Birth of District Steam Heating in York
Part 7 of York County History Center Buildings
This is Part 7 of an industrial chronicle of the buildings on the property recently purchased by the York County Heritage Trust, with their goal of renovating the buildings into a York County History Center. These buildings originated as York’s Edison Electric Plant in 1885. If you are reading this on the Ydr.com site, click on this LINK for a Full View of the illustrations in this post on the original YorkBlog site; since the ydr.com site will occasionally cut off important details in the cropping of illustrations.
The illustration contains a westward looking 2016 Bing.com Birds Eye Aerial View of downtown York, PA. A district steam heating system was born in York during 1898; with construction commencing in May and the system becoming operational during October. The system primarily utilizing exhaust steam; that would have otherwise been wasted in generating electricity at the Edison Electric plant along Gas Avenue.
The York Steam Heating Company decided to build their infrastructure per the patented Birdsill Holly system of district steam heating. The aerial view has been annotated to show the York City streets under which the steam distribution loop was laid during 1898.
The May 17, 1898 issue of The York Daily reported on the work of installing these initial steam distribution pipes in Downtown York. Quoting from that article:
Contractor Dobling yesterday began the work of digging the trenches for the York Steam Heating Company. The pipes have nearly all been distributed and the work of putting them in place will be pushed ahead with all possible speed. The trenches will have an average depth of about seven feet, and will have their inclination toward the plant, so that all condensation will drain back to the station.
Birdsill Holly earned over 150 United States Patents in perfecting district steam heating and fire protection systems. The majority of the earliest district steam heating systems in the United States were built to his designs.
Besides strategically placed underground expansion joints, the same May 17th article details steam pipe preparation to allow for axial expansion of the 2-foot diameter steam pipes, while assuring good underground insulation. All of this was done to prevent the slightest sway or lateral movement of the steam pipe, which would cause leakage. Quoting from the article:
The steam pipe proper will be covered with asbestos sheeting wrapped with copper wire. The pipe so prepared will be inserted in a tin lined bored log covered with asphaltum and saw dust. Over all this will be a heavy coating of tarred paper.
When the York Steam Heating Company was chartered, York City Council passed an ordinance granting them the privilege of laying steam pipes under public streets in exchange for certain considerations, of which a franchise tax was one. The franchise tax was paid directly by the York Steam Heating Company; the tax began at one percent of their gross revenue and gradually rose and was capped at three percent in their tenth year.
Continue reading more on the birth of District Steam Heating in York following this Summary of Prior Parts Chronicling the York County History Center Buildings.
Part 1—New History Center Generated Edison Electricity This introductory post provides a brief overview of all the buildings within what was the former Met-Ed Steam Heat Generating Plant on the northeast corner of West Philadelphia Street and North Pershing Avenue in York.
Part 2—York County History Center Buildings 1885 This post takes a closer look at the initial industrial building constructed on the site in 1885; a generating station for the Edison Electric Light Company of York.
Part 3—Edison Lights Streets as York becomes a City On January 11, 1887, York was incorporated as a City. The same year marked the replacement of gas lighting with Edison electric lights on the streets of York; necessitating an addition to the 2-year-old electric generating station along Gas Avenue.
Part 4—War of the Currents hits York Nationally, the War of the Currents plays out with the company started by Thomas Edison, who favored direct current and was adamantly opposed to alternating current, being transformed, through the financing of J. P. Morgan, into the champion of alternating current. Locally in York something similar happened in 1894. The Westinghouse Electric Light, Heat and Power Co. of York, PA, located in the high bay part of the present Agricultural and Industrial Museum, was absorbed by the much better financed Edison Electric Light Company of York, PA; located in one of the buildings that will become the York County History Center.
Part 5—Edison Electric Plant becomes subsidiary of York Railways In 1892, the York Street Railway Company begin operation of their streetcars via electricity; i.e. replacing horse power. The Edison Electric Plant was their electric supplier from the inception. When the York Haven hydro-electric plant was placed into service during 1904, York Haven was contracted to carry most of the load of the Edison Electric Plant in York. The primary electric generating function of the Edison Plant was reduced to supplying power for many of the streetcar lines. As a result in 1907, the Edison Light & Power Company became a subsidiary of the newly named York Railway Company as a result of a merger.
Part 6—100th Birthday for the History Center Chimney At one time the buildings of the Edison Light & Power Company, recently purchased by the York County Heritage Trust, contained two giant chimneys. When it came time to build these chimneys, for the coal-fired power plant in these buildings, the premier chimney builder in the United States was selected; the Alphons Custodis Chimney Construction Company of New York. The surviving 1916 chimney still stands and celebrates its 100th birthday during July of 2016.
Part 7—Chronicling the York County History Center Buildings:
“It is a matter of record—and fairly a part of the history of the city [of York]—that the Edison Light Company of York owed its birth and present success to Mr. [Adam F.] Geesey.” This quote comes from page 47 in Volume II of George Prowell’s 1907 History of York County, PA. Opposite page 46 of Mr. Geesey’s biographical sketch, within the same source, is this portrait of Adam F. Geesey; in his mid-60s.
After the 1885 establishment of the Edison Electric Light Company of York, Mr. Geesey was owner of the York Gazette from 1887 through 1893, were he “devoted the greater part of his time to the upbuilding of that newspaper property.” In 1898, Adam F. Geesey was instrumental in the birth of the York Steam Heating Company to make use of exhaust steam; that would have otherwise been wasted at the Edison Electric Light plant. The York Steam Heating Company was an adjunct of the Edison Light and Power Company. After Mr. Geesey sold his interest in the electric light company in 1900, he continued as a director and superintendent of the York Steam Heating Company for a number of years.
Birdsill Holly’s company, the American District Steam Company of Lockport, NY, was contracted to install the system in York, using local labor. The October 29, 1898, issue of The Gazette reported on the successful initial operation of the system:
The system of steam heat of the York [Steam Heating] company has been in successful operation for just three weeks and it has given such pronounced satisfaction to everybody using it that it will be but a short period before the system is extended over a much larger territory than it is at present. New connections are being made daily and they include some of the largest buildings in the city, which is proof that the heat is a cheap investment.
The buildings on the property recently purchased by the York County Heritage Trust, with their goal of renovating the buildings into a York County History Center, had two primary industrial functions; the generating of electricity and supplying steam to the district steam heating system.
Electricity was generated in these buildings from 1885 until 1959. After the last generator was shut down for the final time, the identity of these Met-Ed buildings changed from York Generating Station to York Steam Heating Plant.
The final shut down of the York Steam Heating Plant occurred on May 31, 1977. The old equipment was removed from the buildings and the underground steam mains were turned over to the City of York. These buildings housed the first electric generating station in York County. The buildings generated electricity for 75-years and supplied steam, keeping Yorkers warm for 80-years.
Related posts include:
- New History Center Generated Edison Electricity
- York County History Center Buildings 1885
- Dallastown, Dallas and Geesey
- Edison Lights Streets as York becomes a City
- War of the Currents hits York
- Edison Electric Plant becomes subsidiary of York Railways
- 100th Birthday for the History Center Chimney
- New Name is York County History Center
- Twin Smokestacks at Edison Plant
- Your History Starts Here
- History Center’s Smokestack Twin
- Edison Electric Plant Expansions in York
- 1931 Aerial Photo of Edison Electric Plant in York