Clergyman an insect expertThe Rev. Frederick Valentine Melsheimer is qualified to tell his parishioners about the birds and the bees -- in detail and with great accuracy. The German-born pastor serves several Hanover-area congregations from 1789 to 1814. But he's known today for his interest in natural history, particularly in the field of entomology, the study of insects. He publishes a major work on the insects of Pennsylvania in 1806, a pioneering book on the subject. "He was not a mere collector but paid considerable attention to food habit and mode of occurrence...," a biography states. His sons carried on his entomological interests. One son, Frederick Ernst Melsheimer, also practiced medicine in Davidsburg for decades in the 19th century. The physician became president of the American Entomological Society in 1853 and sold his collection, which included his father's work, to a Harvard University museum. The Rev. Daniel Ziegler, a minister in Kreutz Creek and York and also an avid entomologist, was a friend of Dr. Melsheimer. He added his considerable collection of insects to the Melsheimer cache. The combined collections covered 80 years of work and filled 41 wooden boxes. The collection contained 5,302 species with 14,774 specimens. Dr. Melsheimer also developed interests in astronomy and mounted a telescope in front of his Davidsburg house, where he entertained friends with views of the sun, moon and stars.
1789: Peach Bottom Township
Ross starts political careerJames Ross, a county native, is named to the convention framing a new state constitution, one of many political positions he would hold or seek. Ross was born in 1762 in Peach Bottom Township and educated at a school connected with the Slate Ridge Presbyterian Church. Ross moves to western Pennsylvania where he spends the rest of his life, gaining prominence as one of the most able attorneys and Federalist political figures of his era. After his state constitution work, he is elected to the U.S. Senate for a term and one half and makes three unsuccessful bids for governor of Pennsylvania. York County backs its native son in his first unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 1799. Ross wins the county by nearly 700 votes over anti-Federalist Thomas McKean. Ross loses his last bid in 1808 in an election that causes one historian to suggest that "common people in Pennsylvania had abandoned their deferential attitude toward the rich and wellborn, and had themselves assumed the task of governing."
County resident marries historyThe county gains another connection to a signer of the Declaration of Independence, however slight. Anne Dill weds John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration and president of Princeton. The wedding occurs two years after Witherspoon's wife of 41 years passes away. The marriage of the elderly statesman to the 24-year-old Dill, a widow of a former Witherspoon student, causes considerable discussion at Princeton, and undoubtedly in northern York County. (Armstrong Dill, Anne's late husband, was the grandson of the first settler of Dillsburg.) Witherspoon declares an unusual three-day vacation for Princeton students. To honor the occasion, students light 600 candles in front of the college to celebrate. Anne, who a Philadelphia newspaper described as "a lady of great beauty and merit." bears two daughters before Witherspoon dies in 1794. Witherspoon, a member of the Continental Congress when it met in York and a Presbyterian pastor, is sometimes known today as the subject of British comment during the Revolutionary War that "Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson. " King George III called the Revolution "the Presbyterian parson's war." During his tenure at Princeton, Witherspoon signs diplomas for a future U.S. president (James Madison), a vice president, nine cabinet officers, 21 U.S. senators, 39 congressmen, three Supreme Court justices and 12 state governors.
Protecting from fireTo help protect York from the ravages of frequent fires, the Laurel Fire Co. No. 1 is organized. The officers are: Henry Miller, chairman; Andrew Billmeyer, treasurer; John Lukens, clerk; and Jacob Welshans, keeper of the fire engine. The Laurel, part of the present-day York City Fire Department, is the descendant of the Colonial-era Sun Fire Company. The Vigilant Fire Co. No. 1 is also on the scene. Then known as the Union Fire Company, it traces its origins to sometime between 1778 and 1781. The fire company's records were lost in the flood of 1817.
Miners tap slate ridgeThe first commercial slate quarry opens in Delta's Slate Ridge. As time passes, more than 20 quarries operate along Delta's Slate Ridge, supplying slate for roofing and other building purposes. In the 1840s, Welsh immigrants began arriving in Delta, accustomed to the hard quarrying work in their native land. Their culture heavily influenced Delta with their emphasis on education, their language and their music. Their architecture is evident today in Coulsontown where a handful of rectangular, squat miners cottages are located. The cottages were made from blocks of local stone, Cardiff conglomerate. The slate industry in Delta started to decline after World War I, when competition came from other regions better suited to supply a cheaper grade of slate. Many houses in present-day Delta feature slate sidewalks, roofs and posts demonstrating Delta's heritage of quarrying.
1791: York County
Whiskey tax very unpopularThe new federal government passes an unpopular tax on a major county cash cow. The Whiskey Tax requires an operator of a still under 400 gallons in capacity to pay: an annual tax of 54 cents for each gallon of the still's capacity; or 7 cents per gallon produced; or 10 cents per gallon of capacity for each month of operation. Many farmers have small stills -- typically 50 to 200 gallons -- and any of the taxing schemes seemed untenable when whiskey brought only 25 cents per gallon. County farmers who used the stills to turn excess corn and other grain into a liquid, marketable product join their counterparts elsewhere in protesting the tax. "In the early part of the 1800s, it was highly improbable that one could travel through York County, Pennsylvania without acquiring frequent whiffs of fermenting mash, for the area was liberally dotted with farm stills," a local history states.
1792: Danville, Vermont
The stands of StevensThaddeus Stevens, a controversial figure in 19th-century America, is born in New England. After graduating from Dartmouth, his first stop is the York County Academy, where he teaches for a year starting in 1815 while studying law.
He apparently forms enemies in York because he reportedly is rejected in a bid to join the Freemasons. Further, the county bar association passes a resolution forbidding anyone from taking the bar exam who is not studying law full-time. Stevens also worked around a residency requirement of two years by passing his bar exam in Bel Air, Md. He leaves York to practice law in Gettysburg, where he becomes a leading lawyer in Pennsylvania.
Stevens' accomplishments include his defense of public education as a member of the state Legislature and his abolitionist voice as a member of U.S. Congress. "To some he was the 'Old Commoner' or 'Great Leveler,' who fought for the poor, the oppressed, and the underprivileged; by others he was held in great contempt as a clubfooted, evil, vengeful politician who climbed to power by shrewdly supporting the issues that were popular with the lower class of voters of his day," a historian said.
The York Gazette provides an example of the opposition Stevens endured. When Stevens is accused of fathering an infant by the daughter of a friend, The Gazette claims he used a friendship "for the base purpose of utterly destroying the fair name and happiness of his child, and viper-like, desolating the fireside at which he has been welcomed and warmed."
Growing governmentGovernment has been a growth industry in the county since its earliest days. By the 1790s, York's Centre Square courthouse is too small to house the county's functions and accommodate its growing population. So, a companion building, the two-story brick "State House" is built next door. The origin of the name is unknown but perhaps comes from the fact that state officials appoint county officers.
A switch to states' rightsGeorge Washington makes his fourth trip through York on his way back from western Pennsylvania, where the nation's first president led a militia that quelled the famous Whiskey Rebellion. The tax on whiskey, enacted in 1791 and prompting the rebellion, isn't popular in the county either. Some county militia members refuse to march with Washington. The court of appeal fines them for not performing their tour of duty. Later, the Glass Tax levied in 1798 according to the number and size of panes of glass in homes, taxes the well-to-do. This unpopular tax reminds those in German counties, such as York, of similar taxes from their homeland. The whiskey and glass levies and the Alien and Sedition Act contribute to a shift by many county residents from the Federalists' view of a strong central government to the emerging Jeffersonian states' rights view. An affinity with Jeffersonian politics, plus the popularity of Andrew Jackson, causes the county to lean toward the Democratic party throughout the 19th century.
1795: York County
Here come the revenuersWith the Whiskey Tax federally enforced, county revenuers set out to collect their due. In January, Conrad Laub of York notifies all distillers of "spirituous liquors" that duties on stills are due. At mid-year, Laub reminds distillery owners that they must register their stills with his office or face a $250 fine, astronomical in its day.
1795: York County
Of slaves and servantsNotices for runaways in The Pennsylvania Herald and York General Advertiser suggests that some slaves and black indentured servants in Pennsylvania and Maryland in the late 18th century have a variety of linguistic skills. In one notice, Phil Gartner of York says Tom Cotton, a runaway, can speak English and German and plays the violin. Another runaway must have been articulate on religious matters because an ad notes he tries to impersonate a minister. Another runaway, Jonathan Jackson, is described as a fiddler. Kitty, "a Negro Wench," speaks English, German and "a little French." She is presumed to have a pass for a "free Wench," and "it is supposed she has been with child since the Run Away, she is able to deceive any person."
1795: York County
Of slaves and wivesIn addition to ads for runaway slaves, husbands often place notices in newspapers for runaway wives. On one occasion, a husband notes in the Pennsylvania Herald and York General Advertiser that his wife, "hath eloped from my bed and board without any just cause." Such ads usually caution against providing the runaway with credit on the husband's account. In a different twist, one ad warns that William Burgess is not trustworthy, and his wife, therefore, cannot "discharge any of his contracts."
Daily Record gets its start"He usually arrived with a ramshackle printing press and the traditional shirttailful of type to establish the first newspaper in the community, frequently putting in his appearance before the number of persons interested in subscribing to a newspaper was sufficient to ensure his success," a historian said of Colonial-period printers. "In such instances he merely took up his press and type and moved on to another town where prospects seemed to be more promising." Solomon Meyer, a native of Washington Township who learns his craft at the Ephrata Cloister, fits this description. Meyer returns to York from Ephrata to publish the weekly German-language York Gazette in 1796. He publishes his newspaper for eight years -- a relatively long tenure for printers of his day. And what he started continues to this day. An English-language Gazette started in 1815 and continued until 1970, when it began bearing the York Daily Record nameplate. From its early years until its name changed, The Gazette was oriented toward the anti-Federalist position and its successor, the Democratic party. The newspaper is now among the 15 oldest newspapers in the United States.
1796: York County
The early York GazetteSolomon Meyer's first edition of the York Gazette weaves a tale about a man by the name of Hannes and his adventures with a nearby hermit. Whether true or not, the story gives a glimpse of life in York County at the turn of the century: Now the old hermit, Hannes' neighbor, had seven pairs of old leather breeches, some of which had not been washed for "10, 12 or 15 years." The hermit, thinking Hannes' brewing vat was there for laundering purposes, took advantage of this fortuitous situation. But he didn't want to be too uncouth. He put just one pair in the first brew, another pair the next time until all seven were cleansed. "But heavens above!" The Gazette reported. "(T)he story came out, and Hannes lost the title of Doctor, and his famous small beer acquired the name of breeches water." To which, Meyer concluded in a publisher's note: "Even if our correspondent has made this story up, we can still derive from it this unmistakable lesson, that from all the salves of quacks that hover up and down this country, more harmful stuff is often given to the ignorant as 'medicine.'"
Lewis Miller: 'The Chronicler'Lewis Miller, folk artist and artisan whose drawings captured 19th-century county life, is born on South Duke Street in York.
"The Chronicler of York County," as he later was called, is a carpenter by trade. He makes his greatest contributions by producing hundreds of drawings capturing community life over an 80-year period.
Reformed Church on fireFire destroys the Reformed Church, a German-language church on West Market Street. At one time, 15 other houses are ablaze, but the church and John Hay's residence are the only loss. Women are credited with helping contain the fire by carrying water. Workers rebuild the church by 1799. George Washington visited this church during a visit in 1791. " There being no Episcopal Minister present in the place, I went to hear morning service in the Dutch Reformed Church which, being in that language not a word of which I understood, I was in no danger of becoming proselyte to its religion by the eloquence of the Preacher," he commented.
1797: York Haven
Pa. gets its first canalA canal, said to be the first in Pennsylvania, is completed around the Conewago Falls in York Haven. The canal provides boats with a slackwater pool so they could avoid the rapids caused by a steep drop in the river at that point. The canal helps increase traffic in Columbia and Wrightsville downstream. Philadelphia financiers invested $100,000 in the water-filled Conewago ditch, but it never brought a satisfactory return on their investment. The York Haven hydroelectric plant now makes use of the falls, a point where the river drops 19 feet in one-quarter mile.
1797: Shrewsbury Township
Dr. Dady an 'imposter'The county long has been home to many characters, but history books accord the title "imposter" to only one of them. Dr. Dady, a German immigrant fluent in English, fools county residents into believing he is a man of the cloth. Then, he becomes a minister battling evil spirits afflicting superstitious local folks. An accomplice of Dr. Dady's claims he received a call from a ghost who informed him that Dr. Dady can provide a "dulcimer eliximer" with special powers to rid evil spirits. One township resident pays $90 for 7.5 ounces of the elixir. Another pays $100 to purchase the magic potion at $3 an ounce. After securing the elixir, the owners dance in a circle, anoint their heads with it or bury it in the ground. The scam becomes public after one of Dr. Dady's accomplices freelances. His inflated price for the elixir raises suspicions, and the plot collapses. Dady, the imposter, ends up in the state penitentiary in Philadelphia. "This history of his exorcisms," one historian noted, "should teach the credulous that the ghosts which appear now-a-days are as material as their own flesh."
Girls accepted at AcademyThe York County Academy accepts girls as students and offers co-ed classes. "Opened in the Academy -- An English Classical School, on a plan entirely new, but which has been approved by some of the first literary characters in America," a newspaper advertisement said. "The principal object of the plan ... is to make the youth of both sexes intimately acquainted with the English language, to teach them to read, not only with correctness and elegance; but to explain the meaning, to point out the beauties of the best authors in the language; and in this manner to cultivate the understanding, and improve the taste at an early period of their lives." The joint classes continued until 1823 when the boys school starts meeting on the first floor and the girls school on the second.
Tax backed for policeYork residents approve a tax on property and other assets for the support of a police department. Five years later, eight watchmen patrol borough streets on a rotating basis, calling out the hour and watching for fires. In 1865, the state Legislature authorizes a police force, giving legal standing to a department that perhaps operated without authority until then. A motorcycle becomes the department's first motorized vehicle in 1911. Before the purchase of the first police cars in 1935, residents using trolleys might find themselves riding alongside a police officer with his prisoner. From its beginnings of eight watchmen, the police force has grown to 95 officers in the late 1990s, responding to more than 60,000 calls annually.
'Apostle of the Alleghenies'Prince Demetrius Gallitzin, former envoy of Catherine the Great of Russia, leaves Conewago Chapel near Hanover after four years of ministering to his far-flung rural parishioners. The Dutchman establishes the Catholic parish at Loretto in the Allegheny Mountains of western Pennsylvania. In his 41 years there, he grew in historic stature and is today known as the "Apostle of the Alleghenies." He formed an industrial colony for destitute Catholic immigrants from the seaports, among many other ministries.
From tillers to town toilersThis is a story about how skyscrapers grow from cornfields.
First come the sea-weary farmers and tradespeople eager to work after months crossing from Europe. Often, they settle on eastern Pennsylvania farms before a growing population pushes them to the shore of the Susquehanna. Others come directly from seaports to the Susquehanna via foot or wagon. They ferry across it, stake out their acreage and begin tilling the rich limestone soil of York County's rolling countryside.
Then, some sons of these tillers step away from the country homestead and work at trades as a primary means to support their families. As the 1700s slip into the 1800s, those trades turn products from the land into marketable goods: iron-making from the county's rich iron ore deposits, carpentry, tanning, printing and candle making.
Not all 19th-century tradesmen, however, had taproots in York County's deep soil. William C. Goodridge, born a son of a Maryland slave and trained as a barber, settles in York and rises with the county's developing merchant class. The presence of barbers in York County suggests that some county residents now have disposable coins to pay a tradesman to shear their hair and provide a shave.
Goodridge soon offers other wares. He raises a building of five stories, a skyscraper in those days. The Goodridge Emporium houses his barber shop, newspaper distributorship and other retail shops.
Several years later, another businessman -- John Hartman -- builds a six-story building on York's Centre Square. Goodridge also owns railroad cars and reportedly uses them to transport runaway slaves as part of the Underground Railroad. Goodridge's house, on York's East Philadelphia Street, and other county houses are also thought to be part of the underground network that helps freedom-seeking slaves make their way to Canada.
With the blood of slaves in his veins, Goodridge is vulnerable to capture if the Confederate Army moves north of the Mason-Dixon Line. But his business continues on as Confederates come knocking on York County's western door in late June 1863.