 2nd Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers Infantry.

     The underground railroad was very active near York Springs. People hid slaves in secret tunnels, lofts, or in recesses behind fireplaces. A row of white, painted bricks on the chimney identi fied the houses that were slave stations. A certain drinking song was also used as a password. The slaves were hidden in the daytime and smuggled out after dark. The story is told of the family who was hiding a young colored girl and her baby. The man of the family was afraid the baby would cry and give away the hiding place, so he had his wife take the baby to bed with her. She kept him covered and so saved the child and the mother when an officer checked the house. The stone home of Chester Worley has an attached wash house, and it was in the loft of this building that slaves were hidden. It is well preserved today. About a mile to the left of the Worley property on the Daniel Grove farm stands an old farmhouse. In this house, if you could get in, and were careful not to fall through the decaying floors and rotting timbers, you could see the hiding places - like a cupboard with no bottom. A slave going into the cupboard found himself in a cave-like recess below the floor level. If the man of the house heard someone whistling or singing the password song, he would be allowed to enter.

     York Springs had a very thriving industry in the Good Intent Woolen Factory. It was operated in 1847 by Jacob Myers on Bermudian Creek near town. Farmers took their wool there to be made into blankets. Blankets from the G. I. W. Mill were hidden in the loft of Chapel Hill Methodist Church when the Confederates invaded the community.

     The streams near town are the Bermudian Creek and Mudd Run. The former forms the greater part of its western boundary and enters on a south-eastern course near the Kennedy farm and then flows through in a channel through the south part, entering Latimore near the sulphur springs. Numerous small streams flow into the Bermudian.

     In 1837, Farmer Smyers dug a well on his property and while he was eating dinner, the bottom fell out and the tools sank to a depth never recovered.

     An assessment was made in 1798 -- a tax levy of .26 per $100.00. Single freemen were taxed $1.00 each.

     Two of the best preserved houses in York Springs today are Meadow Hill, home of Jennie Plank, and the Charles Griest property on Harrisburg Street. The latter is owned by Mr. and Mrs. Ross Koons. It is a three-storied brick with a balcony and porch across the front, complete with iron railing above and below. The panels on either side of the front door are red Stiegel glass. The house sits back from the street in a grove of old trees. At one time an iron gate opened onto the walk with stately iron lions on either side. Mr. Griest owned a horse racing track at the upper end of town (part of that property is now the Little League baseball diamond). These horse races attracted people from far and near. On a racing day the town turned out in full force. It was like a carnival or a fair. The last race was in 1936.

     Meadow Hill was the home of Leonard Marsden Gardner, now owned by Miss Jenny Plank. This is a gabled, three-story house of red brick that faces exactly north, south, east and west according to a compass.

     The late Vinny Smith home, north of Wolf's Garage, although now reduced to a pile of rubble due to a fire a few years ago, was once a lovely home when the town was young. The well-to-do owner built a board walk loading into town from his home so his daughters could walk back and forth and show off their pretty clothes.

     Mrs. Jessie Deatrick tells many stories of the times when York Springs was young. She told of her father, when the Rebels came through town during the Battle of Gettysburg, taking their horses to the hill so they couldn't be taken. She remembered the blacksmith shop and the wagon shop that burned down. They stood where the late Clair Kennedy property is now. She remembered an old wrinkled lady named Old Peggy who wore a red handkerchief on her head and smoked a corn cob pipe. As a child she was very much afraid of her. However, since her crippled son Charlie was the town shoemaker, she often saw "Old Peggy" since mother and son lived together. She used to go with her father to get her shoes made. She liked to watch Charlie sew the shoes. He used a large needle and linen thread waxed with bees wax to sew the leather. The soles were put on with wooden pegs. The sole leather was soaked in water before he pegged it. The holes were made with an awl. When he had the sole all pegged he would smooth it all off with a file There were seats all around the room of the shoemaker's shop, which the men of the community would occupy on snowy or rainy days to play checkers or talk. She liked to watch and listen to the stories as a child.

     Mrs. Deatrick remembered the toll gate at the end of town, where the horses and buggies had to stop to pay toll in order to pass. Her father's Aunt Phoebie had a school, the first school in town. It was located behind the old stone house (next to the Ele mentary School) in the little brick building.

     The home of Earl Rhodes was built by a John Day who had an old aunt who made her home with them. This aunt had a cow that she would take out along the road to eat grass. She covered the cow with a sheet to keep the flies away. Along with this she held an umbrella over the cow to keep off the sun. Next door to the Days was the artesian well (the fire house is there now) with a large watering trough where people stopped to water their horses. It was also fun to stop and dabble in the water as you walked along, Mrs. Deatrick remembered.

     The town boasted several 'millinery stores, bakeshops, jewelry store, sailor shop, blacksmiths, dentist, even a stone cutting shop. Tobacco was also grown here.

     There was once a family who helped themselves to their neighbors' chickens occasionally by baiting a fishhook with a ,grain of corn, throwing it where the chicken would grab it, pull the line in with the chicken on the end. Thus, roast chicken for Sunday dinner.

     There is the story of a lady of the town who worked very hard. It was her job to tend her husband's horse and clean the stable. She had a large herb garden and knew what ailment each herb was used for. She usually looked like a soiled rag bag except when she went to church. On Sunday mornings she always wore a funny little black hat and was always late for church, but nevertheless she was a very kind old lady. Her husband died a drunkard. They found him dead sitting along a country road in his buggy. His son met the same fate except that he was found sitting in the family outhouse.

     There were debates, spelling bees, and ice cream socials held regularly when the town was young.

     A well-known man of York Springs was Leonard M. Gardner who was born near Hunterstown October 10, 1831, on the farm now known as the home of the Studebaker Wagon Industry. His father was a wagon maker engaged with John Studebaker, a blacksmith, in making wagons. His father invented and patented a cloverseed hulling and cleaning machine which he manufactured and marketed successfully from a small shop in Petersburg, now York Springs. His childhood was spent in York Springs and he attended school there. At fifteen years of age he became an apprenticed printer under the editor of The Star and Danner at Gettysburg. He attended Dickinson College, later became a Methodist minister. At the opening of the Battle of Gettysburg he arrived at York Springs, from there he came by horseback to Gettysburg during the closing days of the battle. In his book he gives a very vivid description of those days. He saw the Grand Review of the Army of the Potomac held in Washington, D. C. after Appomattox. He viewed in Washington the body of the assassinated President Lincoln.

     His book, "Sunset Memories" -- a retrospect of life during the last 70 years of the 19th century -- tells many interesting stories of early York Springs. He tells of a straggling village with no sidewalks and of hard work in his father's wagon shop, of the excitement of seeing the stagecoach pass through the town between Car lisle and Hanover. The driver sitting up on his high seat would blow his horn to announce their arrival. He also tells of two days in early spring when the volunteers, a military company dressed in uniform, paraded up and down the street to the admiration of all the children. The next day the militia without uniforms went through the same maneuvers. This was the great day of the year with several hundred men lined up, without arms, under the control of regimental officers. Lemonade, ginger cakes, and candy were sold along the streets. Whiskey was also freely drunk, resulting in fights, swearing, and drunkeness. Nevertheless, Battailion Day was a day eagerly looked forward to. Mr. Gardner tells of the circus coming to town and the excitement that created. He tells of his fondness for fishing in all the streams around the town -- of the fun they had on the lake they built at "Meadowhill." This lake is still in existence behind the Clyde Kennedy home.

     Another author of our town was Miss Edna Albert who lived just north of York Springs. Her best known, "Little Pilgrim to Penn's Woods" is a story of her own ancestors coming from Germany to settle in Pennsylvania. It is a story of a girl named Selinda. We have an autographed copy in our town library. Miss Edna was quite a colorful and sometimes eccentric lady as she grew older. Her trade marks were a blue cape she always wore and an old Ford car named Peter. She and Peter had all kinds of experiences before she gave up dri ving. One Sunday morning she was late getting to her Sunday School class (which she taught) all because Peter ran off the road through a field, turned over, flipped up on his wheels before continuing on to church. Miss Edna, with hat slightly askew, gave this explana tion of why she was late She never married, but in her yard were seven huge trees which she had planted when she was young. These trees were her sons.

     Another author who spent part of his childhood in York Springs was Thomas Wolfe. His first and best known novel is "Look Homeward Angel." Mr. Wolfe visited here with his cousins. To help commemorate our country's Bicentennial Celebration, I humbly submit these reminiscences of our small corner of America, York Springs, Pennsylvania. Most of this history was related to me by quite a few great ladies of the past while having their hair done. I cannot vouch for the authenticity of this. I only listened.