York Town Square

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Don’t know much about York County history? Part III

This panel, part of the Murals of York series, shows the Central Market, one of at least three murals that celebrates York County’s agricultural prowess. The murals can be used as an effective tool to teach county history. Free walking tours of the murals, courtesy of the York County Heritage Trust, are scheduled at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. every Tuesday through Saturday until Aug. 30. The tours start at the gift shop behind the Colonial Courthouse, West Market Street, York. Background posts: Don’t know much about York County history? Part I, Part II, and Civil rights heros stand out at Bradley exhibit.

The Murals of York can served as a classroom teaching tool.
That’s what I told teachers recently in a continuing education course on York County history, offered through Millersville University.
I then provided an overview of county history using the murals, as described in the following York Sunday News column, to be published on July 25: …

Every summer since about 2000, 20 or more teachers participating in Millersville University’s York County history course stop by the York Daily Record/Sunday News for a primer.
My role is to give these teachers, seeking continuing education credits, an overview of 250 years of history in two hours.
I’ve settled on the Murals of York as a storytelling device that has seemed to connect with teachers of the various subjects – from home ec to tech ed – who come to our conference room each year.
If their images are arranged with care, the 18 large-scale murals provide a view of the York area from 30,000 feet.
Often the murals are presented in walking tour order or according to date they were painted.
But another view creates a bit of a narrative.
Taken together, the murals show the formation of the county, its prominence in two major wars, the growth of agriculture and the transition from agriculture to industrialization. The murals themselves point to the waning of York-area retail and factory might to service and tourism initiatives.
Consider this chronology:
– The 250th anniversary of York County mural on West Market Street points to the separation of the county from older brother Lancaster in 1749.
– Two murals tell about the community’s proud moment when Continental Congress visited York and adopted the Articles of Confederation.
– At least three murals deal in full or in part with agriculture, including the widest mural – the 120-foot-wide York Fair panel on the side of the East Market Street parking garage.
– The William C. Goodridge mural on West Market Street shows the growth of a merchant class before the Civil War.
– Taking a bit of license, I view the Susquehanna Pfaltzgraff mural showing transition from agriculture to industry. The making of pottery started with mining of clay and other soil types from the land. That mural also deploys an existing pipe running down the side of the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts complex as a flag pole. That brings back a York County slogan of doing what we can with what we have.
– At least five murals address the county’s industrial muscle, covering the Industrial Revolution of the 1880s and ending at its zenith – the York Plan in World War II. That internationally recognized plan, covered by a mural on South George Street, consisted of the sharing of manpower and machinery to land major defense contracts too large for individual factories to handle.
– In addition to the York Plan mural, two others depict World War II. The Four Chaplains mural highlights York Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, who sacrificed his life after a German sub torpedoed his transport ship in 1943. The other is a two-panel mural of four-star and York native Gen. Jacob L. Devers.
– At least three murals deal with community life.
I’ve written before that women and people of color are portrayed in some way in at least half of the murals. When compared to other works of history, that inclusiveness shows community progress.
Not surprisingly, the murals miss some important themes.
The Civil War is relegated to a mini-mural. That recognizes community ambivalence over York’s surrender to the Confederates in 1863. The lack of a large-scale Civil War mural also fails to recognize the hundreds of York countians who died, those who provided care in the massive military hospital on Penn Park and those who provided for thousands of soldiers who camped at the old York Fairgrounds early in the war.
This hole could be plugged in time with a special mural linked to the 150th anniversary of the Confederate occupation and the Battle of Gettysburg in 2013.
The painting of new murals stopped in 2002, and no more are planned. Indeed, some in the historical community are concerned about how they will be maintained.
The community must find a way to preserve the paintings so they won’t fade into the sides of buildings, like Mail Pouch tobacco signs on barns.
If maintained, they’ll be available as a means of teaching Millersville-sponsored teachers on York County’s 300th anniversary.