Universal York

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York County folks still love their oysters

Polly Waltemyer and oyster by Lewis Miller
Polly Waltemyer and oyster by Lewis Miller

At least 1,800 of people made that bivalve love affair plain Sunday at York County Heritage Trust’s annual Oyster Fest. And it has been a long relationship; our proximity to the Chesapeake Bay allowed the earliest county settlers to enjoy the traditional seafood delicacy.

Folk artist Lewis Miller was quite familiar with local oyster sellers and oyster consumers. In the now out-of-print volume Lewis Miller, Sketches and Chronicles, we find:

“Polly Waltemyer, opening Oysters for a Sup to Gentlemen. Well who are they? I tell you–Mr. John Stroman, George Spangler, John Miller, Adam Leitner, and Jacob Wisenthal. Do the[y] pay you for your trouble. I, before the[y] leave my house, one dollar each of this gentleman. I warn you to give notice.”

Polly is making it clear that her customers are expected to settle their bill by the end of the evening.

John Sponsler and oyster by Lewis Miller
John Sponsler and oyster by Lewis Miller

Lila Fourhman-Shaull and I have just finished editing Lewis Miller’s People for York County Heritage Trust, and it will be available in a few weeks. One of the over 700 personalities illustrated in the book is John Sponsler. Miller added some biographical background to this particular drawing. He says:

“John Sponsler, York, Pa., in West College Avenue. Died October 22, 1875 in his 86th year. He was a oyster dealer for many years, came from Baltimore to York 1839.”

Click here for more on the sometimes colorful Sponsler family.

Note that the oyster’s in Miller’s drawings are much larger than today.

Click this link to a Smithsonian online exhibit for more on Chesapeake oysters.