York County – Regional History

York County, Pennsylvania, was the first county settled west of the Susquehanna River.  Along with neighbors Lancaster, Gettysburg, Harrisburg, and Hershey, York is part of Pennsylvania Dutch Country Roads – the state’s most popular tourist region. York is centrally located in the mid-Atlantic and northeastern United States, with more than 40% of the country’s population located within a 500-mile drive.

Even though York County, with a population of 435,000 residents, is one of the fastest growing counties in the northeastern United States, it still retains much of the rural charm and agrarian roots that has defined the community over the past 250 years.  Within 50 miles of the Schultz House are population centers like Baltimore, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Reading, and York, so cultural activities, higher education offerings, and economic opportunities are close and abundant.  Within a 100-mile radius from the Schultz House are Washington DC and Philadelphia, both only a two-hour drive away.  New York City, Pittsburgh, and Richmond are all reachable within four hours.

York Town (York) was laid out in 1741 and was still on the colonial frontier in September 1777 when George Washington’s Continental Army was defeated in the Battle of Brandywine, forcing the Second Continental Congress to abandon Philadelphia and flee to the safety of York Town on the west side of the Susquehanna River.  During the next nine months, delegates like John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Henry Laurens, and other esteemed patriots governed the fledging nation from a small provincial courthouse that stood in the center of the town square in York Town.  This was a difficult time for the young country; in fact, Samuel Adams is purported to have promised his colleagues in York Town that the darkest hour was just before the dawn.  Not only had Philadelphia been lost, but the ill-equipped  Continental Army was hunkered down in Valley Forge for the winter, their ranks depleted by war, hunger, and disease.  Still, during this period Congress proclaimed the First National Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer, and it had nothing to do with Pilgrims; rather, it was in celebration of the Continental Army’s victory over the British in Saratoga, NY.  Congress also debated and adopted the nation’s first constitution, The Articles of Confederation.  They ratified treaties of friendship and alliance with France, courting and gaining an important ally in their fight for independence.  Many delegates traveling to and from York Town used the Monocacy Road, an old Indian trail that connected the Susquehanna River with York Town and Hanover and eventually Frederick, Maryland.  This road passed to the north of the Schultz House, and strong local tradition ties the Schultz House to this important period in American history as it operated as an inn and tavern and is believed to have been a resting point on the road between York Town and the Susquehanna River.  John Adams (as delegate and later U.S. President), Samuel Adams, John Hancock, General Anthony Wayne, Marquis de Lafayette, and President George Washington are some of the Revolutionary War heroes that passed directly by the Shultz House.  President Washington noted in a 1794 letter to Alexander Hamilton that he was twice caught in heavy rains during his travel between York and Wright’s Ferry (Wrightsville).


n 1781, Schultzburg Plantation was selected for the location of Camp Security, a prisoner of war camp for British and Canadians captured during the 1777 Battle of Saratoga, New York.  After British General John Burgoyne’s surrender in Yorktown, VA in 1781, captured soldiers were sent to Camp Security.  A large stockade was constructed for high-risk prisoners, and a village of tiny huts, known as Camp Indulgence, was also on the Schultz property.  Here the lower risk prisoners lived, many with their families.  These prisoners were allowed to partake in a craft or trade, and some were even given passes to sell their wares in York Town.  The prison camp was closed in 1783.  An Irishman who was held here as a prisoner, Sergeant Robert Lamb, described Camp Security this way:

The troops arrived at York and were confined in a prison similar to the one at Rutland, Massachusetts, here Burgoyne’s prisoners were held in 1778. A great number of trees were ordered to be cut down in the woods; these were sharpened at each end and driven firmly into the earth very close together, enclosing a space of about two to three acres. American sentinels were planted on the outside of the fence, at convenient distances, in order to prevent our getting out. At one angle, a gate was erected and on the outside thereof, stood a guard house, two sentinels were posted at this gate, and no one could get out unless he had a pass from the officers of the guard; but that was a privilege in which very few were indulged.

About two hundred yards from this pen, a small village had been built by prisoners of General Burgoyne’s army, who were allowed very great privileges with respect to liberty in the country. When some of my former comrades of the Ninth Regiment were informed that I was a prisoner with Lord Cornwallis’ army, and that I was shortly expected at York, they immediately applied to the commanding officer of the Americans for a pass in my name, claiming me as one of their regiment. This was immediately granted, and some of them kindly and attentively placed themselves on the watch for my arrival, lest I should be confined with the rest of Cornwallis’ army. When I reached York I was most agreeably surprised at meeting my former companions; and more so when a pass was put in my hands, giving me the privilege of then miles of the country road while I behaved well and orderly.

I was then conducted to a hut, which my poor loving companions had built for me in their village before my arrival. Here I remained some time, visiting my former companions from hut to hut; but I was astonished at the spirit of industry, which prevailed among them. Men, women and children were employed making lace, buckles, spoons, and exercising other mechanical trades, which they had learned during their captivity. They had a very great liberty from the Americans and were allowed to go round the country and sell their goods, while the soldiers of Cornwallis’ army were closely confined.

Lamb, along with seven other soldiers, successfully escaped from the somewhat ironically-named Camp Security.

George Washington, commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and first president of the United States of America, passed through York on several occasions.  Before the American Revolution, he traveled through York Town toward the Susquehanna River, certainly passing by the Schultz House.  He visited the area in 1794, and later wrote of a difficult Susquehanna River crossing, meaning that he once again traveled by the doorstep of the Schultz House.  A local legend, passed through the generations, recounts that President Washington stopped for a rest in the tavern that operated within the Schultz House.  While every historic town seems to embrace the claim that “George Washington Slept Here,” and he did in fact sleep in York Town, it is possible that there is some element of truth to the Schultz House claim that “George Washington Drank Here!”

In the early nineteenth century, York County residents played a critical role in the Underground Railroad.  One historian with the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission has identified the area as being a “battleground” in the slavery vs. abolition fight, as countless runaway slaves passed through the large local Underground Railroad network, with slave catchers in hot pursuit.  William Goodridge, a freed slave who became a very prominent businessman in York from 1820 to 1860, was a stationmaster and conductor who used his properties and railcars to help slaves escape across the Susquehanna River to Philadelphia.  One slave who escaped built a new life in York County, only to be captured by a slave catcher.  Local residents rallied in her defense, and the slave catcher was arrested for kidnapping.  The battle over Margaret Morgan’s freedom went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, resulting in the landmark Compromise of 1850 modifications to the Fugitive Slave Act.  One of the known Underground Railroad routes through York County took fugitive slaves north from the Maryland line to York (or Little York, as a lot of people called it), then east to the Susquehanna River.  The same route followed by the nation’s Founding Fathers, and later the Confederate Army, passing near the Schultz House.  While there is no indication that the Schultz House was a station on the Underground Railroad, Abraham Hiestand – who owned the Olde York Valley Inn (also called Hiestand’s Tavern) to the west and Buttonwood Tree House to the east – controlled much of the Shultz House property (he did not reside in the house, however).  Both the York Valley Inn and Buttonwood Tree House are commonly identified Underground Railroad stations.

After John Brown’s failed raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia (later West Virginia), Osborne Perry Anderson – the only free black to participate and escape – found his way to Chambersburg, PA.  Here he was helped by the Underground Railroad, and he was sent to York.  He confirms that he was aided by a friend in York in his autobiography.  Though there is no firm evidence to support this, historians from the late 19th century to today believe that this friend was William Goodridge.  According to a Goodridge family member, Anderson first arrived at the family home on East Philadelphia Street.  However, the house was known to be under the watch of slave catchers, so Anderson was immediately taken to the Goodridge property in Centre Square, where he hid out for a period of time (as much as two weeks) until the excitement over the raid died down.  He was then transported to Philadelphia, most likely in a Goodridge rail car.

During America’s second revolution – the Civil War – York County again played an important role on the national stage.  Within days of the attack on Fort Sumter, SC, York’s fairgrounds were transformed into Camp Scott.  More than five thousand volunteers descended upon York and enlisted.  Local residents opened up their homes because barracks did not exist.  The rail network through the county played an important role in transporting Union troops and supplies throughout the war.  As the ranks of military swelled, Pennsylvania German craftsmen began building temporary barracks on the town common, today Penn Park.  By late 1861, most of the troops had moved to the southern theater, and in early 1862 the Quartermaster of the Army of the Potomac arrived to supervise demolition of the temporary barracks.  What he found, however, was that these structures were so well built that they could be used for another purpose.

Soon thereafter, a major Union Army Hospital opened on Penn Common.  This hospital could treat more than 1,000 wounded at any time, something that proved important after the Battle of Antietam (a.k.a., Sharpsburg) near Hagerstown, Maryland.  When the number of wounded exceeded the hospital’s capacity, other local buildings were utilized.

During the summer of 1863, General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, devised a strategy to take the battle to the North in order to give southern farmers a chance to plant and grow crops because the recurring battles in the southern states had devastated their fields.  The majority of his Army marched northward in the Shenandoah Valley, shielded by the Blue Ridge Mountains.  His cavalry, led by the flamboyant J.E.B. Stuart, rode around the Union Army.  In late June Lee’s Army entered Pennsylvania, capturing Chambersburg.  General Robert Ewell’s Second Corps headed east, and General Jubal Early’s Division entered Gettysburg on June 26.  Yorkers followed these movements with great apprehension, and on June 27 the brigade of General John B. Gordon entered western York County.  A delegation of town leaders rode out to meet him and negotiate the terms of York’s certain occupation.  Because only a few hundred militia were present to protect York against Early’s 6,500-man strong battle-hardened division, York’s leaders agreed that the town would be undefended and Gordon in turn agreed that his men would leave private property and citizens alone.  The militia left York along with an invalid corps of men from the hospital, and repositioned in Wrightsville, where they dug in and waited for battle.

On June 28, Gordon’s brigade was the first to enter York, capturing the town and passing through before resting in the orchards near the Schultz House.  It is not known if any soldiers entered the home.  On the evening of the 28th they attacked the militia in Wrightsville.  The widow Madgelena Forry, who lived in the Schultz House at the time, would have heard the cannonade six miles to the east.  After Gordon’s artillery fired no more than forty shots, the Pennsylvania militia retreated across the mile-long covered bridge over the Susquehanna River.  They set it ablaze behind them, and soon the embers caught the town of Wrightsville ablaze.  Gordon’s Confederates, who only minutes earlier harbored thoughts of marching on Philadelphia or attacking Harrisburg from its undefended eastern side, stood side-by-side with local residents on bucket brigades, saving the town from destruction.  The rebel brigade returned to York the next day, again passing near the Schultz House.  When Early had arrived in York, he demanded a ransom of $100,000 as well as food and supplies for his men.  Town leaders were able to meet most of the demands, though they were only able to raise $28,600 in such short time.

As this was happening, newly-appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac General George Meade had learned of York’s occupation, and sent several telegraphs about his intention to move the Union Army to Hanover Junction in southern York County, ten miles south of the county seat.  On June 30th, General J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry arrived in southwestern York County en route to York to rendezvous with Early’s Division, in conformance with Lee’s orders.  Here they ran into the tail end of the Union Cavalry commanded by the young generals of General Judson Kilpatrick, George Custer, and Elon Farnsworth (who was killed in Gettysburg), and the Battle of Hanover ensued.  Meanwhile, Early’s division had been recalled to Cashtown, near Gettysburg, and they passed along the York Pike toward Gettysburg, hearing cannons roaring in the distance as the two cavalries battled.  A chance meeting between the Union and Confederate Armies in Gettysburg changed history, and the two great armies clashed for three days in early July, 1863 in the bloodiest battle to ever be fought on North American soil.  York’s residents responded, sending doctors, nurses, volunteers, and forty wagons filled with supplies – they arrived to a scene of carnage on the day that America was to be celebrating her independence.  Over 11,000 wounded Union and Confederate soldiers were processed through Hanover Junction Rail Station, and more than 1,000 were sent to York for treatment.  The same rail station hosted President Abraham Lincoln on November 18 and 19, 1863, as he traveled to and from Gettysburg for the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

As the Reconstruction Era gave way to the Gilded Age, York once again found itself at the center of a Revolution.  This one, however, involved might but not military.  Because of York’s industrious residents, many of them of Pennsylvania German stock, the community played an important role in the Industrial Revolution.  York was the birthplace of the nation’s first coal-burning railroad locomotive, created by inventor Phineas Davis, as well as The Codorus, the nation’s first iron steamboat.  The York name is well-known to manufacturing history through such well-known products as York Peppermint Patties, York Barbells, York Air Conditioners, and even York Imperial Apples.  All were created and produced in York at one time.  Pfaltzgraff pottery, Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, Utz Chips, Starbucks Coffee, and Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicles are just some of the products that have hailed from York.

The old Monocacy Road that passed to the north of the Schultz House was eventually relocated approximately a half-mile north of the historic home.  While this meant that a tavern or inn were no longer feasible businesses, it actually helped preserve the property by eliminating the threat of commercial development.  Furthermore, it created the oasis that the property still enjoys today.  The relocated Monocacy Road, which had witnessed first-hand the early days of the colonies and United States, soon found itself part of the famed Lincoln Highway – the nation’s first coast-to-coast roadway.

For a lover of history, the York community is the perfect location.  Beyond the myriad local events and historic sites, central Pennsylvania is a destination for heritage tourism.  Anchored by the Gettysburg Battlefield to the west and Lancaster County’s Amish Country to the east, the region also includes Harrisburg and the State Capitol and State Museum, Hershey and the famed Hersheypark and Chocolate World attractions, and popular Pennsylvania German museum complexes like the Ephrata Cloister and Landis Valley Museum.  With the proximity to Baltimore (1 hour), Philadelphia and Washington, DC (both 2 hours), as well as New York City and Pittsburgh (both 4 hours), a daytrip to some of the country’s most historic destinations is within easy reach.

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