York Town Square

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York County treasures, Part I: ‘So, why care about old – or historic – homes?’

The owner of the Peterman Shoe Company owned this 253 W. Springettsbury Ave. home. It is one of three homes mentioned in a recent York Sunday News op ed piece by preservationist Mike Johnson: Preservation of historic homes in York — who cares? These historic homes are, indeed, York County treasures. (See additional photos of preserved homes below.) Also of interest: Famed Dempwolf architects designed big house in tiny Gatchelville, in rural York County

I was going to just excerpt Mike Johnson’s guest column in the York Sunday News (2/7/13), but the managing partner of York Preservation Partners included such good content – tips about preservation and such – that I’m sharing the whole thing here.

He squarely answers the question: So, why care about old – or historic – homes?

This is where the famed York architect John Dempwolf lived, 701 South George Street. It was built in 1886.

Whether you’re a native Yorker or new to the area, you’d probably agree that York has lots of old buildings – including downtown bars and restaurants, office and apartment buildings and homes. But so what? We generally measure economic progress by the number of new homes built, new office buildings, new shopping centers … “new” equals “good.”

So, why care about old – or historic – homes? Let me tell you why I care and see if you agree.

Since 2005, I’ve worked with a couple of partners to restore three large historic homes and have just started on a fourth (see www.900southgeorge.com for one of the completed restoration projects). All were built in the late 1800’s – one for the founder of the Peterman Shoe Company (now the Maewyn’s Pub on North George); one for York’s most famous architect (John Dempwolf) and one for the man whose son became president of York Bank & Trust (now M&T).

All three homes had fallen on hard times before restoration – a vacant dentist’s office, a condemned rest home and a dilapidated college student party house. After lots of sanding, scraping, caulking, repairing and painting – all three are once again well-maintained family residences and have helped to stabilize their historic neighborhoods.

A lot of people have asked me why I get involved in these projects. It’s not because I love sanding walls, filling holes in rotted wood or peeling hideous wallpaper. So why do I do it? To me, new isn’t always best. While I applaud, believe in and support the growth and new development in downtown York, I believe that both the old and the new are critical parts of what can make York special.

So, why do I think that old can also equal good?

1. By definition, restoration is the ultimate form of recycling. Nothing is wasted, landfills aren’t filled and new building materials need not be manufactured. Jobs are created and saved as area craftsman add their skills – “unleashing creativity” as York’s newest slogan proudly announces.

2. We have a responsibility to future generations to let them see tangible evidence of the families who have lived here before them – restored homes help us to visualize a time when our grandparents led vital lives in these now “historic” homes and neighborhoods. Professors call this our social history relating to our environment – I call it beautiful homes connecting us to our families and collective history.

3. Quality workmanship reminds us all that creativity was “unleashed” long ago in York – and has never stopped. Real plaster, beautiful oak floors with years of patina, stained glass windows, decorative door and window hardware, chair rails, beautiful baseboard and window trim – you just don’t find this in ANY new construction, regardless of the price!

Join the restoration movement! Here are some thoughts on how to get started:

1. Find a home that needs to be saved. Maybe call the city and ask to speak to the head of the Redevelopment Authority to find out properties that the city has acquired and that can now be purchased cheap from the city.

2. Visit the York County Heritage Trust on Market Street to find out when the home was built, who lived there and other interesting facts about its neighborhood, etc. Browse through their bookstore to find fascinating books on York’s history and the amazing variety of architectural styles in York. Be sure to ask if they have a copy of local author Scott Butcher’s newest book on York County architecture.

3. Call Historic York, Inc. to find out about the architectural style of your building, receive guidance on how to go about the restoration process such as materials to use as well as recommended craftsmen, etc. – and learn about the Historic Architectural Review Board process if the home is located in York’s historic zone.

4. Browse through some York businesses offering architectural materials that can help you as you try to match a missing bedroom door, a cracked stained glass window, antique hinges, lights, etc. – try Refindings and Circa Antiques on Prospect Street, Resource York on North Street and other antique stores in York and surrounding towns like New Oxford.

Ignore the peeling paint, cracked windows, faded siding and trash in the yard and use your imagination to see how you can transform it back to its original grandeur. You’ll need to mix in some “sweat equity” to afford all the repairs, but believe me, when completed, you’ll be proud to call it home. You will have “revitalized” a home and joined the York Renaissance!

P.S. – one warning – be careful, you might just get hooked like me and keep on going once you’ve restored your first home. Just maybe, you’ll convince a friend or family member to join you in living in one of the beautiful old homes we have in York.


The John C. Schmidt Home, 900 South George Street, was built as a private residence and how since been remodeled into condominiums.