Only in York County

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Ask Joan: Rainy days and running edition

YUCK to this weather. My friend and tae kwon do partner Dodie and I are planning to run the Memorial Hospital Auxiliary Ladies’ 5K on June 1, and we decided to start practicing with a run tomorrow. It better not be pouring then!

What’s inside

1. More thoughts on Violet Hill
2. Dover area’s Pickets or Picketts
3. Tales from the Tomb memories

1. I’ve shared a few times about the Violet Hill neighborhood and how it got its name.

Some of the recent notes about this area:

Stephen H. Smith of the great local blog YorksPast has posted several items about Violet Hill that I highly recommend!

March 6, 2013: Violet Hill in Spring Garden Township, Part 3; Violet Hill Cafe, Joseph Lopiccolo
Feb. 8, 2013: Violet Hill in Spring Garden Township, Part 2; plus A.B. Farquhar’s Estate, “Edgecomb” (this includes a neat old ad from the Violet Hill Hotel Cafe)
Jan. 21, 2013: Violet Hill in Spring Garden Township; Assorted Maps, Hotel and Schoolhouses

I also heard from Kathy Clunk, who writes, “The name Violet Hill is not complicated! My mother, Margaret Brown Schneider, was born in Violet Hill in 1912 and her father built the house that later became the Shady Dell above Violet Hill on Starcross Road. She tells me (she’s still living in York at 100 years of age and just voted for the first time in her life last November!) that wild violets were everywhere when she was growing up there. Also, in a publication about early 1900s York called ‘Skinny Dipping in the Codorus,’ the author, Raymond Jacob Sechrist, wrote on page 74 about ‘…the toll station at Violet Hill, a little past the hospital. The reason they named it Violet Hill was because the hillside was just loaded with violets in the spring.’ Mr. Sechrist was born in 1899 and this booklet is an account of his recollections.”

Joyce Gotwalt Knisely said, “I was born and lived in Violet Hill for 23 yrs. Where the restaurant sits today, there was a field just full of violets – not the normal kind one sees today in one’s grass, but rather long-stemmed violets, that my father’s cousin and I would pick and bring home and put in a glass on the table. It was a weekly delight I looked forward to. I don’t recall at all the trees you are referring to, but I’d sooner think these violets are the reason it was named Violet Hill – a very precious part of my life. I was born in 1941 and lived just across the creek from where the restaurant sits today. I wish I could see those violets blooming once again in place of a building.”

Kathy Kessler said, “I am a 4th generation resident of this area. The village got its name from the beautiful wild violets (purple and white) growing in abundance in the fields and hills. Many kids would pick bouquets of these flowers for our mothers when we were young. The flowers still grow but not in the quantity they did at one time. If you desire long-lasting, beautiful flowers, consider using artificial flowers. ”

And from Johanna Coombs, I heard, “I have lived in Violet Hill for 55 years, and each spring violets spring up all over my yard. When we first moved here in 1957, the yard and my neighbors was a mass of violets. They grew everywhere. I believe this is how the name came about. There are a lot of hills here. It is a great place to live. We have a little church (Violet Hill United Methodist), Harvey’s Rent-All, shops, restaurants and car lots. The hospital is down the street, pharmacy and snack shops too. Colonial Shopping Center and Subway.”

One reader who didn’t sign his or her letter wrote, “I grew up in Violet Hill and lived there quite a long time. Bierman’s who had a restaurant and ice cream business in York had two ice dams in Violet Hill, where in the winter ice blocks were cut from the dams and stored in an ice house where they were packed in sawdust until summer when they were put in trucks and taken to people who had ice refrigerators. In the summer violets bloomed on the banks of the dams and so that’s how we got the name Violet Hill. Lots of people came and picked violets as long as they bloomed. The great flood of 1933 washed the dams and violets away.”

Joanne (Harris) Nanez said, “How did Violet Hill get it’s name? I’ve attached a short history of Violet Hill that my mother (Doris Harris) wrote in 2001. But look no further then the lovely flower, the violet. … It is sad to say, nothing much is left of the lower end of Violet Hill. The state built the highway in the 1950s, and after that, what was left, was later torn down by York Hospital. The only building that remains is a garage, which York Hospital uses to perform maintenance on its vehicles. Even the one-room school house that was located behind the garage was demolished. I go up the hill behind my house and tried to imagine the way it was before the highway came thru. I was around two years old and really don’t remember anything about this time. I would really like to locate a photo that would have shown Violet Hill with all its houses and buildings. How awful it must have been to see your house and your whole neighborhood wiped out for a road. And today, how many people zoom by in their cars, not knowing that all these families and businesses were displaced. A way of life gone forever. I would like to think that the violets will always bloom in Violet Hill.”

I want to share Joanne’s mother, Doris’, memories of Violet Hill here today as well.

Violet Hill, York, Pennsylvania
By Doris Pfeiffer Harris

Two miles south of center square, York, Pennsylvania, is a little hamlet known as Violet Hill. It is nestled among wooded hills and dells, along the Old Baltimore Pike. A sparkling, rocky stream, Tyler Run, meanders down through it. Historically, there were dams and mills along this stream as it was a good water supply. Down the road was a hotel and stable, the horses stopped there for water. Nearby was the Rouse Woolen Mill, on land grant from the Penns. The Rouses still have the deed with the Penn seal. Here they made blankets for the U.S. military in 1812 and Davy Crockett stopped by for a visit on his way to Washington.

Across the road was the Pfeiffer Brewery. They bought their land from the Rouses. The brewery opened in 1860. The Pfeiffers had a tavern and store by the Old Baltimore Pike. The brewery and home were in the back, across Tyler Run. In June of 1863, General Early entered York and the story is told how his soldiers, who were looking for good beer, heard about the German beer south of the city and went out the Old Baltimore Pike to the A. Pfeiffer brewery. Up the road was a Blacksmith shop and a Feed and Flour Mill. It was rumored that a Lancaster Judge had lived in the old stone home dated 1811. This was before York had a judge of its own. The Feltys lived there and later the Honsermeyers. There was also a large ice pond with a barn-like building to store ice.

Last, but not least, was the Powder Mill. Everyone’s grandfather knew it had blown up, but didn’t know when. You would think that a place like this would have had a name. Well, it had two names. The lower end was Toad Hollow and the upper end was Felty’s. In the early 1920s the road was widened and paved and re-named the Susquehanna Trail. By this time, a lot of homes were built, and in 1925, the year I was born, the electric company put in a sub-station and called it the ‘Violet Hill Station.’ Also, Jacob Rouse, the proprietor of the woolen mill, claimed to have named it ‘Violet Hill.’ Back of the mill was a hill blue with Violets in the spring. The same could be said about the Pfeiffers across the road. Friends and relatives always called it ‘Violet Hill,’ because in the spring they would walk to the hill and pick large bouquets of Violets.

The York Railway Company put a trolley line through Violet Hill that went to little towns south. It was discontinued in 1939 and buses were put into use. In the 1950s the State with its power of eminent domain took the lower half of Violet Hill to build a spur to route I-83 South. This included the historical properties and was a terrible loss.\

We bought a house up the road, overlooking the woods, Tyler Run, and what is left of Violet Hill. Route I-83 is in our backyard.

A Few Post Scripts

Violet Hill was one of York’s first suburbs.

Although Tyler Run was for the most part a benign stream, there was high water and floods. There were two one-hundred-year floods in one century, 1933 and 1972. They were horrific and caused terrible damage and one death. On the bright side, the Rouse family, who were very ingenious, rigged up a generator in the kitchen sink and made electricity to light the Christmas tree. It was the first electric tree lights anyone had ever seen.

The Violet Hill Chapel, the little church in the valley, still holds services on Sunday. In front of the church is a war memorial for the Violet Hill military people who fought in World War II. There are sixty-five names on it. I thank my late father Edward Jacob Pfeiffer who in 1976 made a tape concerning Violet Hill, from which I have gathered most of this material. I still want to find out when the Powder Mill blew up.

July 2001
Doris Pfeiffer Harris (1925-2009)


2. Also in the category of “Why things are named what they are,” I’m following up today on the Pickets/Picketts area of Dover and Washington townships.

My friend Lorie Redding notes: “The Picketts is the Detters Mill area of Dover (Harmony Grove Road and Conewago Road) and could possibly also include the area where Bermudian Creek and Conewago Creek join. This is because the mountain there is called Picket Hill. Here is a link to a topographic map. You’ll also see there is a Pickett Road.”

Jason Gross mentioned that road as well, which I’m familiar with, as my high-school best friend lived nearby! Jason writes, “Pickett Road that intersects Davidsburg Road just west of Harlackers Bridge. It dead ends into Shot Gun Lane just before Bermudian and Conewago Creeks meet. I understand that everything in that general area was called The Picketts. We fished years ago in the Conewago where Davidsburg Run meets it.”

And Eric Lehmayer writes, “Responding to The Picketts. My grandparents had a summer house (near) Detters Mill Road … My dad would take us to The Picketts for family gatherings on the weekends. We had to go over an old covered bridge but it washed away many years ago. The house had a screened porch the entire perimeter of the house, a boat house, and a circular driveway. Great memories from my early childhood. I never learned the origin of The Picketts name.”

Reader Cheryl was the first to offer some idea on the name’s origin. She wriets, “I have an article that states the following: ‘A local outcome of the Civil War was the name of the area known as ‘The Picketts’ in Washington Township, York County, for General Pickett and his men stopped there along the Conewago Creek to rest and water their horses and have them shod.'” She adds, “Pickett Road is located off Davidsburg Road, Dover … Pickett Road has many wooded areas and the Conewago Creek is located just over the banks. Many historians state that General Pickett and his men hid themselves and their horses in the woods close to the creek – thus ‘The Picketts.'”

That said, I heard from Civil War historian Scott Mingus of Cannonball that this is not a true story. “It never happened… it’s an old legend which is totally untrue,” Scott told me. “Not Pickett nor any infantry division from Longstreet’s entire corps ever set foot in York County. Gettysburg was as far east as they went. There’s a community using that name, and over the years somehow it got associated with the CSA general for no good reason. I cover Pickett’s movements in great depth in my new manuscript, The Grandest Affair Ever Set on Foot: The Gettysburg Campaign June 10-July 1 which I am co-writing with J.D. Petruzzi.”

So, still no name origin to be defined! But lots of good memories of it, including this final one from b>Patricia “Pat” Spangler, who writes, “Yes I remember the Picketts. Our family used to own a plot of land where we held our family reunion. Chronister’s. It was along the Conewago Creek. We traveled up Davidsburg Road to the little town of Davidsburg, and turned right on a road across from the town’s barber shop. Traveled perhaps a quarter-mile and turned left following the road to the creek, another left on a dirt road. A friend named Fred Zeigler had a cabin beside us. We had a lot of fun tubing in the creek. I might have to take a ride and check it out.”

3. As a final follow-up today, I want to share some more memories of former TV show Tales from the Tomb.

Robert Jerry Akin writes, “I watched Tales From The Tomb when I was about 8 or 9 years old, around 1957 or 1958. At that time it was sponsored by Mott Awning Co. that was on West Market Street across the street from the Farmers Market. Their slogan on the show was ‘Thanks a lot Mr. Mott’ and Leroy had a fan club called ‘Leroy’s Fang Club’ and I think you could go into Mott’s Awning Company and get the Fang Club cards there. My brothers and my sister and I would watch the Mummy, Frankenstein, Werewolf, Dracula movies and what ever else they would show. It was great.”

Jim Gardner said, “I was about 8 to 10 when we watched ‘Tales from the Tomb’ every Friday night at 11 p.m. It was broadcast from Channel 43 on top of Queen St. hill. I was lucky enough to have a tour of the set with my Cub Scout troop. The absolute highlight of the show was the sponsorship by a beer company. I’m pretty sure it was Piel’s Beer. There was an open pine box coffin as the main prop on the stage. From inside the coffin you would hear the insidious voice with the Transylvanian accent proclaim, ‘Leroy, Leroy, …the tomb is full, but I am empty.’ At this time, Leroy would pop the cap (with the old style bottle opener) and pour the beer down the guzzle of the coffin’s occupant. It wasn’t until my guided tour that I found out that the beer was poured down a tube strategically placed in the coffin. I spent the rest of my childhood (and much of my ‘adult’ life) repeating that line.”

From Bob Leibhart, I heard, “Tales from the Tomb was a WSBA-TV show (more like the early ’60s) I worked at the TV station during this show (it was a hoot) ran camera – photography and whatever else needed to be done – sometimes I was on the show – along with many others – sometimes directed by Mike Houck – we had a great time doing LIVE TV!”

Andrew P. Smith of Springettsbury Township says, “I am writing to you to tell you more about the ‘Tales of the Tomb.’ It aired on Saturday night at midnight. It featured various horror films and other scary things. The host of the show was Roy Bishop who called himself ‘Leroy.’ I had the pleasure of meeting Roy Bishop at a record hop he was hosting in 1959 when I was in high school. He was very cordial. The record hop was for WSBA-AM-910 radio. In the ’50s and early ’60s record hops were a common thing. WSBA was then the leading rock station in the area. THey had dozens of record hops all over Central PA. They put nearly all their employees to work hosting these record hops. One secretary called herself, ‘Miss Nobody of 1959.’ Today, record hops have given way to rock concerts which are priced outrageously high. Record hops never cost more than $1 to get in. Disc jockeys on radio are now more or less a thing of the past. Radio stations largely play only what their consulting service tells them to play. This ruined AM radio and it is now ruining FM radio.”

And finally, I heard from Judy Flinchbaugh of Felton. “I was absolutely thrilled with your column regarding Tales from the Tomb. For years, I’ve asked many people my age (65) if they remembered that program. None did. I truly thought it had a larger following. I always liked the way LeRoy (the crypt keeper) would pop up in the movie of the night. Many times he would be in Dracula’s coffin or be behind tombstones or behind curtains or furniture. It wasn’t hard to fool kids our ages back then. Also – I had my 3 minutes of fame on that show when LeRoy read a poem ‘Dance of the Dead’ I sent to him. I wrote it in red food coloring (blood) to further enhance the horror of it! He loved it! … Thank you … for remembering Tales from the Tomb!”

Thank you all for sharing your memories of this fun show!

Got any questions? Ask Joan using the form at right. I’ll attempt to answer them in a future “Ask Joan” column on this blog. I get a large volume, but I will feature three each week and answer as many as possible!

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