Spooky Places in Downtown York

It’s late October, and spookiness is in the air – jack-o-lanterns, costumes, and ghost stories abound.


Downtown York has its share of spooky locations – from stories of paranormal activities to locations that witnessed some type of “dark” episode.

So if you are ready to get your spook on, here’s a few creepy sites to whet your Halloween spirit!


The Yorktowne Hotel stands as testament to the Roaring Twenties – the era in which it was constructed. When it opened in October 1925, the dazzling Italian Renaissance hotel had 198 guest rooms. There’s a story of an elderly gentleman who checked into the hotel in the 1940s. He was quite tall, and become a semi-permanent resident on the eighth floor, living there until he became very ill and ended up in the hospital. On his deathbed, he mentioned that he would miss all his friends at The Yorktowne.

Legend has it that after death, he returned. Over the years, guests have reported seeing a tall, human-like shadow or apparition on the eight floor, sometimes disappearing into a wall – where the door to the deceased gentleman’s room once stood.


Better known locally as the home to the Lafayette Club for much of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century, this building has its share of ghost stories. The attractive Greek Revival home was built in 1839 for businessman Philip A. Small and his family. Prior to World War II, a young man by the name of Stuart found employ at the Lafayette Club; however, his time there was limited. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Stuart enlisted in the Navy. Fortunately, he survived the war and returned to the Lafayette Club, eventually becoming manager of the club and caretaker of the building, where he lived for many years. But Stuart eventually fell ill, resigned, and passed on.

Former employees of the Lafayette Club, however, believed that Stuart returned. There many stories of propped doors inexplicably closing, of moving shadows on walls, even of a full apparition descending the stairs. There’s also been reports of noises in the kitchen – like food being prepared – when no one is even in the kitchen and the lights are off. The apparition was also spotted many times in the basement, moving from room-to-room.


William Goodridge is one of the most important figures in York County history. Born a slave, he was eventually sent to York to apprentice as a tanner, and given his freedom. He left York for a few years, later returning and opening a barbershop. A very successful businessman, he owned as many as 20 buildings at one time. But his real legacy is that as a conductor and stationmaster on the Underground Railroad. His house on East Philadelphia Street still stands, and has been authenticated by the National Park Service as a true Underground Railroad location.

Soon to be opened as a museum, the house has experienced its share of spine-tingling moments. An employee of the city was taking measurements of the rooms and worked his way down to the basement. That’s when he heard footsteps above him. He rushed upstairs, thinking he had left the door unlocked and someone entered off the street, only to discover an empty house and locked doors. Not long after he returned to the basement, the footsteps began again. So he proceeded upstairs once more, only to find that he was alone.

The current owner of the building is Crispus Attucks, an organization working diligently to create the William C. Goodridge Freedom House and Underground Railroad Museum. A few years ago their maintenance staff fled the building in terror after hearing dragging chains and moaning coming from the basement. Other staff members have reported footsteps, and there’s a window on the second floor that likes to open all by itself!


No, there’s no reported ghostly visions or chilling otherworldly tales from this building. However, it sits upon a plot of land once occupied by the Pennsylvania House, a hotel that stood in the late 1800s. It was here that a rather peculiar, perhaps downright terrifying, event occurred in 1872. In May of that year, P.T. Barnum’s Museum, Menagerie, Hippodrome came to town and set up in Penn Park. In addition to the Bearded Child, and the Brainless Being, Barnum promised to exhibit cannibals that he had captured in Fiji. Alas, one of the alleged cannibals was extremely ill when the circus and freak show arrived by train, and passed away while staying at the Pennsylvania House.

We’ll let the York Daily explain what happened next, directly from a headline on the front page of their May 15, 1872 edition: “Death of the Cannibal Dwarf – A Horrid Scene – Cannibalism in Our Midst.” The paper went on to describe what happened after the “savage” died – their manager locked the body in one room and the other cannibals in a separate room, then went to report the incident. But while he was gone, two male cannibals gained accessed to their former friend and, well, consumed him! And while the headlines sold a lot of papers and probably even more tickets for P.T. Barnum, the other paper in town – the True Democrat – claimed that the story was fabricated to sell tickets! For its part, the York Daily stood by its reporting and a local craftsman verified that he had built a special coffin specifically for the “cannibal dwarf.”


Near the end of the American Revolution, General “Mad” Anthony Wayne and the Pennsylvania Line came to York, with close to 1000 soldiers encamped in Penn Park and Mad Anthony working from a building on West Market Street. There had been an attempted revolt against Anthony earlier in the year (it seems as though they preferred to receive paychecks and food), and he wanted to make sure his men understood who was really in charge.

Musician Samuel Deweese was a witness to the event that happened on Penn Commons (today known as Penn Park), and wrote about it in gruesome detail in his diary. Six soldiers were sitting in the York Jail – two for attempted desertion, one for attempted mutiny (defined as asking soldiers to help him while he was being lashed for committing a trivial offense), one for being drunk and swearing, and two for playing a game of “long bullets” – that is, hurling a six pound led ball competitively, but apparently the ball landed too close to officers.

Twenty soldiers were pulled from the Pennsylvania Line, prisoners were marched to Penn Common, and everyone got to witness four executions, each one apparently more grisly than the next. Ten soldiers were ordered to fire at each of the prisoners, standing at a distance so close that their muskets apparently ignited the blindfold that one of the victims were wearing. Deweese noted that that in one instance, the execution happened “with an awfulness that would have made even devils to have shrunk back and stood appalled.” Mad Anthony then made his men march by the corpses twice to ensure that they got the message. Interestingly the two deserters were spared, leaving those who asked for help, swore, and played an early form of bowling to take the brunt of Anthony’s fury. “Mad” certainly lived up to his nickname in York!

Penn Common would later serve as home to a major U.S. Army Hospital during the Civil War.

This stories in this week’s blog come from Historic York board member Scott Butcher’s popular book, Spooky York, Pennsylvania. Check out the book trailer here.

Rudy Exhibition Extended!

Historic York and the Rudy Collective are delighted to announce that the Rudy Exhibition at the Rudy Collective Gallery, 25 E Philadelphia Street has been extended through the month of November.

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The gallery will be open Saturday, October 10 from 10-2; Saturday, October 17 from 11-5; as well as First Friday, November 6 from 5-9, and Saturday, November 14 from 10-2.   There is no charge to view the exhibit.

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Individuals planning to participate in the Rudy Open House on October 17th, a fundraiser for Historic York and the Rudy Collective, are reminded that tickets can be purchased in advance online at Eventbrite.com; at the Rudy Art Glass Studio Office, 15 E Philadelphia Street, Monday through Thursday from 9-5 or Friday from 9-noon; or at the Rudy Collective Gallery, 25 E Philadelphia Street on Saturday, October 10 from 10-2 or on the day of the event, Saturday, October 17 from 11-4.  Tickets are $15 and will not be available at each site.  Please purchase your tickets at the Gallery prior to visiting a participating site.

John Horace Rudy – Maker of Art Glass in York

If you have seen the stained glass windows in the Christ Lutheran Church, the First Moravian Church, First Presbyterian Church, Zion Reformed Church, Founders Hall or the Library of York College, Saints Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Chapel, the Haines Shoe House, or the circular dining room of the Hershey Hotel, you have seen the artistry and creativity of J. Horace Rudy, who operated studios on North Hartley Street and then East Philadelphia Street in York from 1905 to 1930. His designs and his glass work grace the windows of countless historic buildings in Pittsburgh, Hershey, York County and other places in Pennsylvania.  They are notable for both the use of painted and leaded, stained glass.


Horace was born in Norristown, PA, the second of four sons. His first training was at the Spring Garden Technical Institute in Philadelphia, then in Alfred Goodwin’s glass studio. He studied 2 years at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

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In 1893, H.J. Heinz commissioned the Rudy Brothers, who were already known in Central Pennsylvania as glass artists, to make stained glass windows for his factory in Pittsburgh and his home.  In 1894, Frank, J. Horace, Jesse and Isaiah Rudy opened a shop in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty Section where they had great success designing and making windows for churches, homes, and mausoleums.  That business survived until  1962.

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Horace married Mary Elizabeth Emig in 1900 and in 1904 they moved to York to live in her family home at 619 Linden Avenue. He opened the York branch of the Rudy Brothers Leaded and Stained Glass Company at 601 North Hartley Street – now a home that that still has two stained glass windows from that time.

Upcoming Walking Tour

The art glass of J. Horace Rudy will be featured in a walking tour of some of the most historically significant buildings in downtown York on October 17 from noon -5 pm. The tour is sponsored by the Rudy Collective and Historic York, Inc. Tickets for the tour are $15 in advance on Eventbrite or $25 the day of the tour at the Rudy Gallery, 25 East Philadelphia Street.

Sites on the tour include Asbury United Methodist Church, Christ Lutheran Church, Saints Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Chapel, First Presbyterian Church, First St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Trinity United Church of Christ, St Mary’s Immaculate Conception BVM Church, Zion United Church of Christ, York Water Company, and York College of Pennsylvania.

This post was contributed by Historic York, Inc. board of directors president Mary Anne Bacas. 

For The Love Of Log Houses!

Today, log houses are meant to evoke a different era. And while they may harken back to a simpler time, they are often quite modern, even grand in scale, comforts, and furnishings. But for the early settlers to York County, log homes were a way of life. Settlers needed shelter, and they needed it quick. The ample wooden areas of the region afforded them the opportunity to fairly rapidly construct a log home – sometimes only temporary, until a more permanent structure could be built.

But few log homes remain today. They were never meant to stand the test of time. For some early county residents, it was all they could afford. For others, the log homes were merely a short-term residence until their stone or brick home was completed.

The log homes that still stand, however, are things of beauty!


This past May, our Preservation Celebration took place at Historic Hellam Preserve, a nineteenth century farmstead that features a wonderfully preserved log house, dating from the 1700s.


Perhaps the best known log house in York County is the Barnett Bobb Log House, which is part of the Colonial Complex of the York County Heritage Trust. Built in 1811, the house originally stood several blocks south of its current location. It was relocated in 1968 and is notable for its size. Many log houses built during this period were a single story.

Only a few blocks away stands a comparatively tiny log house. At less than 700 square feet, the house at 144 East College Avenue is representative of a “worker’s house” from the nineteenth century. According to the National Register of Historic Places listing for the York Historic District, the house dates from the 1770s; however, other sources date it to around 1850.


In northern York County stands one of the oldest log homes in the region. Known as the Kleiser Log House, this one-room structure was built in the 1760s and was actually featured in Old House Journal.

These are some of our favorite log houses in York County. What are some of yours?

Got a question or an idea for a future blog topic? Drop us a note at info@historicyork.org with your suggestions! Meanwhile, be sure to like us on Facebook and feel free to share our blogs with colleagues, friends, and family. Like what you see here? Please consider joining Historic York, Inc.!

Your continued financial support makes it possible for HYI to continue advocating for York County’s historic treasures and providing educational offerings like the PreserVision blog! Surf here to learn more.

This week’s blog was contributed by Historic York, Inc. board member Scott D. Butcher.

Who Am I? Plus Preservation Happenings & Saving the Modernaire Motel



I was constructed in 1873 in the Second Empire Style.

My purpose was to advance the knowledge of the local residents.

I was the predecessor of a venerable local institution that still thrives today.

My time in York City was very brief, as I was destroyed by fire in 1885.

Noted architect J.A. Dempwolf designed an even more prominent building in my place, using my foundation.  (Unfortunately, that building no longer stands, either.)

Scroll down to find the answer.


Preservation Pennsylvania will be hosting its 2015 Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Awards Luncheon at Harrisburg’s Zembo Shrine Center on Friday, September 25.  York will be well represented, with the following awards:

Veterans Memorial Bridge, Columbia and Wrightsville
(Lancaster and York Counties)

LSC Design Corporate Headquarters
320 North George Street, York
(York County)

History Blogging Team, YorkBlog.com
York Daily Record
(York County)

Interested in attending?  Learn more here.


Historic York, Inc. supports a dialogue between Springettsbury Township and Spring Lane LLC, the developer that is looking to construct retail space where the Modernaire Motel and adjacent Bloomingdales Estate are located.  We recently submitted a Letter to the Editor on this important topic.  You can read it here.


York Collegiate Institute was the successor to the York County Academy and predecessor of York Junior College and York College of Pennsylvania.  Learn more on the York College website.

Did you guess correctly?
Got a question or an idea for a future blog topic? Drop us a note at info@historicyork.org with your suggestions! Meanwhile, be sure to like us on Facebook and feel free to share our blogs with colleagues, friends, and family. Like what you see here? Please consider joining Historic York, Inc.!

Your continued financial support makes it possible for HYI to continue advocating for York County’s historic treasures and providing educational offerings like the PreserVision blog! Surf here to learn more.

This week’s blog was contributed by Historic York, Inc. board member Scott D. Butcher.

Welcome to the PreserVision Blog

Welcome to PreserVision, the new blog of Historic York, Inc.!

Have you ever wondered about buildings in our community? How old they are, who built them, what architectural style they feature?

Or about architectural styles in general? What’s the difference between a Queen Anne and an Italiante building? Are Art Deco and Art Moderne the same?

And how about terms? What, exactly, is an oriel? Or the purpose of a gargoyle verses a grotesque?

York County, Pennsylvania is a distinctive community, a patchwork of charming small towns nestled among the region’s famous rolling hills. And then there’s York City, which boasts a diversity of architectural styles not found in many communities. Simply look around Continental Square and you’ll see Federal, Chateausque, Romanesque, Commercial, Beaux Arts, Hi Tech, Italianate, Greek Revival, Italian Renaissance, Post Modern, and more – and that’s without even moving your feet!

Historic York, Inc. is the voice of historic buildings in York County, and through the PreserVision blog we intend to bring the community’s built legacy to life! In addition to featuring prominent local buildings, styles, and terms, we’ll also report on local preservation news and events, share links of note to fans of historic buildings, and provide advice and resources for owners of historic homes and buildings.


Row of Oriels on Locust Street in York City. © Scott D. Butcher

And if you happen to be wondering about one of the questions posed above – what is an oriel? – wonder no more!

An oriel is essentially a bay window that projects from a façade. You’ll often find oriels associated with Victorian styles, like Italianate. The architects of York City loved oriels so much that you’ll find block after block of row home with these picturesque features. Some oriels are very ornate, with decorative masonry and woodwork, while others are extreme simple and completely unadorned.

Oriels are often supported by corbels, and in a few instances around town the corbels are art unto themselves! So remember, orioles are both birds and a popular baseball team, but oriels are a distinctive architectural feature that adds an attractive element to a building’s exterior while creating a wee bit more space on the interior.


Decorative corbel under an oriel on South Beaver Street in York City. © Scott D. Butcher

Got a question or an idea for a future blog topic?  Drop us a note at info@historicyork.org with your suggestions!  Meanwhile, be sure to like us on Facebook and feel free to share our blogs with colleagues, friends, and family. Like what you see here?  Please consider joining Historic York, Inc.!

Your continued financial support makes it possible for HYI to continue advocating for York County’s historic treasures and providing educational offerings like the PreserVision blog! Surf here to learn more. http://bit.ly/1MUTW2H .

This week’s blog was contributed by Historic York, Inc. board member Scott D. Butcher.