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Rebel sympathizers waved handkerchiefs from historic York hotel

The old National Hotel still stands on the northeastern corner of Market Street (foreground) and Beaver Street (left) in downtown York, Pennsylvania. It has been a landmark with its distinctive porches for more than 150 years.

Built before the Civil War as “White Hall” and then as the “Tremont House,” the hotel was a popular stopping place for travelers passing through York, helped by its location on the main east-west route (the turnpike from Chambersburg and points west to Philadelphia) and its proximity to the north-south route from Harrisburg to Baltimore (now George Street). It was also a short walk to York’s train station. Among the more renowned antebellum guests was English writer Charles Dickens (more on his visit later in this post). For many years it was the largest hotel in York.

In the early 1860s, German immigrant Frederick Stallman (1820-1890), a wealthy dealer in cattle, purchased the Tremont House, renovated it in 1863, and renamed it as the National Hotel. That same year, several regiments of veteran Confederate soldiers from Georgia marched past the building as they headed through York on Sunday, June 28, 1863, en route to Wrightsville in an attempt to seize the Columbia Bridge. Several guests at the hotel proved to be controversial in their actions.

Here is the account.

In this undated photo from the collection of the York County Heritage Trust, guests can be seen on each of the porches. A few years before this photo was taken, other visitors lined these same railing and greeted Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon’s passing infantrymen.

York attorney James W. Latimer, a staunch pro-Lincoln Republican, briefly noted in a letter to his brother, “You inquire how people behaved here &c. The whole town, men, women, & children were in Main St. when the Rebs came in. People turned out en mass to receive them. There was no expression of sympathy as they marched thro’ town except in a very few instances. Handkerchiefs were waved from the Tremont House and Washington House, and from old Pete Ahls and Dr. Nes’s.”

An old history of York County by George R. Prowell relates, “In 1863, when General Early, with the advance of Lee’s army, captured York, Mr. Stallman was one of the leading citizens. When Early made a demand for $100,000, the sum of $28,000 was raised by the citizens before the Confederate force was recalled toward Gettysburg. Daniel Hartman, Frederick Stallman, and a third citizen, whose name is not recalled, counted out the money that had been collected by the citizens, in the presence of Gen. Early at his headquarters in the sheriffs office in the County Court House.”

Here is another article from Prowell’s book delineating the history of the once famed hotel.

“The site of the National Hotel was known for more than half a century as Dinkel’s corner. At this place during the Revolution and for several years before and after, Peter Dinkel conducted a general store. He was a man of attainments and was identified with public affairs in and around York throughout his whole business career. During the Revolution he contributed money and equipments for some of the soldiers who left York to join the patriot army.

In the year 1828 Ziba Durkee, a native of Vermont, purchased this corner and erected a three-story building of the same length and breadth as the present National Hotel. Some of the conservative people of York pronounced Ziba Durkee’s enterprise a lavish expenditure of money. There seemed, however, to be a need of a new hotel, well conducted, in the borough, and the original proprietor prospered in the business. He was a brother of Daniel Durkee,who served as president judge of the Courts of York County from 1835 to 1845. A tallpole stood at the street corner. From its top an elliptical shield was hung on which was painted the words, ” White Hall,” the name of the hotel.

The most notable guests at the White Hall tavern during its’ whole history came in the spring of 1842. This was Charles Dickens, who was accompanied by his wife. The great novelist was then making a tour of the United States. He came from Baltimore to York on the railroad which had been finished three years before. On the following day Mr. Dickens and his wife went to Harrisburg on the stage driven by Samuel Stubbins, a noted stage driver, later an employee of the firm of P. A. & S .Small. In his American notes, written after his return to England, Mr. Dickens stated that the best beef steak he had eaten in America was prepared for his breakfast at the White Hall hotel in York.

After Ziba Durkee retired from the hotel there were a number of successors, including John Welsh, Daniel Ahl and David Miller. John R. Donnell, a noted Democratic politician, owned the hotel when it was called the Tremont House. Sometime before the Civil War, Frederick Stallman owned the hotel and changed its name to the National House. John R. Donnell conducted the hotel business during the war. In 1863 Mr. Stallman superintended the construction of Masonic Hall, adjoining the National on the north, and the same year renovated the hotel. He added one story and an observatory to it, and placed balconies on the sides facing Beaver and Market Streets.

In 1865 Mrs. West, from Towson, Maryland, became proprietress of the hotel and during the summer months she entertained a large number of guests from the south. Orlanda Gray was the next owner of the hotel property and also kept it for several years when he sold it to Daniel Rupp and Alexander K. Frey. In 1904 Edwin T. Moul purchased the property from the heirs of the former owners, and made many important improvements. F. T. Metzgar conducted the hotel business here for a period of fifteen years. He was succeeded by W. A. Riest. In 1905 A. F. Rowe, who has had a successful experience as a hotel keeper, became the proprietor. He refurnished the rooms and made numerous improvements.”