You Could Get There From York County
Dr. William Bigler stars in one of my favorite examples of how easy it was to get just about anywhere from here with the public transportation of over a century ago. At 2:30 p.m. February 5, 1890, Dr. Bigler simply stepped on the train near his home in Springvale (Windsor Township). A few days later he arrived at his son’s residence in Orlando, Florida. Simple, huh?
(See below for my previous Sunday News column on the multi-talented Bigler family.)
The “RAILROAD TIME TABLE” below from the November 20, 1877 Gazette shows how often trains left and arrived at York on the several railroads that connected here. That doesn’t even begin to address the multitude of stops made at every little hamlet along the way.
“Departure of Passenger Trains from York.
NORTHERN CENTRAL RAILWAY.
On and after Monday, Nov 11, 1877, trains will leave York as follows:
Mail, 11:30 A.M., Daily except Sunday.
Fast Line, 2:16 P.M., Daily.
Harrisburg Express, 8:15 P.M., Daily except Sunday.
Oyster Express, 9:34 P.M. Daily except Sunday.
Cincinnati Express, 11:37 P.M., Daily.
Fast Line, 5:27 A.M., Daily.
Washington Express, 7:55 A.M., Daily except Sunday.
Mail, 3:36 P.M., Daily except Sunday.
Day Express, 5:27 P.M., Daily.
PEACH BOTTOM RAILWAY.
Leave York, Freight and Passenger, 7:05 A.M.
Leave York, Passenger and Mail, 3:50 P.M.
Leave Delta, Passenger and Mail, 6:30 A.M.
Leave Delta, Freight and Passenger, 3:45 P.M.
FREDERICK DIVISION, P. R. R. [Pennsylvania Railroad]
On and after Monday, November 19, 1877, trains will run as follows:
Leave York for Frederick 8:05 A.M.
Leave York for Hanover 10:55 A.M.
Leave York for Frederick 3:32 P.M.
No. 8 Passenger train arrives from Philadelphia at 8:40 P.M.
6:10 A.M., 11:30 A.M., 4:10 P.M., 9:15 P.M.–Take the 6:10 A.M., 11:30 A.M. and 4:10 P.M. trains, for Philadelphia.
No. 3 Passenger train arrives from Hanover at 2:16 P.M. and remains here until 4:10 P.M.
For other posts concerning York County railroads and railways see: Historical Mitigation Comes to York., Tragic Good Friday Train Wreck at Glen Rock., Hermits in Hellam and Rabbits at Delta., 1908 Hanover Trolley Line Comes Back to Life in 2008.,
William Bigler: Physician, Writer, Tourist, and Breeder of Carp
Standoffs in the Pennsylvania state legislature are nothing new. Dr. William B. Bigler of York County was a state representative during the record breaking “extra session” of 1883. The regular session that year adjourned June 6. On June 7 Governor Robert Pattison called a special session to reapportion Pennsylvania into new state Senatorial and Legislative districts, as well as Congressional and Judicial districts. Reapportionment was required by law after each census, and this hadn’t been done. Many of the legislators probably shared the frustration of which Dr. Bigler wrote in letters to the editor of the York Gazette, but there was still no compromise. Republicans were in the majority in the state senate and Democrats in the house. The session dragged on until finally recessed December 6, with only the Judicial reapportionment completed. After his one term, Dr. Bigler gave up political office, but still found many avenues to pursue in addition to his medical practice.
William Brooks Bigler was born in Fairview Township in 1833 and grew up in the area where the looping Yellow Breeches creek separates York and Cumberland counties. He taught school in Cumberland County, then came to Chanceford Township to read medicine with Dr. Benjamin Porter, husband of his sister Sarah Jane. He graduated from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1865 and married Amelia Boyer the same year. The 32-year-old then opened his own practice, first in East Prospect and then Springvale.
Bigler found time to be a regular contributor to newspapers in York County and surrounding areas. His output varied from poems to local history to avid expressions of his Democratic views. One of the most curious literary ventures was “A Study of the Heavens: Poetical Astronomy,” published in serial form for the Wilkes Barre Sunday Leader. Each part was a poem giving facts on one of the planets or the sun, meant to make it easier for children to learn about the solar system.
In the 1880s, Bigler, a great advocate of carp, started his own fishery. He wrote lengthy articles on carp culture for the York County Farmers Institute, and reportedly had 15,000 carp in his acre pond near Springvale. He displayed 17 of them at the 1889 York Fair, each weighing up to 12 pounds, but five of the fish sadly came to an untimely end: An October 2 York Dispatch article is headed: “Fish Commit Suicide.” They evidently leapt against the wire covering of their tank too many times.
Nothing more is mentioned of the carp in Dr. Bigler’s scrapbook, which is in the Library/Archives of York County Heritage Trust, but he found a new interest shortly thereafter: Florida. In 1889, son William M. Bigler, in his early twenties, left for Florida to visit friends from York County, John and Ebb Beidler, in 1889. He wrote extremely descriptive letters, describing the paradise he found there, back home. Dr. Bigler edited them and sent them on to the York Age for publication. Temptation to experience this paradise himself soon became too much, and Dr. Bigler himself bought a four month excursion ticket to Florida. He stepped on the train at Springvale at 2:30 p.m. February 5, 1890. He arrived in Savannah, Georgia on the seventh and was soon at his son’s residence in Orlando, without his trunk, which he reported was lost along the way. The elder Bigler was as enamored with Florida as was his son. The Age published the lavishly detailed descriptions he sent back from the Orlando area and from St. Augustine. He reported that tourism was thriving with an influx of northerners escaping the winter.
He returned home, but he was so taken with Florida that sometime in the 1890s he and his wife moved there. Although he was in his sixties by now, Bigler set up his medical practice in Tampa. That city was booming with Cuban refugees. He writes sympathetically that all [male] Cubans in Havana had to leave or enlist in Spanish Army. (This was shortly before the Spanish-American War, and Cuba was still a possession of Spain.)
Eventually both generations of Biglers did return to Pennsylvania. William B. was a well-respected physician, this time in Dallastown, until the end of his life in 1915. Son William M. became a successful photographer, with studios in Windsor and in Dallastown. Photos with the Bigler imprint are often found in the area today.
When reading Dr. Bigler’s scrapbook, one starts to wonder how much our transportation system has progressed in the past 120 years. To visit Florida today, we drive our automobiles southward for two or three long days. Or we travel for an hour or two to an airport, where we wait for an hour or more to board a plane that will, more than likely, make at least one out-of-the-way stop along the route. We can hardly fathom the days when William Bigler walked out his door to one of scores of small York County stations, stepped up on the train and settled back until he arrived in the land of sunshine.
Click here to read about pre-railroad travel from York
Click here for more on Dr. Bigler’s brother-in-law, Dr. Benjamin F. Porter of the Brogue.