Confederate campsite near York
The York Valley Inn once stood at 2805 E. Market Street near York in what is now Springettsbury Township (part of Spring Garden Township during the American Civil War). This photograph from the archives of the Library of Congress shows the stone structure in the middle of the 20th century. It was a popular resting spot for nearly two centuries, providing food, drink, and refreshment for weary travelers along the York-Wrightsville Turnpike (later the Lincoln Highway / Route 462 / Market Street).
Constructed of local fieldstone in the early 18th century, the York Valley Inn was a well-known landmark in the York area. An English Quaker settler named John Griest originally built a two-story square limestone blockhouse in 1738 for protection against marauding Indians. It formed the basis for what became the York Inn. For part of the time, the building was known as the Beard Tavern (first licensed in 1754). In some early accounts, the inn was a favorite meeting house for the members of the Continental Congress in 1777-78, Abraham Hiestand bought the Inn in the 1790s. Some historians suggest the old German-style vaulted stone cellar was used as a hiding place for the Underground Railroad in the early 1800s.
On the early afternoon of Sunday, June 28, 1863, more than 1,000 road-weary Confederate soldiers camped in the fields surrounding the old inn. They had marched from their overnight camp around the hamlet of Farmers in Paradise Township through the town of York, not stopping to eat their noon meal until arriving at the prosperous inn.
Postcard of the Old York Valley Inn from early in the 20th Century; note the classic cars. The tracks (lower left) for the York-Wrightsville interurban rail system were dismantled in 1933 when the turnpike was widened. Author’s collection.
The unexpected visitors from the feared Army of Northern Virginia were predominantly Georgians, with a sprinkling of Alabamans in the ranks of the infantry brigade of Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon, a future Governor of Georgia and U.S. Senator. Accompanying the infantrymen were a battery of Virginia artillery and a small battalion of Virginia and Maryland cavalrymen. General Gordon himself did not accompany his column at the old inn. He had attended a morning staff meeting in downtown York with his superior officer, Maj. Gen Jubal A. Early, and had ridden belatedly with his staff toward his brigade’s resting stop. However, he paused at “The Cedars,” a farmhouse along the turnpike, for his midday meal.
Detail from an 1876 Atlas of York County which shows the old inn (then known as the Locust Grove House) under the ownership of Abraham Hiestand’s son. Note the adjacent farm of Albert Smyser; he was a teenager during the Gettysburg Campaign and boldly pursued the Rebels to personally plead with General Gordon for the return of his favorite horse, which had been seized by the Rebels.
The York Valley Inn is long gone, and the fields have largely been paved over to make way for the urban sprawl that consumed the once pastoral region. Where Confederates once camped and admired the lush scenery now stands a Wal-Mart and other modern shopping extravaganzas. Many of the old field stones used in the historic inn were taken to the Susquehanna Memorial Gardens in York Township and reused to construct the cemetery’s office building.
Note that this stone inn should not be confused with the Olde York Valley Inn, a sprawling circa-1950’s165-room motel eastward in the 3800 block of E. Market Street. They shared the name and the service for travelers, but little else.