York was the first town laid out west of the Susquehanna River. In 1741, Thomas Cookson, a surveyor for the Penn family, plotted a town site of 446 acres in the heart of the family’s Springettsbury Manor. This tract had been laid out for Springett Penn, a grandson of William Penn, in 1722. 

Cookson laid out straight streets, a generous 80 feet in width on each side of the junction of the Monocacy Road and the Codorus Creek. Squares measured 480 feet by 500 feet and provision was made for the location of public buildings in the very center of the town on a tract 110 feet square, now known as Continental Square. York can be considered one of the first instances of thoughtful city planning. The streets were assigned the English names of High (now Market, “High” was the traditional English moniker for a town’s main street), King, George, Duke, Queen, and Princess. The town itself was called York, after York, England. Along with the name of old York, the town founders adopted the symbol of the English city, the white rose, while the neighboring city of Lancaster similarly adopted the red rose. 

The town of York did not fill up rapidly; although the framework of the town was English, most of the first settlers were Germans. York was originally governed as a part of Lancaster County but the distance from judge and jail encouraged thieves to operate without fear of punishment. A petition of the citizens for a separate county organization was granted in 1749 and York became the first county west of the Susquehanna, and the fifth in Pennsylvania. A colonial courthouse was ready by 1756 and next door was a market house. 

During the American Revolution, when British General Howe’s armies occupied Philadelphia in September, 1777, the members of Continental Congress fled to Lancaster, where they remained but one day. Then, feeling that they would be safer with the Susquehanna between them and the British, they crossed at Wrights’ Ferry and resumed sessions in the Colonial Courthouse in the tiny frontier town of York. They stayed nine months and when the Articles of Confederation, a provisional plan of government in which the term United States of America was first used, were adopted here York laid claim to being the nation’s first capital. In 1789, Congressman Thomas Hartley, speaking before Congress, took a swing at making York the permanent capital of the United States but the honor was ticketed further south, along the Potomac River.

Our walking tour will begin amidst the historical relics of the 18th century and transition through the impressive York architecture that reflects the prosperous 19th century industrial community it became...

Colonial Courthouse Replica
201 West Market Street, at northwest corner of Pershing Avenue

With the British capture of Philadelphia in 1777 the Continental Congress took refuge in York. It served as the nation’s capital from September 30, 1777, to June 27, 1778, although never more than half the 64 delegates were in residence at any one time. On November 15, 1777, the Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation here, giving York the foundation to claim itself as “the first capital of the United States.” It was also in York that Congress learned that France was to throw its support to the colonies, and they also took time to issue the first National Thanksgiving Proclamation, giving thanks not so much for a bumper harvest but for news that the Continental Army had dealt the British a critical setback in Saratoga, New York. The original York County Courthouse was constructed in 1756 and stood in what is now known as Continental Square (then called “Centre Square”). It was renovated in 1815 and torn down in 1841. A replica of the symmetrical Georgian brick building was erected beside the Codorus Creek for America’s Bicentennial celebration in 1976. Sitting atop the cupola is a silhouette weathervane made in honor of Polish Count Casimir Pulaski that topped the original courthouse. Pulaski came to York as a general in the American Revolution, enlisting troops from a recruiting station on George Street. Leaving York, he marched his new recruits to Georgia where he was fatally wounded in Savannah leading a cavalry charge.


Hotel Codorus
226 West Market Street

This 1904 hotel with a mansard roof was dilapidated, ravaged by time and raging flood in 1933. Today you can admire an award-winning restoration job. 


Golden Plough Tavern
157 West Market Street, at northeast corner of Pershing Avenue

With a history dating from 1741, the Golden Plough Tavern is the oldest building in York City. Architecturally, it is constructed in the Germanic Half-Timber Style, reminiscent of 18th Century German Black Forest construction. This property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and served as a meeting place, hotel, and restaurant. Together with the Gates House and Bobb Log House, the Plough Tavern is open to the public. The oldest standing building in York, it was built in 1741 by Martin Eichelberger, a native of the German Black Forest. Its massive hewn half-timbers reflect a style almost unknown today, of medieval architecture. Roman numerals carved in each wood section helped carpenters assemble timbers after cutting. The Golden Plough served as a meeting place, hotel and tavern for travelers well into the 1800s. 

Gates House
157 West Market Street  

Although carrying the name of General Horatio Gates, president of the Board of War during the American Revolution, he was only a boarder. It was built in 1751 in the Georgian style using stone and brick. Tradition holds that the Marquis de Lafayette attending dinner in this house, toasting the health of General George Washington, and disrupting the plot to overthrow Washington known as the Conway Cabal. The “toast” is more myth than fact, and most historians today dispute that the Cabal was anything more than a letter-writing campaign of several disgruntled officers and Congressional delegates. Noteworthy architectural features include the balanced front façade, pent roof, end chimneys, and central hall floor plan.

York Gas Company
127 West Market Street

This Beaux Arts building is distinguished by a decorative façade with wreath festoons, a modillion course and a dentil course, and foliate brackets with cartouche.

Bon-Ton Department Store
100 West Market Street, at southwest corner of Beaver Street

The Bon-Ton was started in 1898, when Max Grumbacher and his father, Samuel, opened S. Grumbacher & Son, a one-room millinery and dry goods store on Market Street. It has since grown into a retailing empire of nearly 300 stores in 23 states. This location was the site of the first printing press west of the Susquehanna River, the Hall & Sellers Press. It was used to print Continental currency while Congress met in York. John A. Dempwolf, a popular local architect, adapted the Chicago-style for this department store in 1911. The style was popular for department stores allowing large quantities of natural lighting from expansive windows. A restoration in 1992 by the York county government returned the building to its original grandeur.

National House
53 West Market Street

The original section of this landmark hotel building date to 1828 when it operated as the White Hall Hotel. Martin Van Buren, one of only two people to serve as Secretary of State, Vice President and President, stayed here two years after he left office in 1839 and Charles Dickens was a guest in 1842. The hotel was expanded and given an Italianate makeover in 1863. After a century of tinkering and alterations it was restored to its Civil War appearance in 1985.

Rosenmiller Building
37 West Market Street

John A. Dempwolf did most of the design work on this block and here his Rosenmiller Building, constructed in 1909, contains window keystones, modillions, and a classical entrance. Dressing up the commercial building are Beaux Arts elements along the roofline - a balustrade and sculptured centerpiece.

York Traction Company
27 West Market Street

This Art Noveau building was constructed in 1904 to house the operations of the York Traction Company that included street railways, electric companies, and York Steam Heating. After many decades in the stylistic wilderness the building has regained much of its decorative appearance.

Wall of History/Cherry Lane
21-23 West Market Street

The building adjacent to 27 West Market was razed in 1979 for the construction of Cherry Lane Park. Outlines of that building and earlier structures on the site are still visible on the neighboring brick facade. These structural ghosts, since dubbed “The wall of History,” display the architectural evolution of the city. York County’s cherries, both the sweet and the sour pie cherries, have been famous for generations. After more than fifteen years of research John A. C. Ziegler, Jr., and Horace B. Faber developed the first self-pollenating sweet cherry tree. The new hybrid was named the York Imperial Sweet Cherry. 

Trinity United Church of Christ
32 West Market Street

York’s first congressmen, Colonel Thomas Hartley lived on this site. The Trinity congregation dates to 1743, this church dates to 1865. 100 years later its solid cast iron cross was sent toppling to the ground by a bolt of lightning. The 700-pound cross was too heavy to be properly reinstalled so it has since been replaced with a light weight replica.

Fluhrer Building
17 West Market Street

John A. Dempwolf delivered this rare example of a Florentine Revival commercial building for Fluhrer Jewelers. The glazed terra cotta building sparkles like the wares on display inside. The arches above the fourth-story windows mark the date the business was founded (1884) and the year the building was constructed (1911). 

Rupp-Schmidt Building
2 West Market Street

The Rupps became merchants in York in 1848. becoming successful enough to retain John Dempwolf in 1892 to design a six-story building for the family business. Dempwolf’s Romanesque Revival design features a tower with pyramidal roof and rounded windows. Look for a brownstone bear on the facade that contains the date of construction and the name D.A. Rupp. H.S. Schmidt, purveyor of mens wear and president of the York Athletic Association, bought the building in 1919 and it remained in the Schmidt family until 1974. This was the site of the former Globe Inn, a hotel that played host to such notable guests as Marquis de Lafayette. 


Colonial Hotel
18 South George Street

There is little that is “colonial” in the Colonial Hotel. It was built in the late 1800s, not 1700s and architect John A. Demwolf created a French chateau-influenced hotel with 186 rooms and a top floor dining room for the York Hotel Company. The building once boasted a mansard roof with conical turrets but they were destroyed in a 1947 fire. The old hotel was renovated in the early 1980s to house professional offices and condominiums. 

Christ Lutheran Church
29 South George Street

The congregation of the Christ Lutheran Church, organized in 1733, is one of the oldest Lutheran congregations west of the Susquehanna River. This house of worship dates to 1812-14 and reflects the influence of Christopher Wren’s English churches from the mid-1600s with Federal-style windows and tiered steeple.

Reineberg Shoes
59 South George Street

The original Reineberg Shoe store opened downed the street at 7 South George in 1890. The family moved the business to this location in the 1940s, into this smart Art Deco building. Reineberg is no longer fitting Florsheims here but the business is still providing personal shoe service in York. 

Washington Hall
100 South George Street

Also known as the Odd Fellows Hall, the Washington Hall was constructed in 1850. For many years it housed a theater on the second floor. The Greek Revival structure takes the form of an ancient temple with full-height Corinthian pilasters flanking the front façade. 


Golden Swan Tavern
2 East Market Street

This location served as a depository for flint lock muskets and rifles during the American Revolution. Benjamin Hersch constructed the brick building here as the Golden Swan Tavern around 1800. The tavern proprietor sold the business to Samuel Weiser in 1808 for use as a dry goods store.

Trolley Kiosk
Continental Square, northeast corner of George Street and Market Street

This kiosk was used as a trolley dispatcher’s office in Continental Square, near the end of the trolleys’ run, which started in 1887. With its copper roof, it was known as the “Teapot Dome.” After trolley service ended in 1939 the little building left Continental Square and began an epic journey. It was moved to a car barn and then purchased and moved to a parking lot on South George Street. Attorney J. Eugene Stumpf bought it and planted it in his back yard as a playhouse at 1465 Whiteford Road. Eventually the city reclaimed it and.  with a broken base, rotting sides and a water-damaged roof, turned it over to the Kinsley Education Center for refurbishing. The trolley kiosk was returned to its former location on Continental Square in 2009. And the best thing about it is that it won’t be used as anything - just a reminder of days gone by.

First National Bank
1 North George Street, at northeast corner of Market Street

Dominating the northeast quadrant of Continental Square is the First National Bank Building, constructed in 1924. The bank was organized in 1864, as the cornerstone attests. The Beaux Arts incorporates classical features features - double fluted Corinthian pilasters, roof balustrade - and a touch of Egyptian Revival symbolism in its prominent eagle overlooking Market Street. This building is located on the site of the National Treasury from 1777-1778, when the Continental Congress located in York.

York Trust Company
21 East Market Street

Reinhardt Dempwolf teamed with his brother John to design this beautiful Beaux Arts vault in 1910. The York Trust Company had been in business for twenty years at the time it moved into it new home behindcolossal Ionic columns and a rusticated façade.

York County Courthouse
28 East Market Street

This is courthouse number three for York County. A replica of the first one was where the tour started; its replacement rose here in 1840. The ever-busy John Dempwolf was called in for a redesign in 1898 and he incorporated the Ionic columns you see today from that courthouse into his design. He topped the courthouse with three distinctive domes inspired by the Florence (Italy) Cathedral. The classical domes feature both Corinthian and rectangular pilasters, sculptured leaf roof elements, window pediments, dentil course, and―in the main cupola―a bell. The new courthouse was initially covered in yellow brick, including the central portion of the 1840 building. The courthouse expanded in 1957, receiving east and west wings and a facade replacement in red brick. 

Lafayette Club
53 East Market Street, at northwest corner of Duke Street

This Greek Revival home was built in 1839 for local businessman Philip A. Small. His company sold retail and wholesale dry goods and hardware. The house was purchased for an exclusive York club, founded in 1891, and named in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette.

Yorktowne Hotel
48 East Market Street, at southwest corner of Duke Street

York’s grand hotel is truly an architectural treasure that belongs to the community. Knowing that the city needed a high quality, modern hotel in the 1920s, funds for the Yorktowne were raised through the sale of stock to the community. The Georgian Revival structure opened the doors to its 198 rooms on October 5, 1925. The building’s red brick exterior is trimmed with ornamental terra-cotta. Design-wise, this building incorporates many features of theRenaissance Revival Style, including formal design, rusticated ground level, round arched windows with keystones, and roof balustrade. With the exceptions of the first floor and marquee, visitors today see the same visage that greeted excited guests in 1925.


Rex and Laurel Fire Company
49 South Duke Street

First organized as the Sun Fire Company in 1770 and then as the Laurel Fire Company in 1790, this is one of the oldest continuously operating fire companies in the United States. This striking Italianate firehouse with Gothic highlights dates to 1878. Architectural features include high mansard roof, round and pointed arches, corner quoins, a heavy bracketed cornice, pediments over the garage doors, hood molds above the windows, paired arched windows, and modillions.


Motor Rose Motor Club
118 East Market Street

The White Rose Motor Club built their Art Moderne headquarters along the lines of the streamlined automobiles of the day in 1949. With rounded shapes and sleek stainless steel and smooth stone the building practically appears as if it is ready to pull out of its parking spot.

York Water Company
130 East Market Street

The York Water Company traces its origins to 1816 when water was carried from nearby streams in hollow logs. This Neoclassical temple use Egyptian-inspired columns inscribed with symbolic fountain and water scenes. The interior ceiling, executed by the Philadelphia Decorating Company n 1929, was restored to its original magnificence in 1995.

Bonham House
152 East Market Street

Horace Bonham was admitted to the bar and worked as a newspaper editor and a congressional aide before, at the age of 34, he went to Europe in February 1869 to study painting. He visited the great museums, met artists and sketched scenes wherever he traveled. He bought this house in 1875, remodeling and enlarging it over the years. Bonham is best remembered today as a genre painter who captured routine events with his brush; his work was unusual for its inclusion of diverse people in his scenes. Elizabeth Bonham, his oldest daughter, left the property to the Historical Society of York County in 1865. 

The Brownstone
153 East Market Street

David E. Small, a railway car manufacturer, built this Italianate-style brownstone with corner quoins and arched windows with keystones in 1866. The interior parlor features elaborately painted wall and ceiling frescoes byItalian artist Philipo Costagini, famous for his work in the United States Capitol. In the 1940s a restaurant operated here, one of the first structures in York to be fully air-conditioned. Look for lighter colored patches on the facade, attempts to repair the notoriously fragile brownstone.

Martin Library
159 East Market Street

Built in 1935, the Martin Library is a beautiful design of Colonial Revival architecture by Frederick Dempwolf, continuing in his father John’s architectural practice. The brick façade is highlighted by an Indiana Limestone entrance. A graceful octagonal cupola, complete with weathervane, tops of his creation.

First Presbyterian Church
201 East Market Street

This land was a gift of the Penn family to the English Presbyterian Congregation of Yorktown in 1785; the original church was holding services by 1793. This Gothic Revival expression in brick was constructed in 1860. A small chapel was added in 1931. Colonel James Smith, York’s signer of the Declaration of Independence is buried in the church graveyard.

Charles Billmeyer House
225 East Market Street

Charles Billmeyer was a partner in the Billmeyer and Small Co., pioneer and leading builders of narrow gauge railroad cars in the United States, with David Small who built the Brownstone. Billmeyer built this exuberant Italian villa the same year as his partner’s, 1866. It also features interior frescoes by United States Capitol painter Philipo Costagini. The building features prominent quoins, cast stone trim around the door, arched windows with hood mold and foliate keystone, multiple chimneys, and an oriel on the east side. The entire confection is topped with a cupola on the hipped roof. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the Billmeyer house was slated for demolition in the 1970s before it underwent restoration for use as offices for the First Presbyterian Church.

Historical Society of York County Museum
250 East Market Street

This Colonial Revival building which houses the York County Heritage Trust was built in 1921 as the J. W. Richley Auto Company and you can still see the original checkered showroom floor when you walk in to explore the exhibits of the Historical Society’s museum. 


William Goodridge House
123 East Philadelphia Street

William Goodridge, a former slave, became a prosperous merchant. He reportedly hid runaway slaves in a secret room in the cellar of this house and in straw-filled pits in what was then the backyard. Architect Reinhardt Dempwolf purchased the house in 1897 and gave it the Colonial Revival style seen today.

York Dispatch Newsroom Building
15 East Philadelphia Street

In the 1870s it became popular in large cities to use pre-fabricated cast iron as building facades. Often molded in Italianate style with ornate cornices and pilasters, cast iron cut the time of construction from months to weeks. The Variety Iron Works Plant in York provided many buildings with iron used just for that purpose. York’s most outstanding example of a cast iron building is the York Dispatch Building, built in 1887. It resides on the National Register of Historic Places. 


Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center
50 North George Street

The pulse of the cultural center of York beat through these two theaters which, although similar in appearance, were two distinct structures, both executed by Reinhardt Dempwolf. The Capitol designed in the formal Renaissance Revival Style with rusticated ground level, distinct horizontal divisions, and roof balustrade, was built first, in 1917. The Strand followed in 1925, created in the Beaux Arts style. On both structures Dempwolf employed the concept of “piano nobile,” placing visual emphasis on the second story. Beginning with vaudeville and silent films, the Strand-Capitolwas the destination for entertainment for Yorkers until the 1970s. Like downtown theaters everywhere, competition from suburban multiplexes killed the duo and a date with the wrecking ball loomed. But after a large capital fund drive, the previously deteriorated Strand-Capitol reopened in all its splendor on April 12, 1980.


Valencia Ballroom
142 North George Street

Opened in 1911 as The Coliseum Ballroom, the building is better known as The Valencia. In the 1930s it was known far and wide as one of the best ballrooms in the region, playing host to crowds of up to 2,000 people listening to the likes of Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Frank Sinatra. The Valencia even had its own band, the Blue Moon Orchestra. The original façade was torn down in the early 1930s, replaced with an Art Deco influenced exterior. The grand ballroom was restored and reopened in the late 1980s.


Central Market
34 West Philadelphia Street

Intended as the heart of the city when it was built in 1887, the Central Market House remains so today. Its five towers with pyramidal roofs unite this Romanesque Revival Structure, which was designed by John A. Dempwolf.

Heidelberg United Church of Christ
47 West Philadelphia Street

This Neo-Gothic church was constructed in 1901 and is awash in pointed arches, pinnacles and battlements along the roofline.

Old York Post Office
55 West Philadelphia Street, at northeast corner of Beaver Street

This impressive Richardsonian Romanesque structure was built as a post office in 1895 but served less than two decades before a new downtown post office was erected on South George Street as a memorial to the Continental Congress in 1912. The heavy brownstone entrance arch is a defining trademark of the style. It has since been used as a Masonic hall and youth center.


Gethsemane Hall
115 North Beaver Street

After purchasing the old York post office next door the Masons built this unique stone Neo-Norman castle, complete with towers and battlement, as a Masonic temple in 1918

The Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist
140 North Beaver Street

The congregation first worshiped on this site in 1771. Although portions of the walls of that original church are buried deep within this structure the church has been enlarged several times - in 1839, 1865 and 1882. There is no resemblance between today’s Gothic Victorian structure and its 18th century ancestor. York’s Liberty Bell is housed in the church. Originally hung in the Colonial Courthouse, the bell was rung to signify the signing of the Declaration of Independence.


Friends Meeting House
135 West Philadelphia Street

The Willis family settled in York County in 1754 after a deed by Thomas Penn and Richard Penn granted 480 acres to fellow Quakers John Wright and James Wright and William Willis. The Wrights operated a ferry across the Susquehanna River and Willis farmed and made bricks. He won the contract to make the bricks for the York County courthouse. He completed the masonry work on the Meeting House in 1766. He was also one of the major financial contributors for buying the land and erecting the meetinghouse. Betty Willis was buried in the meeting’s graveyard in 1769. William Willis was appointed overseer of the York meeting in 1768 and was listed as an elder when he died in 1801, at age seventy-four. The meeting house has been in continuous use ever since and is associated in local histories with the underground railroad. John Elgar, who built the Codorus, America’s first iron steamboat, is also buried in the churchyard. The Codorus was launched on the Susquehanna River in 1825.


Barnett Bobb House
behind 157 West Market Street, east side of Pershing Avenue

Unlike many buildings in Lancaster and York counties influenced by Pennsylvania German architecture, the Barnett Bobb house is an English-style, squared-timber log home. Constructed in 1812, its distinctly English features include a symmetrical exterior façade, a central hall and corner fireplaces. Preservationists moved this structure to its present site from three blocks away to spare it from demolition.