York Town Square

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York County, Pa.’s 150th birthday party would have astonished founding settlers

York, Pa.’s, arch-laden Centre Square was lit up as it never had been before in this photograph of York County’s 150th birthday celebration in 1899. This scene was captured in the York Daily-published book, “York and York County.” Also of interest: York’s Bradford pear trees: ‘Beautiful arch of blooms … followed by the snowstorm of petals’ and York-area picture book not your typical coffee table publication and Author: ‘York’s streetscape features almost every style and era of American architecture’.

The descriptions sounds like a review for a 21st century sci-fi movie:

“The result was a scene which might well have led an alarmed burgher of 1749, had he unexpectedly witnessed it, to rub his bewildered eyes in astonished inquiry as to whether it was the upper or nether world to which he had suddenly been transported.”

Those words described York’s well-lit Centre Square in 1899.
Folks in those turn-of-the-century days when electric lighting was in its infancy just never had experienced such a moment, much less York’s first settlers 150 years before… .

Charles A. Hawkins and Houston E. Landis gave this description in their 1901 book: “York and York County, 1749-1899.”
Here is a further report from this now out-of-print book about sesquicentennial festivities:

“Four imposing triumphal arches of modified Ionic style of architecture were erected at the four entrances to the historic Centre Square, wherein stood the old court house which, in the darkest days of the American Revolution, furnished a refuge and an abiding place for the Continental Congress.
“Between the arches arose at stated intervals eight white columns constructed in harmony with them, thus completely encircling the Square and forming a beautiful Court of Honor. These were decorated with a profusion of electric lights, some attached in artistic fashion and others suspended from arch to column and from column to arch.
“… Other arches were erected, two west of the Codorus Creek on Market Street, one on Market near Beaver, one at Pine Street and one on South George Street between King Steet and the Square, the last mentioned under the auspices of the Merchants’ Association.
“Individual decoration was of course abundant. The city was profusely gay with bunting and flags and electric lights. Brilliant displays of fireworks were provided on the fair grounds for the entertainment of the people at night.

One of several parades, with 168 floats passing through the Dempwolf-designed arched Court of Honor, stood out.
“The greatest concourse of people ever assembled in York, possibly not less than 100,000, witnessed the industrial parade on the second day of the celebration,” the book stated.
Every time York played host to a celebration – and there were many – newspapers and history books pointed out it was the biggest event in county history.
The 150th birthday party probably was the largest up to that point.
And with that brightly illuminated square, the most memorable.