York Opens Arms to British Guests in 1927
Browns of York, England welcomed to Pennsylvania
You just never know when new information comes to light. Just recently the York County Heritage Trust Library/Archives was contacted by a descendant Henry Rhodes Brown, twice Lord Mayor of York, England. The family found a diary kept by Brown’s wife, Clara during their 1927 trip to America. Great-granddaughter Jackie generously emailed the York portion of the diary, which her cousin Linda had just transcribed.
The family wondered if anyone in York knew of any photographs taken of the Browns while they were here, since Clara says they were often photographed. The image above, from a Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday magazine section, was found in the YCHT files. The family was delighted to see an emailed scan of it. Jackie replied that in the photos of Henry they have he looks rather stern, so it was nice to see him smiling. She doesn’t think any of the ladies in the photo are of Clara. If anyone happens to have photos of the 1927 Sesquicentennial that might have the Browns in them, please contact me through the comment section below or contact YCHT Library Director Lila Fourhman-Shaull.
Clara and Henry (who she calls Harry) were sent by York, England to represent that city during the huge Sesquicentennial celebration of Continental Congress meeting in York during 1777-1778. Brown had been the Lord Mayor of York 1913-1914 and would be again in 1932-1933. He was serving as an alderman in that city during the time of his visit to York, Pa. and had been chosen unanimously to represent his city here. Henry was the founder of Browns of York, still a flourishing English department store, a firm he started as a drapery and clothing warehouse in 1890.
The Browns were, as they both commented, treated like royalty here themselves. They thoroughly enjoyed their enthusiastic, sometimes exhausting reception, and Yorkers took them to heart. See my recently York Sunday News column below for more details gleaned from Clara’s diary and York Gazette and Daily news coverage:
British Guests Given a Royal Welcome in York
York County went all out in 1927 to celebrate the Sesquicentennial of Congress meeting in York. The streets of York were decorated with bunting and paintings of patriots, the parades covered several days and a pageant at the fairgrounds lasted for hours.
Former Lord Mayor of York, England, Henry Rhodes Brown, and his wife Clara were invited to represent that city as honored guests during the festivities, boarding the Olympic ocean liner on September 30, 1927. A Brown descendant recently shared a transcription of Mrs. Brown’s diary of the whirlwind trip with the York County Heritage Trust Library/Archives. It recounts the enthusiasm with which Yorkers welcomed them and how impressed the Browns were in return. As Mrs. Brown said,” Really these things make me wonder if I am really myself or some person of great importance, going through this wonderful experience.” News accounts in the York Gazette and Daily, combined with the diary, paint a vivid account of the hospitality enjoyed by the visitors.
After docking in New York the evening of October 4, the Browns were met by the welcoming party: S. Forry Laucks, Chairman of the Sesquicentennial Committee; York Mayor E. S. Hugentugler and banker Raymond Jones, who represented New York Mayor Walker. The Browns were surprised to have a police motorcycle escort to the Barclay Hotel, where they slept on silk sheets in “a millionaire’s suite.” They were even more surprised next day when the police escort conducted them through the streets of New York, along with Laucks, Hugentugler and Jones, to city hall. They were greeted by acting mayor Judge McGee, as Walker was at what Mrs. Brown termed “a baseball match.” Mounted police had to clear their way to leave as New Yorkers crowded around to see who the important persons were.
The Browns and the Yorkers finally started toward York in Laucks’s Rolls-Royce, stopping for the night at Green Hill Farm hotel near Philadelphia. Clara notes that they got a call there from the York press around midnight. Continuing on the next morning, Clara thought the Pennsylvania countryside lovely, though different from home. She commented on the different colored houses, no hedges or railings around gardens [yards], the wide Susquehanna, drop-down gates at railroad crossings and stop lights that changed from red to green every 40 seconds.
The party was met just west of Wrightsville by a state motorcycle policeman and York’s Chief of Police, A. H. Stevens, in a flag-decorated car. Chauncey T. Kling of the Gazette and Daily rode with the chief, perhaps accounting for the detailed newspaper coverage. The Browns quickly registered at the new Yorktowne Hotel as guests of Laucks. Back into cars after lunch, still escorted by the police, they were taken to the York Fair. Mrs. Brown describes it: “The Fair is all the shows in one. The Flower show, the Cattle Show, the Races and the entertainments and funfair. Some amazing and weird things to ride on, or climb on, or swing on.” After waiting for a horse race to finish, the Browns were driven around the track and taken to a center box while a band played “God Save the King” and 9,000 Yorkers cheered from the grandstand. They watched entertainment: elephants, pigs and acrobats on stage and chariot racing, horse racing and auto polo on the track. Too tired to go to a ball that evening, Clara went to bed in their “lovely suite of rooms in the new hotel,” but Harry (as Clara calls him) went for a ride with Mahlon N. Haines, accompanied by J. Horace Rudy and newspaperman Kling. She praised the hotel staff, which accommodated her with a real teapot, not a little net bag of tea and jug of hot water.
The days were packed with activities for both the Browns, separately and together. Laucks and John E. Baker took them to Harrisburg to meet Governor John S. Fisher and tour the Capitol building. Fourteen hundred students cheered them at William Penn High School, where Harry gave a speech. They reviewed the parades and attended the spectacular pageant, all of which they enjoyed immensely. The Browns were entertained in the homes of leading York families and taken to the “water works,” where the trees were ablaze with fall colors. They appreciated a guided tour of Gettysburg. While Harry was at male dominated functions, Clara was entertained by women. She was taken to a picnic at a bungalow in the woods by YWCA members and to lunch at a country club, probably Hanover. She was so impressed by the prizes abundantly handed out there for bridge and in drawings that she thought that “they must have more money than they know what to do with.”
Clara comments on how often photographs and movies were taken of them. They were surprised one evening to see themselves on the screen at the Strand Theater. Even though her husband founded Browns of York, England, still a leading department store, she was delighted with the “comfy and smart” dress in a “new color and style” that she bought at a shop in the Yorktowne and wore to her very next engagement–a trip to Maryland to meet the Mayor of Baltimore and to the Pageant of the Iron Horse, a fair and parade celebrating the centennial of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
They were impressed by the Yorktowne, where canaries were even brought in to entertain them at breakfast, but also enjoyed two nights of quiet with Forry Laucks at his impressive new house near Wrightsville. Besides touring Laucks’s “big and wonderful plant,” York Safe and Lock, they toured a hosiery factory, where Clara was given three pair and the “false teeth factory,” where they received a miniature upper plate. Clara would have liked to accept the offer of Pilot Adams to take them up to see York from the sky, but the Mayor said they didn’t have the time.
Eleven packed days after they arrived, the Browns boarded a train for Washington, DC to continue a tour of North America. That day’s entry showed that she was impressed by the U.S. Capitol and Union Station, but their hotel was poor, “compared to those we have been in.”