York Town Square

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Southeastern York County, Pa., made for Saturday morning drive

The Wallace-Cross Mill Historic site, near Cross Roads, Pa., has been restored to interpret its operation in the 1950s. Then, the mill ran 24 hours a day, seven days a week. (See photo of nearby Muddy Creek Forks below.) Also of interest: With Main Street in Stewartstown covered, historical group compiling photos of side streets and Two York County institutions meet up in Chanceford Township and Get around to seeing southeastern York County’s ornate Round Hill church.
A previous post explained that southeastern York County is tailor-made for a Sunday afternoon drive.
A tour through that area on a Saturday morning works, too.
But there’s only one thing missing on a Sunday morning:
Wayside markers to point out the wonderful historical and architectural features of that area.
Such a sign explains the Wallace-Cross Mill, a county park. But tourists would otherwise have to read up on many other sites in advance to know their significance.
I brought some of the sign issue out in the following, which will appear as a York Sunday News column on Dec. 6:

West York’s George Fitch tells briefs riders before boarding the train at Muddy Creek Forks in 2006. The restored village is becoming a prime site for tourists.
A two-hour auto tour of York County’s southeast corner on a recent sunny Saturday morning evoked musings a plenty about everyday county life.
I’ve whittled such thoughts down to six:
1. The Wallace-Cross Mill is the highlight of a beautiful county park, the red, wooden building one of 229 such county structures built between 1740 and 1907.
Signage at the Cross Roads-area mill points out that 2,222 of these grist mills operated in Pennsylvania in 1890.
A mill such as this one on Rambo Run served as an early York County employer and community gathering place in addition to its main purpose of grinding grain for use on surrounding farms.
But here’s something to consider: The dams on the creeks that diverted water through raceways to turn mill wheels served as an early environmental disruptor. Shad and other migratory fish in the Susquehanna River could only swim as far up the tributaries as the dams. So, in recent years, such dams have been systematically breached to aid aquatic life and enhance safety.
Meanwhile, York Daily Record/Sunday News editorial page editor Scott Fisher has reported on the harmful silt that has built up behind the four dams on the lower Susquehanna River. That muck, if released from the Conowingo Dam, could cause harm to the Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem.
His reporting shows that when mill dams on tributaries are breached, even more silt is released into the Susquehanna. This adds to the buildup pressing against the Conowingo’s wall, the last barrier before the nasty stuff reaches the bay.
Just a thought: Even a seemingly harmless mill operation in a green, bucolic setting affected the environment.
2. The old Ramsay Theater is deteriorating on Stewartstown’s Main Street.
Such a prominent building in an otherwise attractive downtown should either be renovated or, alas, come down.
The structure is a throwback to the day when Stewartstown and other small towns across York County were self contained. It’s interesting that sprawl and big box stores have taken away vitality from the downtowns of boroughs across the county in the same way they have eaten into York City’s verve.
Just a thought: The old theater has potential for retail use, if rehabbed, even if the likelihood of its return theater use is slim. To the eye, delays in deciding its future will probably lead to its demolition, a landmark that can never be replaced.
3. A community park with a rich history and potential to draw tourists sits unmarked next to the Presbyterian Church, outside Stewartstown’s downtown.
Camp Stewartstown, a World War II German prisoner-of-war camp, housed more than 2,000 soldiers in the summers of 1944 and 1945. Hitler’s minions, some still in tattered uniforms, were shipped in from Fort Indiantown Gap, picked fruit during the day and flopped in the fenced-in camp at night.
Just a thought: Gettysburg Battlefield-style placards with the camp’s layout, photographs and interpretive stories would attract visitors to the site. So, there’s a missed opportunity for tourism here.
Such unmarked historic sites dot York County. Unfortunately, interpreting them with wayside markers is more than local historical groups can underwrite. Perhaps that’s a project for the state travel and tourism office or a countywide initiative.
A York Daily Record/Sunday News report last week said 32 signs have been installed at PennDOT federal stimulus project sites around the state. Each temporary marker cost about $2,342. Imagine if such funds could be redirected to highlight rural historical sites around the state.
4. Centre Presbyterian Church rises like a fortress from the countryside.
The Dempwolf architectural firm of York designed this largely unknown architectural gem, constructed in 1888. Dempwolf designs are often associated with York, but the firm designed more than 500 buildings in 50 years over a broad region.
Just a thought: Actually, it’s a repeat of my previous observations about the need for signage to explain York County’s significant sites.
5. The restored general store at Muddy Creeks Forks was closed, but the restored village that formerly serviced the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad offered plenty to see.
During the summer, tourists can take excursions on a rehabbed section of tracks.
This particular Saturday, some volunteers were working around the train yard. Wire brush sounds revealed someone was laboring on the interior of a caboose parked on a siding.
Just a thought: This image of a solitary worker sanding away inside an isolated rail car is indicative of many selfless volunteer hours committed to making York County’s many historic sites worthy places to visit.
6. A Conservative Brethren Church, in a remote area outside Winterstown, was the last stop.
A sign on the church says its congregation meets every 4th Sunday. Someone blacked out listings for other Sundays.
The church has a beautiful view, a furnace and electrical hookup. But no running water.
Indeed, church life of this hilltop probably hasn’t changed for decades.
Just a thought: Actually, something has changed.
Sans plumbing, two nearby outhouses are available for parishioners. Inside one of them, a bottle of hand sanitizer was positioned for ready use.
Its presence seemed to intrude on this primitive hilltop scene.
But the bottle served as evidence that concerns about the swine flu have reached even the hardy country folks in the remotest areas of York County.