York Town Square

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

The Murals of York can be used as artifacts to tell a story about the York area. Pictured here is the York Fair mural on the side of the East Market Street parking garage across from the Yorktowne Hotel. There’s a certain irony of this particular mural as a celebration of agriculture being located on the side of the garage, overlooking a parking lot. For the last 25 years, York County farmland has been gobbled up to provide housing for commuters from Maryland and elsewhere. Background posts: 20 questions and answers to prove your York County WWII smarts, Resources for York/Adams history junkies increasingly posted on Web, 20 questions and answers to prove your York County smarts, Part III.

When about 20 York County teachers became my students in a recent Millersville University summer continuing education class, I cast about for tools make local history come alive.
I put together a true/false quiz designed to summarize some of the themes of my two-hour primer. (I used it more as a mental execise than a test.)
See how you do, and don’t be surprised if my answers resemble sound bytes. Follow the links to go deeper:

True or false:
1. The business of York County has always been business.
2. The Civil War is a point of emphasis and pride for York County community leaders.
3. The York Revolution baseball team has been criticized for taking its name from a part of York County’s past that city fathers wish would go away.
4. Large swaths of York County have seen little change in the past century.
5. There’s been little progress on race in York County since the Civil War.
6. Government has always been the engine that has driven York County.
7. Most towns in York County are the way they are because of their isolation.
8. York County resembles many other parts of Pennsylvania in that Eastern Europeans helped shape its communities.
9. York County, founded largely by settlers who passed through Philadelphia, remains predominantly attached to Philadelphia and its institutions.
10. York County’s embattled agriculture continues serve as a local economic force.

1. False. Just for starters, York County was a mid-Atlantic agricultural breadbasket from its earliest years. The Industrial Revolution spurred local industry, but the amount of developed real estate versus land used for farming and other purposes didn’t reach the 50 percent mark for another 100 years – until the early 1980s.
2. False. Great achievements in the American Revolution and World War II combined with the surrender of York to the Confederates in 1863 placed local Civil War deeds in the background. Some in town – and elsewhere – considered the surrender rash, ill advised and unnecessary. Local achievements in the Revolution and WWII were viewed as intentional, well conceived and important to the national welfare.
3. False. York’s Atlantic League team drew its name from the community’s proudest well of memories, the nine-month period in which the visiting Continental Congress adopted America’s first framework of government – the Articles of Confederation. During that period, the tide of war changed as France became an ally. An American win in the Battle of Saratoga during that period didn’t hurt the American cause, either.
4. False. Practically every inch of York County has been traveled over, plowed, forested, mined or built upon. And York was a crossroads community, which meant people were always coming or going.
5. False. The Murals of York serve as just one current indicator that the community respects diversity more than those days of 1860 when it rejected Abraham Lincoln in both of his presidential campaigns. But about half of the 18 murals show people of color going about their everyday lives. Still, the community’s view of people of color is uneven and inconsistent.
6. False. To be sure, government, particularly the prospect of protection from a county sheriff’s department, was a reason for York County’s separation from Lancaster County. And lawyers and governmental officials were important as local government formed after America’s independence. But the constant division of original townships into boroughs and other townships indicated longstanding concerns about large government. Today, York County has lots of governments and thus little centralized governmental strength. The private sector is the engine that runs York County.
7. False. Whatever the quirks and idiosyncracies of York countians, their makeup does not stem from isolation. Remember, York County was a crossroads, and a busy rail town. It was possible 100 years ago for a person to travel from Windsor or Dover via trolley to downtown York, board a train to Baltimore and then a ship to Europe. That entire trip collectively required only a few steps.
8. False. York County was historically founded by western Europeans – Germans, Scots-Irish and English Quakers. In fact, far into the 20th century, its industries touted their German craftsmanship, untainted by the likes of Eastern Europeans.
9. False. Philadelphia and Baltimore have battled for the hearts and wallets of York countians for more than 200 years. Baltimore’s proximity 50 miles to the south has helped it against the in-state influence of the larger Philadelphia. Let’s just say that proof of Baltimore’s stronger influence is that historically baseball’s Baltimore O’s and football’s Colts were more popular than the Philadelpia’s Phillies and Eagles.
10. True. Agriculture maintains a strong presence in York County, and thousands of people are employed in agribusiness. Diminishing acreage farmed continues to bite into that influence. A trend for agricultural observers to watch is a movement toward factory farms.

Related posts: Don’t know much about York County History, Part I, Part II and Part III.