York Town Square

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Abe Lincoln, Gwyneth Paltrow passed through Porters Sideling

The southwest York County railroad community of Porters Sideling has made the news twice in recent days.
First, a recent Yorktownsquare.com post pointed readers to Scott Mingus’ Cannonball blog post on the Confederate visit there in June 1863.
Then, a York Daily Record story indicated that Gwyneth Paltrow visited Porters in the 1980s.
The story stated:

Dale Danner, 90, of Penn Township, is a retired teacher from Spring Grove Area School District. He is Blythe Danner’s cousin. Dale’s wife, Mildred, said that when her father-in-law died in 1984, they had an auction of his farm in Porters Sideling, which Blythe Danner and Gwyneth Paltrow attended.

Actually, there was a third reference to Porters as well, and it involved Abe Lincoln. I toured the town and later wrote about it, as follows:

A recent Sunday afternoon’s excursion was just like the old days.
Only the minivan replaced the old station wagon.
Local history experts Jim Rudisill, June Lloyd and Luther B. Sowers replaced Dad and the family.
And bottomless Big Gulps that hot afternoon replaced the ice cream cones that melted faster than you could lick them.
A handwritten itinerary directed us toward southwestern York County, but this ride, like those trips of yore, ended up far afield.
More on that later.
First, a few of that afternoon’s stops:
• St. Paul’s Lutheran Church: This visit was brief because the architecturally significant Spring Grove church was locked tight.
This led to a discussion about when houses of worship started locking their doors.
I read in Ron Hershner’s “Round Hill Presbyterian Church, 250 Years of Faith” that the church’s leadership started locking up in the mid-1980s. That sounded about right as the time that locked church doors were ushered in everywhere, a sign of the times. The recent desecration of churches in southeastern York County amplify that sign.
An assessment of that church’s distinctive hammer-beams that keep the roof aloft would have to wait for another trip to Spring Grove or provide an excuse to visit the new visitors center in Gettysburg where this unusual architecture is being deployed.
• Porters Sideling: Someone commented that this well-worn Heidelberg Township hamlet brought back memories of county towns 30, 40 years ago.
Marylanders have not yet discovered its main street as a desirable site for a home in the country.
Maybe that’s because the railroad tracks running everywhere potentially carry plenty of peace-disturbing train traffic.
This frozen-in-time town is a place that people have heard of but few have visited.
Too bad.
Abraham Lincoln’s train passed through here before and after delivering his famous address in November 1863. That’s something to brag about.
The once-bustling community should come back as property prices in surrounding areas escalate. The new Southwestern York County Police station nearby guarantees safety.
• Penn Grove Campground: This intriguing site was once home to thousands of weekly mid-Atlantic visitors disembarking to hear the likes of evangelist Billy Sunday.
After the camp was moved from Emigs Grove near Manchester in the late 1800s, they would ride the rail from Baltimore and Philadelphia, depart at Smith Station and settle in at the tabernacle that still seats about 700 people.
Sometimes, they would stay for a week in the cabins surrounding the tabernacle, in the mold of the Israelites in their wilderness camps. One rickety original cabin remains, the others replaced by cement block boxes.
Harvest Time Temple runs the site as a day camp, so on this Sunday afternoon, Penn Grove was far from the energetic family camp site of the past.
Many York Countians today remember the camp by the name Camp Pamadeva, operated by Ralph Boyer’s Gospel Center after World War II.
Pamadeva. Pennsylvania. Maryland. Delaware. Virginia.
• Conewago Chapel: At least Sacred Heart Basilica, near McSherrystown and dating from 1787, was open and welcoming.
Its ceiling frescos and inside architecture engaged the eyes, but two boarded up stained glass window openings brought tears to them. Church vandals operated in these parts, too.
Two seemingly out-of-place features particularly caused one to think.
An umbrella-like structure stood behind the altar, an indication that the building was a basilica or a church deemed notable by the pope. When popes traveled to basilicas, a priest would ring an announcement bell and another cleric escorted him with an umbrella covering from the carriage to the basilica door.
A second feature was prominently mounted near the pulpit. It was a modern placard that urged those passing by to pray for troops away at war.
Out back, a noteworthy nobleman rests in the church’s cemetery.
Here’s how he met his end:
Baron de Beelen Bertholff, distinguished newcomer to the county from the Low Countries in Europe, promoted commerce with America in the late 1700s. Bertholff’s work benefited the foreign trade of both America and Europe.
Several years later, he died from a contagious disease, perhaps yellow fever. A man transported Bertholff’s body from York to Conewago Chapel, but left the coffin standing in front of the church.
Fearing the disease, people allowed the royal body to stay there all day.
“Toward evening Father de Barth (the local priest) sent over to the Lilly farm for help,” a history states, “and two colored men came and assisted him in the last sad duty in the burial of the once distinguished man.”
This gruesome event seems out of synch with such an idyllic setting.
The next stop was unplanned — York Springs, 16 miles from Hanover. After more wrong turns than right ones, the minivan eventually pulled up to the town’s ancient Episcopal church.
The church was closed, of course, but appeared in good enough shape for occasional services, kerosene lamps and wood or coal stove at the ready.
But here’s the neat thing. From the vantage point of the window, its austere box pews reminded one of William Wagner’s 1830s paintings of York landmarks.
One could spend a day absorbing the town’s wonderful architecture, even if marred by an errant sofa on an occasional front porch.
But time did not afford a stop at the town’s main attraction, its once popular sulphur springs.
Residents of Philadelphia and Baltimore traveled in stage coaches to the town in the 1800s to enjoy the health-restoring waters.
All that is left are steps leading to a spring located on private property.
Like the great noblemen, the grand resort died in obscurity.
A visit to those springs will have to wait until the next trip — to northwest York County.