York Town Square

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Lonely guys in uniform came from all over to take part in York County USO activities in World War II

The USO, United Services Organization, in the York (Pa.) area was headquartered in the now-demolished York County Academy building. The USO’s dance hall and eatery, the Pennsylvania Dutch canteen, operated out of its gymnasium during World War II. The old gym still stands in the northeast corner of its former lot, now a North Beaver Street parking lot. A 21st-century school York Academy Regional Charter School draws on this academy’s name. This photograph came from the “Art Work of York,” W.H. Parish Publishing Co., 1893. Also of interest: Old gym bears signs of USO past and USO column attracts WW II-era memories and Yorkblog.com leads to reverse publishing.

A photograph of the old York County Academy, part of a rare “Art Work of York” collection, reminded me of the World War II-vintage USO that operated out of there.

I adapted a section from my “In the Thick of the Fight” to tell about how things worked in those days when York swarmed with men in uniform, defense contractors, women in coveralls and other war related activity:

Uniformed men daily disembarked at the Pennsylvania Railroad Station on York’s North Duke Street.
There, they would wait for their connecting train or a ride home and enjoy the hospitality and food packages from a United Services Organization booth.
Often, they would walk to York’s Continental Square where the Victory House, a Colonial Court House replica served as a focal point.
Volunteers there would point visitors to an old brick building on North Beaver Street. That was the former York County Academy, a school built in 1787 and forerunner to York College of Pennsylvania, and then the headquarters for USO activities in the York area.
The old academy served as a Servicemen’s Club. The Pennsylvania Dutch Canteen operated out of its former gym.
The club included a lounge, a “Quiet Game Room” (card tables and puzzles) and an “Active Game Room, (ping pong and pool) and a “Craft Room” (sewing and pressing materials.)
Out back in the canteen, Pennsylvania Dutch designs covered the walls of the old brick gym, and antique lanterns and candles provided soft light.
There, servicemen could eat and mingle with young women serving as volunteer hostesses. Outside, a wooden floor provided an area for dancing, basketball or shuffleboard during warm weather.
Local women acted as hostesses, chaperones and canteen workers to serve the lonely traveling military men.
Patrons came from all over. Some sought to kill time during layovers. Others came from nearby News Cumberland Army Depot, Fort Indiantown Gap and other military bases to seek companionship.

Photo courtesy of Beth Reinhold’s and Terry Zellers’ collection.