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This photo, provided by Joe Brillhart from the YMCA's archives, shows a view of early site-prep work for the current YMCA complex between Market and Philadelphia streets in York.

Following up on York’s American House

We’re coming up on a year of coronavirus changes, although it feels like a decade sometimes since the stay-at-home order that came in mid-March 2020.

A friend posted on Facebook asking if we recalled the last “normal” thing we did. I went digging through past Only in York County blog posts and realized that my last pre-COVID column was published online on March 10, 2020, sharing some neat, serendipitous information about York’s former American House Hotel on the corner of West Market and Newberry streets.

That led me to my inbox, where I realized I had several American House follow-ups tucked away. And since I was on a roll, thinking about “the before-times,” I thought that might make a good topic for this week’s column!

The American House was owned and operated by Cornelius B. Landes from 1894 to the early 1920s. At some point after that, it became the site of the (also now-former) Western National Bank. Even later, the YMCA of York and York County came to own the property, and it’s been leasing it to a group called The Fortress Initiative, a technology hub where the goal is to train groups of students on topics like robotics and artificial intelligence.

That’s a huge change from the days of Cornelius’ hotel! His great-granddaughter, Helen Z. Loucks, had recalled that the hotel was also known for its livery stable, and one set of enterprising readers even found me a photo of that!

We’ll get to that in a little, but first, I wanted to share a quick note from Kitty Everard, who pointed out that I mentioned that Western National Bank was chartered in 1875, but also the Market-and-Newberry location was the American House until the early 1920s. I was not very clear, but I believe the bank opened at another location first and then moved to this site later on. I would certainly be interested to know if any readers know a previous address for it!

Kitty also wrote, “The American House looks like a beautiful building. I would imagine it was torn down, because the bank building looks nothing like the American House. Wouldn’t it be great to go back to that time, walk around and see so many different sights? I often wonder how it smelled,” she concluded.

To the topic of all those construction changes came a letter from Joe Brillhart, who described himself as part of a group of “YMCA long-timers,” along with “history major CEO Larry Richardson and old York history buff Doug Stein.” Joe wrote on behalf of the group after reading last year’s column, providing a lot of new information on that block’s history that I am grateful to be able to share today!

Joe began, “While I’m an old guy, I’m not THAT old, and my memories of the property only go back to the 1940s when I was privileged to accompany my dad to the Western National Bank, and marveled at how impressive it was when I was allowed to easily move the huge steel vault door with my little finger. So your column for all of us was one of those reminders that, yes, life really did exist before even our oldest remembrances.”

He continued, noting that after the three saw that column, “immediately we went to the Y Archive to see if there was anything in there that might support or expand on the American House. And this is what we found: When the Y structure was built in 1925 (till then it was in the 100 block of West Market Street), some farsighted member of the building committee contracted a professional photog to document the project’s progress from start to finish. That guy did a GREAT job, and the album of about 30 8- by 11-inch glossies remains a key archived artifact.”

That’s where some of the images I’m sharing with today’s column came from, in fact!

This photo, provided by Joe Brillhart from the YMCA’s archives, shows a view south from Philadelphia Street of early site-prep work for the current YMCA complex.

Joe wrote, “From about mid-pic to the right are all the back of Market Street rear buildings abutting Clarke Alley. As Landes owned the first two lots west of Newberry Street, it is probable the first two buildings shown here were behind the American House. Note that at first blush I thought that because of the emitted black smoke, there was an actual ‘steam shovel’ in the pit toward the right edge. But the several internal combustion engines also shown on the premises may belie that impression. What do you think?”

(Joe, I have to admit, what I think is that I am NOT the person to ask about the history of heavy equipment. The only powerful shoveling I know much about is that of getting Pennsylvania Dutch food into my mouth, so if anyone out there has thoughts on this, I’d love to be enlightened!)

This is a closeup look at the great livery stable sign behind the American House courtesy of Joe Brillhart and the YMCA archives.

Joe also shared a photo of a view west from Newberry Street, prominently featuring the neighboring structure with signage stating “Joe Kindig, Horse and Mule Stables, Always 100 to 200 Head on Hand.” Modern-era Joe recognized that name and noted, “That’s a clear reminder that before the two Joe Kindigs were ever in the antique business, old Joe and his father Eli were very prominent horse and mule dealers throughout the area.”

Finally, Joe provided a historian’s dream – a copy of a plate section from the 1903 Roe’s Atlas of the City of York.

He wrote that it shows the same area 22 years before the Y construction and added, “Note the two lots owned by Landes (301-307), the significant Kindig properties all north of Clarke Alley, and Jos. A. Ocker’s City Hotel facing 335-37 W. Market St. (recently nicely rehabbed by Dylan Bauer and his crew at Royal Square).”

Joe Brillhart also shared this 1903 map of the same area.

Joe further noted, “If you face the City Hotel (now bordered by the Y’s parking lot) you can’t help but notice the horse and carriage portal on the right-hand side that leads to its rear. While it’s speculative on my part, in light of Kindig’s extensive livery facility, it could very well be that the American House and the City Hotel may have outsourced their stabling business to their big back neighbor.”

I can’t say for sure, but I think I’m inclined to agree with Joe’s assessment there too.

And, he concluded, “Anyway, Larry and those of us at the Y are most appreciative of your column as it helps to lend some new perspective to the history of its currently most prominent structure. We hope our info above also helps to add to that story.”

Joe, it certainly does – as did the reminder that even years like the one we’ve all just been through will someday be “history” too. I’m grateful that I’ve had the ability to spend a lot of this year making new and different memories, and documenting the older ones of both myself our county. Having something to keep me busy is no small thing, and I’m hopeful that soon we’ll get to tell the next phase of the story for this property!

Have questions or memories to share? Email me at joan@joanconcilio.com or write to Ask Joan, York Daily Record/Sunday News, 1891 Loucks Road, York PA 17408. We cannot accept any phone calls with questions or information.

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