100th Birthday for the History Center Chimney
Part 6 of York County History Center Buildings
This is Part 6 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. 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 2008 aerial view of downtown York bounded by West Philadelphia Street, North Pershing Avenue, West Gas Avenue and North Park Avenue. The left side of the illustration shows the York County History Center buildings and the rights side shows the Friends Meeting House and grounds.
York’s Edison Electric Plant originally contained multiple chimneys of heights not much greater than the chimneys of surrounding houses. By 1910, the skyrocketing demand for electricity forced the coal-fired Edison Plant in York to belch black smoke virtually continuously. In December of 1910, the first giant chimney was completed to eliminate the low altitude smoke nuisance from the mix of power plant boilers in the original buildings along Gas Avenue. The location of the 1910 chimney is indicated on the illustration.
The 1910 chimney was 188-feet in height. Its inside diameter at the bottom was 13-feet, 2-inches, and at the top 9-feet, 6-inches. The Alphons Custodis Chimney Construction Company of New York built this chimney. The 1910 chimney also had the capacity to handle plant expansions in 1911 and 1914. A large plant expansion in 1916 required the addition of a second giant chimney; with location as indicated on the illustration. The 1916 chimney is 182-feet in height and was also constructed by the Alphons Custodis Company.
Historic aerial photos bracket when the 1910 chimney was torn down; between September 1957 and May 1964. The 1916 chimney still stands and celebrates its 100th birthday this summer; further details at the end of this post.
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—Chronicling the York County History Center Buildings:
The recently purchased York County History Center Buildings, on the lot bounded by West Philadelphia Street, North Pershing Avenue and West Gas Avenue, originated as York’s Edison Electric Plant. When it came time to build the giant chimneys, the power plant selected the premier chimney builder in the United States at that time; the Alphons Custodis Chimney Construction Company of New York.
Alphons Custodis developed perforated radial brick in Germany during 1869. His invention made the construction of very tall chimneys practical. In 1902 the Alphons Custodis Chimney Construction Company was incorporated in New York City. Tall chimneys allowed factories to discharge smoke at greater heights, reducing ground level pollution and increasing draft. The company continues to operate to this day as Hamon Custodis.
The following full page ad for the Alphons Custodis Chimney Construction Company appeared in the February 1912 issue of Mechanical Engineering; the magazine of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The ad illustrates radial bricks and shows the tallest and largest chimney in the world, as of 1908; which stood at 506-feet high.
The York Daily, reported on construction improvements at the Edison Plant in their July 17, 1916 issue. Quoting a few paragraphs related to the 1916 chimney:
The stack, now about two-thirds completed, will become a landmark. While works of utility the new stack, and its twin already standing, were designed along graceful lines so as not to mar the city’s skyline. The interest that attaches to all big works is not lacking in the chimney now going up. While not among the very great of the country, there will be enough bricks used in the stack to build a row of city houses. The stack completed will weigh 493 tons. It will be 182 feet high. The outside diameter at the base is 15-feet and eight inches. The outside diameter at the top will be 11-feet and two and a quarter inches, with a lesser diameter below the top where the chimney bells. Due to the lining, the stack flares at the bottom for a distance of 30-feet upward. The interior tapers very slightly to a diameter of 10 feet at the top. The enormous weight of the structure rests on a slab of concrete, 23-feet square by six feet deep. At the bottom, this work is reinforced by steel rails. It is estimated that the cost will be approximately $6,700. The work is being done by the Alphons Custodis Chimney Construction Company of New York. Work began about July 1, and it is expected, will be completed by Aug. 1. Large hollow tile bricks are being used. These taper radially so that a perfect circle is formed. The work of erection is done from the inside, the scaffolding and elevator mounting with the progress of the stack skyward. At the top an ornamental design will be formed with black bricks.
The York County Heritage Trust brochure “Pondering Change” contains the following conceptual illustration of the History Center on page 14. The 100-year-old chimney is a focal point of the complex. The newspaper article of 100-years ago foretold the chimney becoming a landmark; how appropriate for the new History Center for York County.
Related posts include:
- New History Center Generated Edison Electricity
- York County History Center Buildings 1885
- Edison Lights Streets as York becomes a City
- War of the Currents hits York
- Edison Electric Plant becomes subsidiary of York Railways
- Birth of District Steam Heating in York
- 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