York Town Square

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Part II: In 2012, York City will be 125 years old. Will it celebrate its birthday?

An 1887 book commemorating the 100th anniversary of York as a borough featured this drawing of Declaration of Independence signer  James Smith’s burial marker in the cemetery of First Presbyterian Church. Smith’s achievements, as well as those of other York countians in the Revolutionary War era, were liberally recounted in the book. Also of interest: Part I: In 2012, York City will be 125 years old.

Let’s call it a view of the American Revolution from the vantage point of the Industrial Revolution.

The book documenting York’s 100th birthday as a borough in 1887, “York’s Centenary Memorial,” contains all kinds of insight about the people and their town in the Industrial Revolution.

And the American Revolution got the biggest play.

The following are several excerpts with my comments:

Lasting memories
From a centenary planning committee report:

“There has been no important era in our national history in which it (York) has not played an important part.”

The committee cited the French and Indian War, the American Revolution and then commented on the War of 1812 and the Civil War:

“When the war of 1812 was declared it sent its valiant sons to main the cause of the nation, and when the Rebellion broke out, it was not behind the most patriotic in furnishing brace men to defend the Union.”

My comment: The Civil War received a shout out here and in one other place in the 226-page book, but the county’s Revolutionary War moments are on every other page. This goes to show that the Revolution’s memories remained front and center in the community mind, still evident today with the naming of York’s minor league team – the York Revolution.

Centre Square
The committee recommended that the county’s history be celebrated “by means of some permanent and visible structure, to be erected in the very centre of our city on the very spot where stood one hundred years ago, the old State House, in which the Continental Congress held its sessions.”

My comment: Again, another reference to the American Revolution. But no Centre or Continental Square monument ever went up. Perhaps the Soldiers and Sailors statue on Penn Park, erected in 1898, was the substitute. And the reference to the old courthouse as the State House was not correct. The State House went up in Centre Square in the 1790s to accommodate growing county government.

Non-golden arches
From the committee report:

“The four grand arches erected in the Centre Square by the Centennial Committee were particularly attractive… . All the arches were covered with tri-colored bunting, the arrangement however being different.”

My comment: This idea was replicated in the York County’s 150th anniversary in 1899 and a single arch represented the grand arches in the 250th anniversary in 1999.

How they learned
From the Rev. J.O. Miller ‘s centenary address:

“But let me say here and now all these advanced ideas we comprehend in the curriculum of the Academy a hundred years ago. For it did not only teach reading, writing and cyphering – but ‘the learned, and foreign languages, the useful arts, science and literature,’ as its charter demands.

My comment: The book contains a section covering York County Academy’s 100th anniversary activities. York Academy later joined with York Collegiate Institute to form what is today’s York College. This means York College will celebrate its 225th anniversary next year.

A report on the fireworks show

“Washington on Horseback was a fine piece, but nothing created so much enthusiasm as the old Court House that in days long gone by stood in Centre Square and in which the Continental Congress held their session in 1777. As this old building stood forth in beautiful colored light and in perfectness easily recognized by old citizens who had seen the original, there was a universal shout of approval. It was the hit of the evening.”

My comment: What did I say was on every other page?

York, since 1825
Address by Mayor Noell on moral improvements since 1825:

“Then men and women met in York to celebrate their annual Fairs which were nothing but carousals of drunkenness, gambling, fighting, dancing and general licentiousness. Then horse-racing and fox-chasing were common diversions even on the streets of York. All taverns were open on Sunday; drinking a general diversion amongst all classes of men, and fighting a usual pastime. Whiskey sold for three cents a glass, cigars four for a penny, and tobacco at two cents a plug. Fishing and gunning were indulged in on Sunday, by whoever wished to do so. How would such things do now? Are our morals not the better now? Who would wish for a return of the days of sixty-five years ago?

My comment: Well, before and after Noell’s remarks, York has long been home of cigarmaking, breweries and distilleries. The dollar clearly won the day.

Borough becomes city
Oration that was part of centenary:

“In the old country, a city had a distinctive mark, being the seat of a cathedral, to distinguish it from a borough. Though there are places without cathedrals styled cities, they are called so only from their wealth, size and importance. Liverpool in England, with a half million or more of population, is only a borough. So York need not have been ashamed of the name. But the ambition to be chartered a city is natural to the pride of a wealthy and populous borough.”

 My comment: The book suggests a link between the anniversary of the borough and the city’s new charter.

“It happened very fortunately, I think, that the centennial of the organization of York as a borough was also the first year of York as a city,” historian and Judge John Gibson said.


Also of interest: York’s first mayor Daniel K. Noell named one of his sons, well, ‘York’  and 275th anniversary celebration of York, Pa.’s founding isn’t a sexy number but may be effective and Part II: 275th anniversary celebration of York, Pa.’s founding isn’t sexy but could be effective.