York Town Square

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Colonial York, Pa.? No, try Victorian York, Pa.

This scene comes from the Brownstone building, annex to Martin Library. The finished parlor was shown to the public after renovations in 2005. Background posts: Dempwolf architects built York’s skyline, history, Striking architecture lined York’s South Duke Street and York County smorgasbord of architectural styles.

Historian Georg Sheets’ upcoming tour of Victorian York highlights a misunderstood fact about architecture in York city… .

With all the Colonial themes at play in York – Revolutionary York (York Revolution baseball team), the names of businesses (Yorktowne, Colonial Coffee Shop), streets named after British royalty (Duke, King, George) – York’s most noteworthy architecture is predominantly Victorian.
And much of its working class housing stock – the ubiquitous rowhouses, for example – were built in or shortly after that era.
York Sunday News columnist Gordon Freireich (6/1/08) explains the Victorian architecture and previews his tour to benefit Downtown Inc:

If Queen Victoria were still alive, she would have turned 189 years old back on May 24.
And — sticking with the ifs — if she were to visit York today, she would feel very much at home in a city that has many buildings that date to the era named for her reign — from 1837 into the start of the 20th century.
Georg Sheets will lead a tour of “Victorian York” on Friday, June 6, beginning at 6 p.m. This is the latest in a series of walking tours that Georg has led over the years. He not only points out interesting sights on this 18-block, two-hour jaunt, but he brings the Victorian era vividly to life.
Back in the early 1980s, York City even had a Victorian Festival to celebrate the many buildings of that bygone time, Georg notes. Those events followed on the heels of a study completed in 1976 which concluded that York has a much more architectural “priceless heritage” from the Victorian period than it does from its Colonial era roots.
It is actually difficult not to find Victorian architecture in York, much of it designed by the Dempwolf family, the preeminent architects of their time in York.
The Colonial Hotel (ironically named, given its architecture) on Continental Square is a prime example of Victorian design.
Other buildings on the Victorian tour include:
– The old York Post Office on West Philadelphia and North Beaver streets. It is another example of the best of Victorian architecture.
– The Central Market House. (A personal note here: one of the glories of the building is its exposed roof rafters, believed to have been constructed by shipwrights from Baltimore. That’s what gives the ceiling its upside-down boat appearance. Personally, I’d like to see the Market managers invest in lighting to highlight the beauty of the ceiling, which is often overlooked by locals and visitors alike.)
– The Schmidt Building on Continental Square, the lighter brick building adjacent to the former Colonial Hotel.
– The Brownstone, now part of Martin Library. The tour group will go inside to see the parlor of the building on East Market Street.
– The Billmyer/York House. Now owned by First Presbyterian Church, it is a magnificent example of Italianate design from the Victorian era.
– The Fluhrer Building next to Cherry Lane.
– The former Bon-Ton on West Market and North Beaver streets.
In addition, Georg will point out Victorian details on the not-so-obvious buildings, such as “gingerbread” wood trim, stained-glass windows, doorways and windows.
The tour will provide an opportunity for participants to look at York from a new perspective.
Queen Victoria – if she were still around – might well say, “We approve.”