An 1873 postwar journey through York County
In July1873 the editor of The Gardener’s Monthly magazine and a party of his companions traveled via train from New York City to Philadelphia, and from there through Lancaster and York counties down to Baltimore and Washington D.C. The total elapsed time was 9 hours, including a few short stops along the way. The traveling party then headed for Harpers Ferry for the evening, and then proceeded west. They passed through lush countryside, such as Marion Post’s early 20th century photo seen above (courtesy of the Library of Congress)
The vivid description of York County reflects the region’s rapid return to prosperity following the devastating 1863 Confederate raids. Ten years later, a new covered bridge spanned the Susquehanna River to replace the one burned by Union militia to prevent the Confederates from entering Lancaster, and dozens of smaller railroad bridges had replaced the ones burned by Rebel cavalry. Farmers had long since returned to their fields, and the postwar boom in southern Pennsylvania had helped recreate wealth.
Here is the editorial, from the November 1873 issue of The Gardener’s Monthly.
He describes the intense feelings of admiration he and his friends have for the Susquehanna as the passenger train crosses the wide river.
“[We] found ourselves well on towards the Susquehanna River, and we were soon crossing the bridge of over a mile in length, recently built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in the place of the one destroyed during the war, when the Southern army made its appearance at the western end.
There is nothing so varied in the world as river scenery. We travel over thousands of miles of land, and the details seem very much alike. Here it is flat, there undulating, and now perhaps mountains. We know pretty much before we come to a land scene, what the general features are to be. We look for novelty in the details, and anticipate the pleasure which this minor variety gives. It is not so with river views. No two are alike – each has characteristics exclusively its own. For all this a first view of the Susquehanna always excites the admiration of the most experienced traveler.
Only that beauty must have been a leading element of creation, such a boundless waste of water never would have had an existence. A mile wide here a hundred miles from its mouth, and extending back for, perhaps, three hundred miles into the country, yet abounding with rocks and ledges, and entirely unnavigable through its whole circuit. Beautifully wooded islands abound and have furnished materials to many a romance writer; and the hills on either side clothed with a luxurious forest vegetation, leaves nothing for the imagination to wish for.
Our party, however, was not all sentiment. Observing one wrapped in deep meditation at a window as the car went over the bridge, we joined him in order to share with him the deep poetic feeling we knew was swelling in his breast; but was somewhat taken aback, when pointing to a mass of green bushes on the water’s edge, he exclaimed, ‘I do wish I had some of those papaws to eat, they are quite as good to my taste as the best West Indian bananas.’ We wished he had, and went away.
We leave the river at once on crossing, and run southwest towards York, one of the most thriving towns in Pennsylvania, and well known to our readers as the locale of the extensive nurseries of E. J. Evans & Co. The whole of this ride is one of great beauty. The land in this part of the country is so rich, that it produces timber of magnificent proportions, while the hill-sides are so steep and rocky, that it will never be used for anything else but timber purposes; so literary fame; so that if forests are the greatest conservators of climate, the great keystone of the Union will always be as she is now, one of the healthiest and best blocks in the national arch.
At York, our engine, which was new and had worked so poorly as to put us an hour behind time, was changed; and we sped on at an enormous rate, hardly noting when we passed Hanover Junction, the jumping off place for Gettysburg, but a short distance away.
From Hanover junction we go south again, striking the Gunpowder River, and at the rate of sixty miles an hour, timed by the writer’s watch against the mile poles, we soon came within a short distance of the city of Baltimore. The entrance to most cities is through suburbs, characterized by all sorts of vile odors and miserable scenes. Here we run through a beautiful park, containing lovely lakes which serve the double purpose of feeding waterworks and aiding in a beautiful picture; and indeed this is all we see of Baltimore, for after passing this we enter the ‘big tunnel,’ and leave the famous old city overhead.
A short cut by way of the Relay House, brings us to Washington, making the time from New York less than nine hours. The number of miles is greater than by any other route, but the tunnel saves an hour usually spent in horsing through Baltimore; and then the excellent manner in which the Pennsylvania Company makes its road-beds, enables fast time to be made with entire safety. The great beauty of the scenery will always make it a favorite line of public travel.”