York’s Billmeyer and Small Made More than Railway Cars
1903 Atlas of York
The Billmeyer and Small Co. was one of the leading railroad car manufacturers in the country from the 1850s until the very early 1900s, building freight and passenger cars. General Jubal Early is said to have threatened to burn the car works during the Confederate occupation of York in June 1863 in an effort to get Yorkers to come up with more cash for the southern army.
There aren’t many York-made railroad cars around anymore. They can sometimes be found in railroad museums or on historic railways like the Durango & Silverton Railway in Colorado, where you can ride in a fancy Billmeyer and Small passenger car called the Nomad. It is allegedly the oldest (1878) oldest private car in daily railroad service.
Billmeyer and Small became a giant in the manufacture of railway cars, but they also made more ordinary items that are still part of many area homes today.
In 1857 Billmeyer & Small advertised their York Sash and Door Factory near the Northern Central RailRoad Station. The ad reads:
As we purchase our material for CASH, we can offer to the public the following articles at the lowest market prices:
50,000 light Sash of all sizes from 8 by 10 to 12 by 20–first and second qualities.
500 Panel Doors of the various sizes, plain and moulded.
500 pair plain and moulded, of the various sizes.
500 pair plain and pivot Blinds on hand, and to be made to order, and all other
For Building purposes for sale at the lowest market prices.
I’ll write more on the Billmeyer and Small Co.later, focusing on their railway cars, but briefly: In 1845, David E. Small, after working for cousins P.A. & S. Small at their hardware and related businesses opened a lumber yard with his father Henry. In 1852, D.E. Small partnered with Charles Billmeyer to build railroad cars.
Sashes and doors continued to be part of the business into the 20th century. The 1903 Roe’s Atlas of York shows a sizable building dedicated to their manufacture in the midst of one of the two large Billmeyer and Small car works then operating in York. They must have supplied many thousands of sashes, doors and shutters to York county builders during those 50 years. Even though most of the thousands of the company’s railway cars are gone, the workmanship of their craftsmen will continue to serve for generations in the windows and doorways of many of our homes.