A Brief History of York, PA

An hour and forty five minutes west of Philadelphia sits York, Pennsylvania. Known as the White Rose City by many of its past and current residents, York is one of the earliest towns in the Commonwealth. Steeped in Colonial architecture and significance, York is a favorite destination for those who love Pennsylvania history. While York County was not one of the trio originally incorporated by William Penn, it did come soon thereafter:

The first county to be organized in addition to the three original ones was Lancaster, which was taken from the territory of Chester, May 10, 1729. Its boundaries then comprised “all the province lying to the northward of the Octararo Creek, and westward of a line of marked trees running from the north branch of the said Octararo Creek, northeasterly to the river Schuylkill.” This new county was first reduced in size August 19, 1749, when York County was cut from its territory; and secondly, on January 27, 1750, when the large county of Cumberland was erected from Lancaster. The limits of Cumberland then included the whole country west as far as the preceding Indian purchase.

Source: Organization of Counties in Pennsylvania

In today’s “A Brief History of” blog post, we’ will be taking a look at York, Pennsylvania: one of the oldest places in Pennsylvania.

Humble Beginnings and German Immigration

It should come as no shock that Germans were among the first to populate Pennsylvania. Especially since Penn toured Germany in the late 1600s to encourage immigration to the new colonies.

In 1683, a group of Quakers and Mennonites from the Krefeld region of the Rhineland founded the city of Germantown, the first recorded German settlement in the English colonies. Mennonites were religious dissenters who believed in adult baptism and absolute pacifism. William Penn had proselytized among Rhine Valley dissenters and invited them to settle in his colony. […] Between 1727 and 1775, approximately 65,000 Germans landed in Philadelphia and settled in the region while some German immigrants landed in other ports and moved to Pennsylvania.

Source: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania

With this wave of immigration, possibly quite unexpected for William Penn, the need for new counties was soon evident as German settlers moved out of the crowded Eastern end of the state in search for new farmland. The immigrants brought with them their families, trades, religions and familiar names.

German immigration fell off significantly after the Revolution and did
not pick up until after the 1820s when a famine set off a new wave of German immigration to North America. There were significant differences between these new German immigrants and those who are today known as the Pennsylvania Germans (those who came before the Revolution). The new German immigrants came from northern and eastern Germany whereas the Pennsylvania Germans tended to come from the southern German principalities.

Source: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania

To touch upon the etymology of York, it was originally called “Yorktown” or “White Rose of York.” “The White Rose of York (Latinised as rosa alba, blazoned as a rose argent) is a white heraldic rose which was adopted in the 14th century as a heraldic badge of the royal House of York. In modern times it is used more broadly as a symbol of the county of Yorkshire.” It is from this which both the county and city of York was named.

The borough of York was incorporated on September 24th, 1787, though the city of York did not come to fruition for another hundred years in 1887. This did not deter York from being on the list of potential capitols for the newly forming United States:

York styles itself the first Capital of the United States, although historians generally consider it to be the fourth capital, after Philadelphia, Baltimore and (for one day) Lancaster. The claim arises from the assertion that the Articles of Confederation was the first legal document to refer to the colonies as “the United States of America”. The argument depends on whether the Declaration of Independence, which also uses the term, would be considered a true legal document of the United States, being drafted under and in opposition to British rule.

Source: Wikipedia on York, Pennsylvania

From here, let’s jump into the industries of York – what continually put this particular Pennsylvanian place on the map well into the 20th and 21st centuries.

Industry and Agriculture

York is known for many things, but one thing that sets it apart from other historical towns in Pennsylvania is the sheer volume of its preserved history. From colonial architecture to Victorian ingenuity, York is a place made famous by not only preserving its history, but by looking forward to what may come.

This is evident in the industries that grew up there: farming, steam engine and railroad manufacturing, automobile manufacturing (which led to York being included along the route for the Lincoln Highway), and the making of paper. It is also the birthplace of the York Peppermint patty so many love to this day. All this is just the tip of the industrial iceberg.

Now I could go into all the architectural details that pepper both borough and city, but I think this particular subject has been discussed quite nicely already by others. Here are just a few of the resources available for your perusal, if architecture is your thing:

Modern York

This will be the shortest section of today’s blog post. Why? Because modern York is still changing, still growing, and reinventing itself constantly. York, though not as large as it was in the early 1900s, still boasts a rather sizable population.

With its connection to American politics, the automobile and other industries, York is well positioned for revitalization. This mission is evident in the City of York’s website, as they look to the future. This “city of firsts” will last for a long time to come. We’ll end this blog post with a cool list of things built or discovered in York:

  • First coal burning locomotive in 1832
  • First escalator in 1956
  • Where oxygen was discovered in 1885
  • The first small electric motor in 1853
  • Part of the first telegraph line 1844-1850
  • Earliest established roads in 1730s

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Budding #historian. Writer of #adventures and #sciencefantasy. Lover of mushrooms and libraries. Fan of #chocolate, #books and Pennsylvania history.
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