York Town Square

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York’s rowhouses becoming an endangered species

Workers tear down rowhouses damaged in a Chestnut Street fire on July 9, 2009. Background posts: York County … ‘A smorgasbord of architectural styles’ and Deadly York fire: ‘There never was a more horrible one’ and York’s worst blaze struck 150 years ago.

Every time I hear that another rowhouse has succumbed to flames in York, I think about how many families called that place home in its 100 or so years of existence.
York’s long strings of attached homes were built for families of factory workers during the height of the Industrial Revolution.
Although York sees itself as a Revolutionary War town, much of its housing stock comes from the Victorian era.
I’ve kept my eye on one row house for years — 531 Thomas St.

For a few months in 1936, it housed a well-traveled writer/preacher with the improbable name of A.W. Pink. Despite his colorful name, Pink was a serious scholar. In between pastorates and without a regular place to preach, the Englishman and his wife Vera came to York to live in rented Thomas Street quarters near Charles and Elsie Pressel, publisher of his magazine, “Studies in the Scriptures.”
Pink could not find preaching opportunities in York so he moved on, and his former Thomas Street home deteriorated over the years until it was rehabbed by Habitat for Humanity this year.
Some months back, an article on Pink in a publication called “The Banner of Truth” indicated that his then out-of-print biography brought $80 on eBay. Iain Murray’s work on Pink has since been brought back into print.
When that title is added to other Pink works, this former Yorker’s books have sold in the thousands.
One only wonders about the many stories that could be written from each of the scores of other rowhouses in York. They’re overlooked treasures that are very much at risk from fire, deterioration and absentee slumlords.
The York Sunday News (9/18/2005) article on the Thomas Street rowhouse renovations follows:

It took two years for Debbie Krout Althoff to see a dream come true.
The executive director of York Habitat for Humanity looked at a row of remodeled Thomas Street town houses Saturday as she described her feelings about the end of a neighborhood renovation.
York Habitat, sponsored by Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist as part of its 250th anniversary celebration and with help from numerous volunteers and work by potential home owners, remodeled a row of seven houses on Thomas Street. The last one, 517 Thomas St., was dedicated Saturday.
The house was York Habitat’s 76th remodeled home. Reconstruction of two other houses on Thomas Street was managed by Housing Initiatives Corp. Krout-Althoff marked the significance of turning the 1940s houses into homes.
“It was to breathe new life into a deteriorating community,” she said.
Nearby, D’amber Spells, 8, and her sister, Jada Carr, 4, were eager to attend a welcome party for their new neighbors. The girls recalled renovations of their home at 521 Thomas St., and after peeking at the freshly remodeled house a few doors down, they said they liked the flooring selections.
Around the corner, about 60 folks — Habitat and Housing Initiatives officials, contractors, York Mayor John Brenner and others — celebrated the completion of Thomas Street in the Fellowship Hall of Grace Lutheran Church on Jefferson Avenue.
Melinda Alexander, owner of 517 Thomas St., was busy preparing food in her new kitchen for her guests. Her son, Justin McNair, 12, wasn’t sure which bedroom he would take, but was proud of the sanding work he did on wooden closet doors that opened to reveal a laundry area.
“It’s really nice,” McNair said about his new home.
So there it is, another overlooked county treasure – rowhouses.

Other unsung or overlooked York County sites:
The JCC’s Holocaust sculpture
The Little Courthouse
Aldersgate United Methodist Church’s Copper Beach carving.
— Prospect Hill Cemetery
War Mothers Memorial
— Work War II USO at former York County Academy gymnasium
— York’s Salem Square soldiers monument
York’s Cookes House
York’s rowhouses
— Wrightsville’s monuments
— The Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge
Memorial trees along highways Route 30 & Susquehanna Trail
The Inches
— Camp Stewartstown
— The Wrightsville Bridge supports
— New York Wire Co.’s factory whistle
— Mary Ann Furnace
— York’s Hartman Building
— Hanover’s Iron Mike and The Picket
York’s Eberts Lane
Helen Reeves Thackston Memorial Park
— WW II defense worker housing
— Shiloh’s former town square
Loucks one-room school
Red Lion’s Fairmount Park— Carlisle Avenue Market House
York’s Fairmount Neighborhood — Ma & Pa Railroad, Muddy Creek Forks draw fans
Delta’s slate clock and Mainline Museum Spring Grove’s top-of-class museum
York’s Reservoir Hill
Forgotten York Valley Inn
Wallace-Cross Mill
Jefferson town square
James Buchanan’s home “Wheatland”
Columbia’s Clock and Watch Museum.
For 175 posts on unsung sites around York County, click here.