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Rediscovering York County’s “lost” Civil War/UGRR sites

  • Our shared history is not simply a matter of learning about past events through books, videos, and other media
  • It’s also about exploring the actual ground, buildings, and sites in search of meaning from the past and lessons for today.
  • Tramping York County’s 900+ square miles yields a greater appreciation for what happened here.

Those words come from the first slide of a PowerPoint presentation that Jim McClure and I gave recently for the York Civil War Round Table. It has been said that “all roads lead to York.” And that is precisely why York County played such an important role in both the Underground Railroad and the Civil War, especially during the Gettysburg Campaign. Many highways, an important railroad, a river, and canals all led travelers, settlers, businessman, vacationers, freedom seekers, and, yes, even an invading army into the county.

Many of the sites associated with the Underground Railroad are well known and documented. They include the William C. Goodridge Freedom Center and Underground Railroad Museum, as well as the privately-owned Willis House, now a venue for weddings and events. The Mifflin house in Hellam Township northwest of Wrightsville has been in the news repeatedly in recent years because of the multi-faceted efforts to save the structure and some of the surrounding farmland, a key part of the rapidly disappearing Wrightsville battlefield, the second-largest military engagement in York County history.

Jacob S. Altland house (photo by Dr. Thomas Mingus)

Likewise, several Civil War sites remain — for example, the farmhouse where Chief Burgess David Small, York businessman A.B. Farquhar, and three other civic leaders negotiated York’s surrender with Confederate Brig. Gen. John Brown Gordon still stands in Farmers. The former Central Hotel, a key landmark in the Battle of Hanover and the HQ of Union Brig. Gen. H. Judson Kilpatrick towers over the town’s center square. [A wartime image is the first photo in this blog post.]

However, many sites are lost, forgotten, or rarely discussed or visited.

Here are some of them, as adapted from Jim’s and my talk.


Camp Road, off of Whitcraft Road north of Stewartstown Road, dead ends at I-83. This obscure lane in Shrewsbury Township once led to the home of Samuel and Mariam Berry, conductors in the Underground Railroad in the late 1840s and early 1850s. Their daughter Amanda wrote extensively about the couple’s challenges and successes in helping freedom seekers.

Reuben Becker Jr. painted this depiction of Jeb Stuart’s narrow escape during the battle of Hanover. (Scott Mingus photo; painting is at Guthrie Library)

Confederate Maj. Gen. Jeb Stuart and an aide had to jump their horses over a wide ditch/stream to escape Union cavalry during the June 16 battle of Hanover. That ditch, now shallower and narrower, still exists north of Westminster Road in the suburbs on the south side of Hanover.

Here is a list of those sites that Jim and I discussed, with approximate locations for those of you who may wish to explore these on your own. Note that some of these places are not open to the public, but they were once a part of YorkCo’s Civil War or UGRR story.

  • Samuel and Mariam Berry house (off of Oakwood Lane / Camp Road between the Susquehanna Trail and Whitcraft Road)
  • Ezekiel and Eliza Baptist house (along Steinhour Road in Newberry Township)
  • Prigg v. Pennsylvania – Morgan site (off of Blain Road near Kyleville south of Airville)
  • Unknown Civil War soldier at Emig’s Grove Campgrounds (privately owned and inaccessible without permission; off of Forge Hill Road east of N. George Street in Manchester)
  • Pennville – Stuart’s jump, last slave, etc. (intersection of Westminster Road and Frederick Street south of Hanover)
  • Fetrow murder (Garriston Road south of Lewisberry Road)
  • Unknown Confederate grave at Accomac and other Confederate markers (River Road a mile north of Accomac Inn; there is also a grave marker in Prospect Hill Cemetery near the office)
  • Horse Thief Lane near Hanover (off of Baltimore Pike south of Hanover)
  • Surrender House at Farmers (off of Locust Lane just south of US 30)
  • Flag pole in Centre Square (intersection of Market and George streets in downtown York)
  • P.A. Small’s house in York (the former Lafayette Club across from the Yorktowne Hotel on E. Market St.)
  • Lebanon Cemetery (N. George Street in North York)
  • Memorial for Black fighting man at Wrightsville (at Mount Pisgah Cemetery off of Mulberry St.)
  • ‘Burned Bridge’ in Columbia (Front Street)
  • Detter’s Mill (off of Harmony Grove Rd. northwest of Dover in Warrington Township; six locals who lost horses to the Rebels murdered a Black man associated with the Confederate forces that passed through the region)
  • Mifflin House (Hybla Lane west of Wrightsville)
  • Civil War rifle pits (on private property near the Black Bridge; others are on private property north of Nixon Park).

To read about York County’s Civil War history, pick up a copy of Jim’s and my various books on the subject. Here’s one example.