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Billmeyer & Small Companies’ Spring Garden Car Works

Sketch approximating the 1881 Billmeyer & Small Co’s Spring Garden Car Works (Superimposed on a 2012 Aerial Photo of their Property)

Last Wednesday I posted a John Denney, Jr. 1965 photo of a Ma & Pa Steam Train Excursion ready to leave the Ma & Pa Railroad Station along East Market Street in York, Pennsylvania.  He had just recently realized that the overexposed tall building and taller chimney in the background were part of Billmeyer & Small Companies’ Spring Garden Car Works that was erected in 1881.  Now John had proof that at least part of a Billmeyer & Small Company production building stood until 1965.

My sketch approximates the Billmeyer & Small Co’s Spring Garden Car Works as it looked 130-years ago.  It is superimposed on a 2012 Aerial Photo of their property.  The Blue-Dotted Line in the sketch is the Ma & Pa railroad track, between East Philadelphia Street and East Market Street.  The Ma & Pa Passenger Station is on the south side of East Market Street; just to the left of the red-arrow, noting the point of view of the 1965 photo.


One might question why was this rail car manufacturing plant called the Spring Garden Car Works when it is in the City of York?  The answer, this area was part of Spring Garden Township when the factory was built.  In 1890 this area of East York known as Freystown in Spring Garden Township was annexed into the City of York.

The Yellow-Dotted Lines in the sketch are the rail spurs within the 1881 Spring Garden Car Works.  Based upon information on Sanborn Fire Maps and articles by John Denney the product workflow through the plant originated at the building along East Market Street and progressed on three production lines to the back end of the long buildings nearest to the Ma & Pa Railroad tracks.

The lumber raw materials entered via the rail spur at the rear of the east side of the building along East Market Street.  Planing and sawing were done on the first floor and detailed carpentry was done on the second floor.  The finished wooden pieces progressed into the first long building next to the Ma & Pa Railroad tracks.  The adjacent long building contained the Blacksmith Shop and Machine Shop for producing the rail car running gear.  John Denny had this description about this factory.

It was designed on an assembly line basis, with car construction starting in the erecting shop and then on to a transfer table to the painting shop, and after passing through the painting and varnishing shop, the finished product was ready for the shipping and packing building.

From John Denny’s examination of newspapers of the day he concluded the assembly line manufacturing methods utilized to mass produce rail cars in the 1881 plant used many of the same methods that would be ‘pioneered’ a quarter of a century later by Henry Ford.

Side View of the East Market Street Buildings still standing during 1950 from the Billmeyer & Small Companies’ Spring Garden Car Works (1950 Photo, John Denney)

The 1950 photo is from John Denney’s article, “The Continuing Saga of Billmeyer and Small” appearing in the June 1998 issue of Milepost.  The red arrow on the sketch shows the point of view for this photo. Sanborn Fire Maps from 1908 indicate that this plant was last used by Billmeyer & Small to manufacture product in 1897.

John Denney indicated during the first ten years of operation, this plant was a beehive of activity.  The plant ultimately only had a short 16-year life as a rail car manufacturing plant due to the rapid shift from wood rail cars to steel rail cars during the 1890s.

During the Twentieth Century, the Market Street building was used a variety of ways; including manufacturing, repairing and entertainment.  Early uses included manufacturers York Hardware & Brass Works and American Laundry Equipment Company.  Next followed several Auto Repair Shops who utilized parts of the building at various times.  Final uses included entertainment venues White Rose Bowling Center and the Holiday Movie Theatre.

Go to this post for an index of everything on YorksPast about 19th Century Rail Car Builders of York, Pennsylvania.  Check back often, as the posts on this subject expand to include all manufacturers.

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