York Town Square

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Rare York, Pa., map provides a snapshot of downtown life 80 years ago

This is an rare map of York, Pa.’s  Continental Square in 1933, as drawn up by the engineering firm of C.S. Davidson. The firm operates today in York County. The map shows the many businesses operating in York’s core even at the height of the Great Depression. An enlarged copy of this map is available here. Check out York Sunday News’ Gordon Freireich’s column: ‘A thriving downtown York – in 1933.’  Also of interest: ‘The bad, and yes, the good of the Great Depression in York County’.

Gordon Freireich’s intriguing assessment gives color to a black-and-white Depression-era map of downtown York.

So we’re repeating that assessment – his York Sunday News column – here:

“It is an amazing artifact.

“A map of center city York in 1933 shows just how dynamic the heart of the community was in that era.

“Compiled in that year by the civil engineering firm of C.S. Davidson, the hand-lettered map captures the spirit of the area centered on Continental Square and bounded by Philadelphia, Duke, King and Beaver streets just short of 80 years ago.

“The map identifies almost 200 commercial properties with a smattering of private residences in the four-block area.

“Retired York businessman John Zimmerman shared the map with a group that was trying to identify buildings pictured on an old postcard of the first block of East Market Street. Of particular interest on the postcard was a building with a spire atop it. According to the map, it was the Polack Jewelry Store, now the site of the pocket park next to M&T Bank (former York Bank).

“Just on the north side of that one block, the map identified (from Continental Square eastward):

“First National Bank, Masslinger’s Restaurant, Rowan’s Women Apparel, Hanover Shoe Store, Morris Drug Store, Lehmayer’s Men’s Apparel, Throne’s Candy Store, United Hat Store (Men’s Hats), Comet Department Store, York Trust Company, R.F. Polak Jeweler, Jade Beauty Shoppe, Stillman’s Department Store, McClelland & Gotwalt Hardware Store, H. B. Beard Company Harness Shop, Howard’s Restaurant, Ideal Shoe Repair Shop, Singer Sewing Machine Company Store, Farmer’s Fire Insurance Company, and the Lafayette Club.

“What a variety of businesses in just one block. You can almost feel the pulse beat.

“A spot check of the map shows other fascinating details of a bustling downtown area.

“Along West Philadelphia Street, carved out of what is identified as the Warner Brothers’ Strand Theatre, are spaces for seven businesses, including The York Sanitary Barber Shop, the Outlet Stout Shop Ladies Apparel, Liberty Meat Market and Coover’s Drug Store.

“Everything anyone would want was within a one-block walk from the center of town: from flowers, to furniture, to furs; from carpets, to coiffures, to cigars.


“A number of the businesses were still in operation during the 1950s, what many people consider the golden age of downtown York in the pre-shopping center era.

“Peoples Drug Store and the Western Union office were still on the southwest corner of Continental Square.

“Newswanger’s Shoes and Schaeffer’s Cigar Store were across the street and Bear’s Department Store and Whelan’s Drug Store anchored the northwest corner.

“The map is a wonderful slice of downtown York’s past and an echo of life in a much different time.”

 Also of interest:

– ‘When did York’s downtown square change from Centre to Continental?’

– ‘The 1950s, 1960s: The greatest time to grow up in York, Pa.

Gregory’s, old York, Pa., menswear store spawns fond memories