York Town Square

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Part III: Using York County history to create community embodies a modern trend

Not familiar with the Shady Lane estate, site of the Preserving York picnic on Sunday? Well, you know these gates that lead into the former distillery site. ‘I’ve been fascinated with this property ever since I was a little girl,’ one picnicker said. ‘It’s like a secret garden back here.’ Dianne Bowders submitted this photograph to ydr.com’s York Photos. (See additional photo, video below.) Also read more about this gate: Ever wonder why this building is there? Also of interest: Part II: Using York County history to create community embodies a modern trend.

Sunday’s Preserving York picnic did, indeed, see a successful conversion of a virtual community into an actual community.

More than 200 people turned out for the benefit picnic, which included an opportunity to tour the beautiful former distillery site and the former summer home of one of the Smalls.

Several quick observations:

Blake Stough leads a tour on the Shady Lane estate Sunday.

– The picnic was a bit of a symbolic moment. Twenty-five years ago, those doing York-area history were a handful of serious-minded scholars who wrote some but mostly spoke about our past. Others doing history had to pass their ideas and work through this filter. With the Web, what some call the democratization of information is happening. Blake Stough’s preservingyork.com plus a Preserving York Facebook group are prime examples of this. Stough, a former flexographic press operator at TopFlight, provides engaging content, and he opens up his sites for others to contribute. People gather there virtually to exchange information about their many and varied historical interests. The audience has become large enough that it’s a small step to actually gathering those folks. That’s what happened at the picnic. Meanwhile, other non-profit groups are astutely seeing this and joining in. Friends of the Stewartstown Railroad and the York County Heritage Trust were among those with tables at the picnic.

– The web offers such opportunity for other historical and cultural groups who are struggling with membership and in gaining an audience at their sites. The Dallastown Area Historical Society, like Preserving York, is another such group effectively attracting virtual visitors through its various digital sites. The understanding must be that a virtual visitor is as valuable as an actual visitor in aiding a group to accomplish its mission. Some will argue that virtual visitors don’t create badly needed revenue, but the digital world is slowly finding ways to stack dimes, as some put it. These dimes can go further than they seem because creating a virtual audience is far less expensive to support than infrastructure to serve an actual audience.

– Of course, as historical and cultural groups are transitioning from traditional offerings to digital, they still must serve their traditional patrons and customers. Some folks at the Preserving York picnic, for example, found out about the event via traditional media, specifically the newspaper. So this is a both/and moment. How do I know all this? Because the York Daily Record/Sunday News is an information provider going through the same revolution from a traditional product – the newspaper – to an array of digital products – mobile apps, websites, social media sites etc. We’re living it, too. For background: Can newsrooms lead a digital first revolution?

Friends of Camp Security and Farm & Natural Lands Trust are the beneficiaries of the picnic. It’s a case in which non-profit groups are benefiting from direct public contributions, a model that will become more prevalent with the aging of philanthropists who so solidly backed community groups for decades.

Now all this is a bunch of serious talk about a very wonderful picnic. But looking for meaning in everyday events is something historians and journalists do. Then they post it to the Web, and then it will go into print next Sunday.

More on all this here: Part I: Using York County history to create community embodies a modern trend


– For a YDR/YSN story and more photos on a picnic, check out: Shady Lane hosts unique Preserving York event.

– George Hay Kain III conducted an audio interview with Anna Koval on Nov. 25, 2008. Koval, born in 1918, talks about her long life at Shady Lane, a former distillery site, in this audio interview.

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Paul Kuehnel captured these scene from the Preserving York picnic.