Historical Markers onYork’s Square and by the Susquehanna
My recent York Sunday News column (see below for full column) described the five Pennsylvania State Historical Markers in York’s Continental Square and the stories behind them. Over 2,000 or these blue and gold markers have been placed throughout the state since the program’s inception in 1946.
Previously, historical sites in Pennsylvania were marked by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission (now part of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission) with a large bronze plaque affixed to a boulder. There were 149 of those markers erected from 1914 to 1933.
As far as I can find, only one of these brass and boulder markers stands in York County. It is located at Long Level on Route 624 at Bank Hill Road. It reads:
Captain Thomas Cresap
1703-1790A Marylander. Settled on these Indian lands of Conejohela in 1730 and held them for Lord Baltimore against the Penn Proprietors until 1736, when in the Border War he was burned out of his log house or fort near this marker toward the river – on his plantation “Pleasant Garden” – and carried prisoner to Philadelphia.
As is sometimes the practice, a modern roadside marker has been placed near it, reading:
Thomas Cresap settled here about 1730 on lands claimed by Lord Baltimore of Maryland. Forcibly evicted in 1736 by Penn agents who burned his “fort,” Cresap moved to Western Maryland, where he continued active in frontier affairs and died about 1790.
As I recall, the Cresap boulder was felled by snow and ice about 15 years ago, but the Lower Windsor Township crew did a fine job of re-erecting it.
Here is the York Square column from the York Sunday News:
York Square’s Official Historical Markers
There are plans pending to renovate York’s Continental Square. I was glad to hear that the current proposal may involve moving, but not removing, the five official Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission historical markers that grace the square. See below for details on these markers that commemorate some of the significant events that occurred there since the square was laid out 271 years ago.
The markers, all 2,000+ of them, are part of a statewide program, one of the most successful historical marker programs in the nation. Each Pennsylvania blue and gold marker commemorates an important event in our local, state, or national history on or near the site on which it occurred. In a few words, each provides residents and visitors alike with a glimpse into our shared heritage. As do many others, I stop and read the markers throughout Pennsylvania and the many other states that have similar programs.
PHMC has published guidebooks on the markers and each marker’s location and text is easily found on the PHMC website. Nearly half of the markers are also included on the explorepahistory.com website, with a much longer back story of each subject. You can also access these stories on your mobile phone or device with the free PA Markers app. There are a surprising number of websites, not connected with PHMC, that give information and location on the historical markers of Pennsylvania and other states.
Four of the five markers on York’s Continental Square were dedicated on December 15, 1949. This was the year when the smaller city-type markers (27 by 41 1/2 inches in size) were instituted, so there was a lot of catching up to do. From 1946, when the first modern blue and gold marker was installed, until 1949, all the markers were the larger 45 1/4 by 45 3/4 inch roadside-type. Both types are still being erected, with size depending upon whether they are in towns or in the countryside. The cast metal marker program replaced the earlier practice of marking significant historical sites with a large bronze plaque affixed to a boulder. There were 149 of those markers erected from 1914 to 1933. (An example is the Captain Thomas Cresap boulder and plaque at Long Level.)
A look at the markers in York’s square:
The marker on the southeast quadrant of the square commemorates the Provincial Courthouse (now referred to as the Colonial Courthouse) that sat in the middle of the square. It reads: “Continental Congress held its session, Sept. 30, 1777–June 28, 1778 in Courthouse which stood in the center of this square. Here, Treaties with France and Articles of Confederation were adopted.”
The McClean House marker also refers to that time when the center of York was the center of United States government, with Continental Congress meeting nearby. This site, on the northeast quadrant of the square, is said to be where the U.S. Treasury was deposited while Congress met just a few steps away in the York County courthouse (see above). It reads: “On this site stood the house of Archibald McClean; surveyor for the Penns, county officer, and ardent patriot. Traditionally the Treasury of U.S., 1777-1778, while York was national capital.”
The Globe Inn marker, on the southwest quadrant is also connected with the Revolutionary War era, although nearly fifty years later, through Lafayette’s American tour in 1824-25. Lafayette had come to America in 1777, only two months before Congress had to flee the British occupation of Philadelphia and relocate the capital to York. It relates: “Many distinguished persons stayed at old inn located on this site. Here, in 1825, Lafayette was given a reception. His toast ‘To the Town of York’ is memorable.” Lafayette was touring the United States to revisit many of the places he knew from his service with General Washington. He was familiar with York, as he had met with Congress and the Board of War here in 1777-1778.
Yorkers welcomed Lafayette with open arms during his 1825 visit. An original account book concerning the lavish banquet, with 100 attendees, at the Globe Inn is in the York County Heritage Trust Library Archives. That evening Lafayette offered this toast:
“The town of YORK. The seat of the American Union, in our most gloomy times; may its citizens enjoy, in the same proportion, their share of American prosperity.”
The fourth 1949 marker, in the square’s northwest section, takes us back farther in our history. It marks the spot of the Black Horse Tavern. The text tells us: “Old tavern stood on this site, which was the lot granted to Baltzer Spengler by the sons of William Penn for services in the laying out of York in 1741.”
The marker honoring the adoption here of the Articles of Confederation, on the northeast quadrant of Continental Square, is the newest of the five. It was dedicated on December 19, 2001, as part of the Nine Months in York Town festivities celebrating the 225th anniversary of Continental Congress meeting in York. (Full disclosure–I researched and wrote this marker nomination and participated in its dedication.) It was sponsored by York County Heritage Trust and the York Rotary Club. It reads: “Our nation’s first constitution. Adopted November 15, 1777, in the York County Courthouse, the Articles united the 13 colonies by establishing the government of the United States of America. Remained in effect until replaced by the Constitution in 1789.”
I hope you too really enjoy the markers in the square, as well as those throughout the rest of the county and state and in the states that have similar programs. I appreciate being able to explore the history of other regions so conveniently when I travel. May they all remain in place for many years to come, so that future generations can too learn about their rich heritage.