Billmeyer Printers of YorkTown; 2014 Journal of York County Heritage
The 2014 Journal of York County Heritage was recently unveiled at the York County Heritage Trust (YCHT). I authored the article “A Family of Printers, The Billmeyers of York Town and the Early Printing Profession.” Several members of the Billmeyer family, that I write about, grace the cover of the Journal; courtesy of images drawn by Lewis Miller. The 2014 edition of the Journal is now available for $6.95 in both the YCHT Museum Book Shop and online at the Trust’s Museum Gift Shop and Book Store.
The inspiration for my article is pictured on page 6 of the Journal; the Germantown home of Michael Billmeyer. The page 6 photo of the Michael Billmeyer House is from the large photo collection donated to the YCHT by Rev. Charles W. Heathcote; his photo of the Michael Billmeyer House was taken around 1951.
Seven years ago I was in Philadelphia doing family history research. One item on my list was to visit the Germantown Historical Society. While there, I walked along Germantown Avenue to a nearby cemetery and passed a house containing a large stone tablet, stating:
In front of this House during The Battle of Germantown Oct. 4th 1777, Washington conferred with his Officers, ordered the attack upon the Chew House and directed the Battle. This House bears the marks of bullets and of attempts to fire it made by the British. In 1789 it became the Home of Michael Billmeyer, the Printer.
I returned to the Germantown Historical Society, finished my intended research, and Michael Billmeyer, the Printer, became my diversionary research. At the time I had been considering doing some sort of Historical Novel about the York railcar-building business of Billmeyer & Small. Two years ago, I decided to use YorksPast to force me to finally start this novel. I’m on a weekly schedule of researching and writing an installment of the novel that appears every Thursday in YorksPast; here is a relevant link to one such installment.
Charles Billmeyer is one of the founders of the Billmeyer & Small railcar building business and the builder of the ornate York House in the 200 block of East Market Street. In 2006, I knew Charles’ father was Daniel Billmeyer, a Printer in York, but did not know much more about the Billmeyer family history.
The Germantown Historical Society diversionary research in 2006 about Michael Billmeyer had several surprises. I learned Michael Billmeyer was born in York, however spent most of his life as a prolific printer in Germantown. Over 100-years ago, historians also wrote that Michael’s son Daniel was also a printer that moved to York to print a German language newspaper [the part about Michael’s son Daniel moving to York, was later discovered to be in error]. In 2006, I immediately questioned, is Michael Billmeyer the grandfather of Charles Billmeyer?
Fast forward to last fall. I was doing some PastPerfect searches at the York County Heritage Trust Library, looking for Billmeyer buildings, houses, etc. A photo of the Michael Billmeyer House in Germantown was one of the hits; from the Heathcote photo collection. I thought, gee, this archives really does have everything.
I recalled walking by the Michael Billmeyer House, however had since discovered historians, from long ago, had either interchanged or combined Daniel, the son of Andrew Billmeyer and Daniel, the son of Michael Billmeyer. I essentially used documentation available at the Heritage Trust and elsewhere to write an article for the 2014 Journal of York County Heritage to set the record straight.
Frederick DeBourg Richards took a photo of the Michael Billmeyer House on Germantown Avenue in April 1859. The source of the following copy of that photo is the Library Company of Philadelphia. This building contained the home, printing office and bookstore of Michael Billmeyer.
The 1859 and 1951 house photos were both taken from the same angle. The principal difference in the photos is due to the 1901 widening of Germantown Avenue, resulting in the addition of the stone, foreshortened, street-side, entrance steps. In the wall of those new entrance steps, The Site and Relic Society of Germantown, built-in the 1901 large stone tablet, shown at the beginning of this post.
The Daniel Billmeyer House is directly across Germantown Avenue from the house of his father Michael Billmeyer. Like his father, Daniel L. Billmeyer became a successful printer along with his brother George, and continued to reside in Philadelphia.
Both the Daniel Billmeyer House and the Michael Billmeyer House still stand along Germantown Avenue and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). These buildings contribute to the Colonial Germantown Historic District in the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia. Daniel Billmeyer built his house in 1793. In 1789, Michael Billmeyer became the most prominent occupant of his house; believed to have been built in 1727.
Andrew Billmeyer is a younger brother of Michael Billmeyer; both were born and raised in YorkTown, York County, Pennsylvania. They are children of Jacob Billmeyer, who resided at the site of YorkTown by 1738; which is four years before YorkTown was surveyed in 1741. In a previous post I wrote about Four Generations of Billmeyer Family History; from the Immigrant Jacob to Andrew to Daniel to Charles.
Summarizing the heads of four Billmeyer generations that remained in YorkTown, PA:
- Jacob Billmeyer (1714-1777) The 1732 Immigrant … lived to be 63-years-old.
- Andrew Billmeyer (1754-1835) Printer … lived to be 80-years-old.
- Daniel Billmeyer (1788-1828) Printer … lived to be 40-years-old.
- Charles Billmeyer (1824-1875) Railcar Builder … lived to be 51-years-old.
In York, other buildings have long since replaced structures housing the early print shops of Andrew Billmeyer and his son Daniel Billmeyer. Andrew Billmeyer’s print shop was likely located within property he owned on the northeast corner of Centre Square; along what is now East Market Street. Andrew Billmeyer sold this Centre Square property to George Small in 1809. On that site, George Small opened a hardware store, likely in the former print shop. However that structure was eventually replaced by a four-story building, which would house the prominent business P.A. & S. Small Company, under the control of two sons of George Small; Philip Albright Small and Samuel Small.
Daniel Billmeyer’s print shop was on the south side of what is now East Market Street; it was located about at the present lobby entrance to the Yorktowne Hotel. For the full story of the Billmeyer Family of Printers, see pages 6-15 of the 2014 Journal of York County Heritage.
Related posts include:
- Four Generations of Billmeyer Family History; from the Immigrant Jacob to Andrew to Daniel to Charles
- RAILCAR GOLD Chapter 16 . . Founders . . Part 1
- Billmeyer & Small image of Charles Billmeyer & David E. Small