York Town Square

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How one spot in York County, Pa., tells much about what is going on around there

A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but this York (Pa.) Daily Record/Sunday News photograph tells a story covering a century. This photo by Paul Kuehnel shows, background, the dual towers of the old York Silk Manufacturing Co., book ending its single smokestack. It is now an apartment complex. A Sheetz Convenience Store is planned in the neighborhood, foreground, at the Interstate 83 and Route 30 intersection. Unknowingly, the photographer set up a contrast between today’s growing York County service industry and the decline of large-scale smokestack factories in the past 100 years. (See photo below of houses coming down.) Also of interest: Interstate 83 has strangled York crossroads neighborhood and Rutter’s store offers snapshot of change in York County.

My York Sunday News column (9/6/09) ties to Labor Day and the changing landscape of York County:
Southbound motorists on Interstate 83 crossing the Route 30 overpass can see an intimidating building with two towers prominent in York’s skyline.
York County doesn’t have many fortresses, and the building’s high smokestack gives it away as an old factory.
That’s one of York Silk Manufacturing Co.’s two turn-of-the-20th-century factories. The company became widely known for its specialty, Moneybak black silk, according to York County Heritage Trust documents… .

York Daily Record/Sunday News photographer Paul Kuehnel caught demolition under way on these houses across from Round the Clock diner in Manchester Township. The old York Silk plant, background, stands guard.
The silk mill was one of the burgeoning York industries of the day and spawned construction of neighborhood row homes for its workers. The 16 Chestnut Street homes that recently went up in flames — a short walk from York Silk’s old factory — were the type built to house workers at nearby factories of that day.
Over time, local silk making declined, and the hands of its skilled workers made other things.
Today, the former York Silk factory has been converted into an apartment complex, Hudson Park Towers.
It’s a towering symbol of how the York area has changed from a “city of industries,” as it was called 100 years ago. That change will be painfully accelerated if Harley-Davidson, just across Route 30 from York Silk’s old plant, heads to southern pastures.
* * *
Until recently, that southbound trip across the Route 30 overpass revealed the houses of descendants, as it were, of York Silk’s workers.
The interstate had cut off those compact, two-story houses to the east from the working-class community of North York. But that Manchester Township neighborhood hung on for years as a desirable locale for workers in the growing suburban factories, wholesalers and warehouses.
The houses sat on what would become the best available land in York County.
For decades — centuries — north and south met east and west in York’s Continental Square. There, George Street crossed Market Street, the coast-to-coast Lincoln Highway.
But the late 1950s’ interstate construction coupled with the 1960s’ Route 30 bypass completion moved this pivotal point a couple of miles northward toward the growing suburbs.
That land to the east of the overpass joined its four-point partners as the most visible land in York County, and that tidy neighborhood signaled to motorists that craftsmen worked and lived and prospered here.
That neighborhood served as a symbol of York’s character as a town for skilled workers who created things people could use — often products whose great size and weight masked the immense precision and accuracy demanded in their making. The deftness of workers’ hands tended to mask the acuity of their minds.
William Henry Hubley is just one of many examples of a Renaissance man who wore a blue collar.
A newspaper reported in 1949 that the 75-year-old woodworker with West York’s Pennsylvania Furniture regularly attended York Symphony Orchestra
concerts and avidly read newspapers, to keep up with world happenings.
He enjoyed church concerts and regularly listened to “better musical programs” on the radio.
In recent years, the houses near the interstate fell into disrepair, and the high-profile acreage their neighborhood covered became desirable for the fast-growing service sector.
Sheetz plans to build a convenience store where those homes once stood.
That very fine ground is quite an astute catch for Sheetz, promising to serve as a 5,000-square-foot billboard for this relative newcomer to York.
But it also could communicate to motorists that York County is quickly becoming a vanilla, service-oriented community, where many people must drive great distances to find sustainable work.
The glass-half-empty view is that York County is becoming just that, with York Silk’s demise and Sheetz’s planned presence its Exhibits A and B.
The half-full view is that York County still has more than its share of small businesses and machine shops where craftsmen work with their hands and minds. For example, take a drive around the county and make a mental note of all the recent and current construction.
We now tend to have 20 small businesses employing 10 people each rather than one, 200-employee business. Further, we make goods — for example, roast Starbucks coffee beans — in secluded industrial parks in contrast to the towered buildings of old.
And the county still has its own identity and has not lost its sense of community.
Simply, this is no mere suburb of Baltimore.
In this respect, the presence of a convenience store in the hinge of the county is unfortunate.
The fact is that the glass is neither half full nor half empty.
It’s half.
We’re losing and gaining.
The constant asset since that day when Moneybak black silk was in fashion is the quality of York County’s workers, no matter the color of their collars.