York Town Square

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Wanted: ‘Inmates’ to fill old York County prison

Art of Jimi Hendrix and the names of songs of the time cover the interior of a cell at the former York County Prison. The art comes with the thick walls if someone has a cool $3.9 million to purchase the former county lockup. (See chronology of York County prisons below.) Background posts: If Boston can turn prison into a hotel, York can … , ‘There were only so many cells in that old stone prison’ and Prison listing brings back food loaf memories.

Eric Gerhart, listing agent for the old York County prison, has stepped up efforts to call attention to the old fortress-like building.

He has distributed posters around the county offering a $25,000 reward for capture of a buyer for the 1906-vintage prison. (Comment below or at The Exchange to weigh in on what should be done with the old structure.)

A York Sunday News story tells about a recent open house:

It was easier to visualize the gears of imagination turning in the Realtors’ minds than it was to picture the former York County Jail as a restaurant or apartment building.

The century-old brick building, for sale with a nearly $4 million price tag, has been vacant since 1979. Although the prisoners are gone, the nearly 30,000-square-foot structure houses a series of rusted cells, piles of peeling paint, pigeon droppings and poison ivy.

But several real estate agents who viewed the decrepit eyesore saw unlimited possibilities. They fantasized out loud about potential uses for the old building, including turning it into a bar or nightclub, a hotel or retail shops.

Rotz Realtor Eric Gearhart, the listing agent for the property, said creativity will be needed to sell the old jail. He had left “Wanted, $25,000 Reward” posters around the county asking for “the capture of buyer for the Old York County Prison.”
Gearhart wore a Wild West sheriff’s costume and led a tour of the old jail on Wednesday.

“It’s on the market for the first time ever,” he said while describing the former warden’s quarters near a hanging area. It has “potential to blossom.”

Stephen Snell, executive director of the Realtors Association of York and Adams County, said Gearhart’s Wild West idea is a good one.

“I think the more creative, the better,” he said Thursday.

Realtors, especially when marketing more unusual properties, need to offer creative uses for their listings, he said.
“You’ve got to stand out, … separate yourself from the pack,” Snell said.

Hellam Township resident Mike Markle is an investor who owns several residential units and a corner property he’s remodeling for a restaurant, all within a block of the old jail. He stopped by to get a closer look while the tour was under way.

Although he’s not interested in taking on such a large project, he said whoever buys the prison can turn it into a moneymaker.
“It’s just got so much potential,” he said. The neighborhood isn’t the most desirable right now, he said, but because it’s close to Sovereign Bank stadium, it will grow more attractive in time. “This is all going to happen. This area will be developed.”

Others shared similar thoughts.

“I couldn’t sleep last night because of an idea for a purpose for the property,” said Rotz Realtor Sue Kohr. “I was on the Internet last night doing searches. … I want to find a group of investors.”

She talked of turning the creepy property into a Halloween business similar to Jason’s Woods in Lancaster County.
“All these cells … all the things you can do … I just think it would be a phenomenal opportunity for a limited partnership,” she said. “It would put York County on the map.”

Mike Montgomery is an architect with SAAarchitects in York. He’s seen fixer-uppers in way worse condition than the former jail, he said. Additionally, the location of the building and its unusual history add charm to the property, he said. No matter what purpose the property serves in the future, its past should be included, he said.

“I think you’d definitely have to keep some of the jail aspect … the character of the building” he said.


·1906-1907: The York County Prison structure still standing on Chestnut Street was built next to the original jail.
·1979: The building closed when a new jail opened in Springettsbury Township.
·1982: John and Joyce Gearhart purchased the old prison.
·2003: The York Street Community Center considered buying the prison for parking space. Other ideas for using the prison emerged from a National Trust for Historic Preservation workshop.
·2007: The Gearharts put the prison up for sale for $3.9 million.

Other prison-related posts and photographs:

Wanted: ‘Inmates’ to fill old York County prison
If Boston can turn prison in hotel, York can …
York’s Chestnut Street fortress bad symbol of York’s past
For sale: 100-year-old fortress-like prison
Old York County jail on endangered list
Prison listing brings back food loaf memories
‘There were only so many cells in that old stone prison