York, Pa., landmark: ‘The house with a garden wall’
The former Gamble mansion on South Duke Street and East Cottage Place is often identified by its brick wall. It has long been a York, Pa.’s landmark. Also of interest: York City’s Fry-Brown house, worthy of a postcard, hidden in plain sight.
Gordon Freireich’s York Sunday News columns often profile significant houses and other buildings around his hometown of York.
I recently ran across one of those interesting columns, published in November 2011, about one of those houses titled ‘The house with a garden wall.’
Anna Dill Gamble, a leading suffragist, and her family lived in the house for years. So you can fairly say that the house is associated with the early years of the women’s rights movement in York County.
Here is Gordon’s piece:
It was the wall.
It was always the wall.
The house on the corner of S. Duke Street and Cottage Place was a constant source of fascination for me when I was a youngster. And as I grew older, too.
When I was allowed to walk by myself the four blocks from our home on South Duke Street to the Southern Theater on Jackson Street, I had to pass the house and its brick-walled backyard.
Early on I had heard stories that an elderly woman lived there. But the wall drew me to the place like a magnet. The wall was higher than I was tall, and no matter how high I tried to jump, I could not see over it to discover the world it enclosed.
That wall also became the measuring stick of my height. Eventually, I was able to catch a glimpse by jumping up to see what lay beyond the brick wall. Later, I was actually tall enough to look over the wall.
The house — which was officially 58 E. Cottage Place — was, and still is, an imposing residence. It had an aura of wealth and gentility to it back in the late 1940s and early 1950s. It was unusual because it was a large single home on streets lined with semi-detached or row homes. It was too refined a building to shout “look at me.” It just grabbed your attention and held it, mostly because of the wall.
The home back then was the residence of Anna Dill Gamble. She and her parents moved into the home they built in 1881.
Anna’s father (who earned a place in a 1907 biography of prominent York residents) was known for having modernized — by 19th century standards — the electrotype printing process in China. Anna had been born in Paris and moved to York when she was a young child.
One article on Anna says the family came to York County at the urging of Samuel Small, a founder of the York Collegiate Institute, the school from which she would graduate in 1893. With her father’s death in 1886, Anna and her mother continued to live in the home.
The biography entry on her father states that one of his female ancestors was believed to have killed the last wolf in a section of Ireland by thrusting her apron-clad hand down the animal’s throat. True or not, Anna must have inherited some of that feistiness.
As she grew older she became a leader of the suffrage movement in York in 1914, organized the local Girl Scouts, helped found the Women’s Club of York, as well as the Junior Red Cross and — as a devout Catholic — established the Catholic Women’s Club of York. She was a longtime member of the York County Historical Society and wrote a number of books.
An article on Anna in a 1952 edition of the York Gazette & Daily, the forerunner to the York Daily Record, stated: “On the walls of her stately home are many beautiful oil paintings done by her mother years ago.”
In the early 1950s, it was my personal goal to see what was behind the wall that surrounded the house. It turned out it was a garden.
Anna Dill Gamble died in the house in January 1956, at the age of 78. In her will, she left the house to the Catholic Diocese to be used as a home “for aged and infirm priests.”
That did not happen; the house became the St. Anne convent for the Sisters of Charity.
Later the building was sold, went through a number of owners, and became a personal care facility.
In its more recent history, York’s venerable Voni Grimes and his wife operated the Golden Personal Care facility there from 1987 to 2003, when they sold it.
Today it remains a personal care facility, since 2003 The Trophies of Grace.
The wall still remains. And the wall brings back memories of a time gone by. But for me, once I could see over the wall, the mystique of the home evaporated. Maybe some things are just meant to remain a mystery.
Also of interest:
Some other York landmarks: