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Battle to save Underground Railroad Station marks 154th anniversary of Rebel invasion of York County

Today marks the 154th anniversary of the beginning of the Confederate invasion of York County, Pennsylvania. Lieutenant Colonel Elijah V. White’s 35th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry, entered Hanover, where a delegation of city fathers had assembled to meet the oncoming Rebels. After spending an hour raiding the stores, severing telegraph lines, and stealing horses, the Southern troops rode through Jefferson to Hanover Junction, where they burned the turntable and nearby bridge, torched railroad cars, and cut the telegraph wires before camping near today’s Spring Grove in the field surrounding what is today known as the Hoke House.

Simultaneously, White’s superior, Virginia Major General Jubal A. Early, a tobacco-chewing, profane but talented division commander, led more than 6,000 infantrymen into York County from the west in two powerful columns. His main force camped at Big Mount. His second column, following the turnpike from Gettysburg to York, under Brigadier General John Brown Gordon, marched through Abbottstown to Farmers Post Office. Gordon’s ultimate goal was the long covered bridge at Wrightsville, where on the next day he would fight a small battle to grab that bridge, one that saw him plant artillery next to the historic Mifflin House, once a major stop on the local Underground Railroad. Union state militiamen from Philadelphia were using the grounds as a campsite; some of Gordon’s men would later do the same.

Photo of the Mifflin house and barn by Dr. Thomas M. Mingus, a college professor.

Both of those historic homes, the Hoke House and the Mifflin House, are threatened with eventual destruction from developers. Of the two, the Mifflin House (owned by Jacob Huber when the Virginia artilleryman fired two cannon multiple times from its lawn at the Union entrenchments surrounding Wrightsville) is the most imminently threatened. Both need saved. Both are important to the story of the Civil War in York County. The Mifflin House also was one of the first, and arguably the highest volume, stations on the early Underground Railroad from the very early 1800s to the 1840s. Later stations, such as the restored Goodridge house in York, likely surpassed the Mifflin House as the volume of freedom seekers swelled in the late 1840s and 1850s, but the iconic stone farmhouse on the knoll west of Wrightsville stands alongside it in its importance and heritage.

A hearing will be held tonight in Hellam Township to determine if the current owners, in collaboration with a well-known York County builder, can forever destroy one of the last vestiges of this important part of African-American history, one of the few remaining well-documented stations on the path to freedom. That cannot, and must not, be allowed. The public interest far outweighs yet another industrial park, which, frankly, could have been located at any other exit off US 30 in Lancaster or York counties, not by destroying a Civil War battlefield and shamelessly ripping down a major Underground Railroad way station. Supporters of saving the Mifflin House will pack the township hall to show the government officials that the people of York County, and our children and grand-children, need this house saved, and time given to develop a plan to interpret and mark it properly for future generations. It is the least we can do to honor these brave freedom seekers who had escaped cruel captivity, and the gentle Quaker family who sheltered them.

Save the Mifflin House. Save the Hoke House. Save our heritage.