York County, Pennsylvania Like A Local
When you think of states like Pennsylvania, the big cities that come to mind: cities such as Philadelphia in the East, or Pittsburgh way out West. But if you’re looking for true American charm, head to the south central part of the state, and York County—where the history dates back centuries. Let me show you how I experience York County, like a local.
Although there is continuing debate among scholars, some historians believe that York was the first capital of the United States. This is based upon the fact that the Articles of Confederation were adopted here in 1777 by the Second Continental Congress. That same year, Congress also proclaimed the first national day of Thanksgiving.
Today, you can see remnants of the city’s colonial past downtown in the Colonial Complex. The 1766 York Friends Meeting House is here, along with the Golden Plough Tavern. You can step inside and get a real feel of what it would have been like to live in the eighteenth century.
Not many visitors know about it, but the York County Heritage Rail Trail stretches 21 miles from downtown York, all the way to the Mason-Dixon line. The locals know that the trail is a great place to bike, run, or even ride a horse in the summer—and to cross country ski or snowshoe in the winter.
Along the trail, you’ll pass through the Howard Tunnel. It’s been in operation since 1838—and it’s the second oldest active rail tunnel in America. There’s also Seven Valleys, which is the birthplace of commercial ice cream production!
In the town of New Freedom, you’ll find the “Steam into History”’ train, where you can ride a replica Civil War steam engine. About ten miles down the trail—or about halfway to the end—you’ll come to a place called Hanover Junction, and you really should stop, because there’s a story to tell.
In 1863, Abraham Lincoln spent two days here, on his way to deliver the Gettysburg Address. Then about a year and a half later, in 1865, his funeral train came here as well. The station was built by the Hanover Branch Railroad between 1851 and 1852.
The station was raided during the Civil War by the Confederate Army. Although the telegraph wires were cut and the railroad bridge over the creek was burned, the station remained intact. But there’s a lot more to York County than its historical heritage.
You can see many of your favorite snack foods made here, such as Revonah Pretzels, where pretzels are still hand-twisted the same way they’ve been made since 1935. They still use Grandpa Greenholtz’s original sourdough recipe, are baked in a hearth brick and stone oven, and slow dried in a heated kiln.
Or there’s Martin’s Potato Chips—the chips that Harry Martin began selling at farmers markets in 1941. Today, you can watch the warm kettle-cooked potato chips fall right off the line.
Now, here’s something you probably wouldn’t expect to find: it’s one of only four Harley-Davidson manufacturing facilities in the United States—and it’s right in York County. Mark Bluett has been making violins, guitars, and mandolins in his small York County factory shop since 1984. Not only can you watch him making an instrument—if you ask, you might also get him to play a little something for you on his violin.
If you’re a wine lover, you won’t want to miss the Mason Dixon Wine Trail. It’s home to seventeen family-owned wineries, including Naylor Wine Cellars, York County’s oldest winery. Here you can not only do a little wine tasting, but you also can take a behind-the-scenes tour.
One of the cool things about York is that you can use it as a hub. Just 30 minutes outside of town, you find yourself on the banks of the Susquehanna River. Here the adventure really begins—you’ve got 50 miles of river to play with. On the way, you’ll see ducks, geese, and if you’re really lucky, an occasional bald eagle.
While you’re out here, you won’t want to miss the Susquehanna Heritage Park high point. This is where you’ll find one of the best views in all of York County. If you bring your hiking shoes, you can even join the Mason Dixon Trail.
York has been noted for having one of the most charming main streets in America—and you can see why. It’s a little slice of Americana filled with small mom-and-pop shops and businesses—as well as some restaurants that rival those in much larger cities.
For a hands-on factory tour experience right downtown, you’ll want to come to the Sunrise Soap Company. One of the cool things is that everything is made in small batches with natural ingredients, and it’s a great place to bring the kids for a make-and-take souvenir.
No one comes to downtown York without going to the Central Market. It’s been here since 1888, with 67 different vendors from the local farmers you expect, to the Korean BBQ you don’t expect.
The Market is the heart of the downtown community, but it’s only open Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday until 2 p.m. On the First Friday of every month, the vendors stay open late.
Not only is this a great place to pick up fresh produce and baked goods, but you can also find spices, candy, and all sorts of goodies. Even if you get here early, take your time, and make sure you stay long enough to grab some lunch.
But don’t let the market fool you. York is still a small town with fewer than 50,000 people. The streets are lined with Victorian and classic revival buildings. But perhaps the real beauty is that it’s not some recreated theme park—it’s a true living museum—and that’s what makes York so attractive.
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By the Peter Greenberg Worldwide team for PeterGreenberg.com