York Town Square

Part of the USAToday Network

Old York, Pa., gym bears signs of USO past in World War II

A few weeks ago, I noticed that the doors to a small brick building at the rear of a parking lot across from York’s St. John’s Episcopal Church were pulled back.
This was my chance to see if any remnants of a World War II USO were left in the building, the former gym for the York County Academy… .

During the war, the now-demolished academy building near the gym served as USO headquarters in the York area. The USO served more than 100,000 men and women in uniform.
The Pennsylvania Dutch Canteen, where servicemen met for food and companionship with USO hostesses, was located in the gym. Couples danced on the old gym floor, and in nice weather, they hoofed it on a nearby outdoor floor.
Pennsylvania Dutch symbols covered the gym’s wall. I thought maybe those painted figures would be the most obvious signs of the USO, if any remained.
I parked my car in the nearby alley, walked up to the gym’s threshold and peered in.
Sure enough, many of the colorful hex symbols remained as visible as when the canteen closed 60 years ago. Some were wiped away by a deteriorating wall. But you got the idea of a grand place from the past.
The old gym is now used for storage, and it’s amazing how few York countians remember it as the Pennsylvania Dutch Canteen.
But there it is, overlooked county treasure No. 4. (See earlier posts on the Little Courthouse, Prospect Hill Cemetery and the War Mothers Memorial.)