Part of the USA Today Network

Edison Electric Plant Expansions in York

Part 12 of York County History Center Buildings

Southward View of Edison Electric Plant in York, PA; Showing Yearly Plant Expansions (Bing.com Birds Eye View, Annotated by S. H. Smith)
Southward View of Edison Electric Plant in York, PA; Showing Yearly Plant Expansions (Bing.com Birds Eye View, Annotated by S. H. Smith)

Following the turn of the Century, the Edison Electric Plant along North Pershing Avenue in York, in rapid succession, saw major facility expansions in 1904, 1910, 1911, 1914, 1916 and 1917. This is Part 12 of an industrial chronicle of the buildings on the property 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 and after electric generation ceased in 1959, the facility continued supplying steam to York’s District Steam Heating System until 1977.

I’ve annotated this aerial view to show where and when the Edison Plant expansions occurred. This is a southward looking birds eye view of the Edison Electric Plant in York, bounded by West Philadelphia Street, North Pershing Avenue, West Gas Avenue and the Friends Meeting House Cemetery.

Details about These Expansions

Electric Generator Room expansions occurred in 1904, 1911 and 1914. These expansions bordered the east end of the plant; i.e. next to the Friends Meeting House Cemetery. If one looks closely at the building structure, the exact places where these plant expansions joined can be seen.

In 1910, the first tall smokestack  was built to initially service boilers in the west end of the 1895 building. However, the tall smokestack was well oversized for future (or already planned) Boiler Room expansions along the west end of the plant, i.e., next to North Pershing Avenue, which also necessitated extensive oil boilers repairs to maintain the facility’s heating infrastructure.

Boiler Room expansions occurred in 1911 and 1914; which utilized the 1910 smokestack.  When the third Boiler Room expansion was built in 1916, the present 1916 smokestack had to be added.

In 1917, the plant Warehouse was constructed along West Philadelphia Street. A 1916 newspaper article noted the Warehouse would be built next year; i.e. 1917. However a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map indicates the Warehouse was built in 1919. I have yet to discover a newspaper article definitely stating when the Warehouse was built. During the search for another source, I discovered a neat resource in the collections of the York County History Center.

In 1982, George W. Stahle compiled “The Introduction of Electricity and District Steam Heating in York, Pennsylvania;” call number 974.841, S 781. George Stahle was a Superintendent at the York Generating Station / York Steam Heating Plant. From his notes, data available to him, and reminisces of fellow employees of the plant; George compiled a detailed notebook on the plant facility and equipment utilized; complete with photos!

I’ve compared the earliest dates associated with the Edison Plant, which had been primarily researched via newspaper articles from that time, to the earliest dates in the work by George Stahle. I had 100% agreement. Therefore when George Stahle stated the Warehouse was built in 1917; I tend to believe him and not the Sanborn Map.

Synopsis and Links to the Previous Parts of this Series:

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—Birth of District Steam Heating in York  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. After electric generation ceased in 1959, the York Steam Heating Plant operated until 1977. 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.

Part 8—New Name is York County History Center  A year ago, the York County Heritage Trust brochure “Pondering Change” contained a conceptual illustration of the History Center on page 14. The landmark chimney intuitively proclaimed History Center! A name change was one of the items on the agenda during a special meeting of the membership of the York County Heritage Trust on April 20, 2016. The members overwhelmingly voted in favor of an organizational name change to York County History Center.

Part 9—Twin Smokestacks at Edison Plant  The greatest feedback from this series has been related to the smokestacks at the Edison Plant; i.e. a 188-feet high smokestack completed in December 1910 and a 182-feet high smokestack completed in July 1916. For at least 40-years both of these smokestacks stood together. Several readers inquired if photos exist of the twin smokestacks. Photos from 1930, 1942 and 1945 are included in this post, along with additional comments by my readers.

Part 10—Your History Starts Here.  Thursday evening, June 16, 2016, the York County History Center Brand Launch was moved from beside the former Edison Electric Plant into the Colonial Court House due to threatening weather. After a nice program and unveiling inside, the weather cooperated for a larger scale unveiling next to the former Edison Electric Plant. I liked the simple use of symbolized wood to create the “Y C H C” letters in the logo. The logo became even neater for me, after learning it was inspired by the exposed half-timber construction of the Golden Plough Tavern.

Part 11—History Center’s Smokestack Twin.  Sam Mills submitted a 1950s color zoom-lens photo of the ornamental brickwork believed to be topping the older History Center’s Smokestack twin, i.e. the chimney built in 1910 and razed about 1960. The ornamental brickwork design is traced to Alphons Custodis; the company that built both the 1910 and, presently standing, 1916 tall smokestacks at the Edison Electric Plant in York.

Links to related posts include:

Reading the Headlines: A Quick Index to All YorksPast Posts