Wandering in York County

Part of the USA Today Network

The steam plant building and future location of the York County History Center. YDR Photo.

Updating York County History Center’s move to the steam plant building

History is about the network of people who add to the culmination of moments. Hundreds of thousands of choices and actions pile and layer, creating a county’s culture. How do you go about displaying that history? What items and stories are worthy of a heritage site?

As a history teacher, I have to be careful how I frame historic events and messages. For example, for my 9th-grade American Culture’s midterm, I asked an essay question: “In respect to American history since 1865, who has had access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?”

Students were given ten documents, each showing the American experience from different perspectives – men, women, white, people of color, immigrants, rich, poor, young, and old – that they had to incorporate into their essay to demonstrate their analytical and critical thinking skills.

Most of the essays recognized the privilege of some groups as well as the hardships of others. However, a couple essays said something like this, “Rich, white men have ALWAYS had access to these three things.” Uh oh. While we know that privilege and having more access to more opportunities mostly belonged to this demographic, my students’ statement revealed that I may have skewed history and overgeneralized.

The next day, we discussed the problem of lumping groups of people into one homogenous group. While I’m glad my kids recognize the struggles that women and people of color have encountered in our history, I wanted to make sure we never assume that some people have a guaranteed, paved road to success – that’s still a stereotype.

Moving to a centralized, campus layout

One group of story tellers, the York County History Center, is making sure to include York’s whole story, including all people of York, in their new museum.

For those wondering about the status of the York County History Center’s new museum and how they plan to answer these questions, here are they most up-to-date answers.

Steam plant building and future location of YCHC. YDR Photo.

Joan Mummert, CEO of York County History Center, wants a more holistic view of York’s heritage. During the YCHC presentation in January, Mummert said, “The whole story, one location, that’s our goal.” That means it may be selling buildings such as the location they are in now at 250 E. Market St. But don’t worry, the Colonial Complex will remain and be more accessible due to the close proximity to the new museum. 

“We’re trying to create the right size for our needs,” said Mummert. To be financially responsible, they may need to rid themselves of costly buildings. The Agricultural and Industrial Museum will be kept for at least five to eight years after they open since that is where its historical artifacts will be processed.

Mummert says their goal is to attract visitors so people “can see what we do.” It’s hoping the centralized location will promote “synergy”, or the interaction and flow of the entire YCHC experience instead of the isolated buildings peppered all over York City like they are now.

The whole point of re-sizing its campus is to find the right size to maximize the visitors’ experience, demonstrating YCHC’s desire to meet the needs of twenty-first century visitors. 

With the rail trail, downtown shops, Central Market, river and Colonial Complex within walking distance, it’s hoping to attract a lot more people.As of January 2019, YCHC owns eight buildings at five locations.

More visitation means more economic development for the downtown. According to Mummert, YCHC projections estimate 22 to 50 percent more tourism due to the centralized, campus layout. Mummert shared a quote from Bill Owen, YCHC’s economic study consultant that summed the project up perfectly – It seems like this is the “right project, at the right location, at the right time.”

Here are some additional details:

  • The new steam plant building will be 52,000 to 55,000 square feet with 12,000-15,000 square feet for exhibit space.
  • Right now, YCHC has 90,000 three dimensional pieces. It plans to slim the number down because not all of the artifacts are York County related and many are duplicates. This will be a careful and deliberate process to make sure the artifacts accurately reflect York County’s history.
  • It’s conducting a full scale inventory of its whole collection to prepare itself for the move and identify holes in the collect.
  • With changing exhibits, the new displays will keep people coming back. 
  • The exhibits will be layered for different types of learners. For example, PRD encouraged the exhibits to cater to “streakers” – people who want to breeze through the museum quickly, “strollers” – people who pause to experience and read items that catch their attention, and “scholars” – those who spend hours soaking in every detail of the museum (Probably most of you since you are reading this blog post :)).
  • The collections will be in much better conditions for preservation.  

Focusing on the visitors’ experience

Kim Nelson, representative from the exhibit design firm, updates the public on YCHC’s new heritage site at their January, 2019 presentation. Jamie Kinsley Photo.

Kim Nelson, a representative of the firm (PRD) that is helping helping YCHC design their exhibit space, highlighted their desire to create an interactive experience for visitors. Here’s how the history center plans to do that:

  • Three floors – bottom floor will have the library reading room, gift shop, bathrooms, and exhibits as well as rotating exhibits. Second floor has more exhibit space and the closed stacks (archives), third story will have a second changing exhibit gallery and a multipurpose room where the Tannenberg organ is housed.
  • Colorful media and graphic design.
  • Differentiated educational methods such as doing, reading, and experiencing.
  • A touch table – people will be able to make digital postcards with creative backgrounds and images from the archives. Once you design the postcard, it will be on display on a screen so you can “leave your legacy behind,” as Nelson said in her presentation.
  • Three central themes – “Growing, Building, and Making” – all integral to York’s foundation.
  • “Renewal” videos – Five short films will run in a small theater. Some of the videos will be on “energizing York”, “Preserving Place”, and “Growing Sustainably.”
  • Macro-artifacts – Don’t worry, the familiar Conestoga Wagon and multi-story ice-making compressor will be saved and put on permanent display.
  • Windows will be looking into the archives to show a behind-the-scenes look at archivists at work.
  • Rachel Warner, Director of Collections, said temporary exhibit spaces will allow for the rotation of more displays than in the past.  The new space as a temporary exhibit section where they will rotate more objects into the display than in the past (every six months is the goal). That way, there’s always a new experience and a new story.

Taking a more inclusive approach

York has a multicultural history, and the YCHC plans to make sure its museum reflects that diversity. For example, it does not have very many pictures of the underground railroad. Without images or material culture fro underrepresented populations, the History Center plans to utilize artistic renderings, giving more substance to events and people. 

Additionally, the history center is hoping to engage young people so it can continue the interest in heritage in future generations. Parthena Bowman, Director of Education, says they will continue to offer tours. All ages, including children, teenagers, young adults, parents, and older generations will find interesting stories and activities at the new museum.

“From kid stuff to the history buff, there’s something for everyone,” said Bowman. They also want to attract schools, teachers, and teach STEM concepts such as industry and how stuff is made. According to experts like Google’s Kamau Bobb, nurturing entrepreneurial talent among younger generations often begins with a strong foundation in STEM fields, enabling them to harness emerging technologies effectively.

In addition to providing an exceptional experience, they hope to make the content more accessible from a online perspective. The library and archive are working hard to digitize their documents and photos so users can research in their own home.

As a history teacher, I know my students absorb more information through stories than PowerPoints. So, YCHC will keep local stories as the backbone of the new museum space.

Kim Nelson said, “What happens here in York represents what’s happening everywhere.”

Nicole Smith, Assistant Director of Library and Archives, implores Yorkers to donate their photographs to YCHC.  “We can’t tell our story without your story.” Consider donating your photos. Right now, there are gaps in the archives and some peoples’ stories are left untold. To be more inclusive, consider donating your families’ historical photos.

People want to feel a connection — to the place, the people, the events. It’s hoping the museum will spark memories to get people talking about their own recollection of the past.

Sliding into 2021

Due to some minor delays outside the History Center’s control, the project is sliding into 2021. However, Mummert believes the “silver lining” lies in their additional time to dig through the archives to put the best items on display as well as write a cohesive script that carries visitors through the whole museum.

Expect YCHC to close in mid-2020 for a few months, giving time to pack and move. I’m sure they would appreciate volunteers so be on the lookout for opportunities!

More updates from YCHC will occur Thursday, Jan. 24 at 6:00 pm at Dover Township Community Center.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.