The Architecture of York

West Market Street in Spring Order A Print

To walk through the alluring streets of downtown York is to walk through an open-air museum of architectural history. From the half-timber architecture of the Golden Plough Tavern to the post-modern construction of newer office buildings, the architecture in and around Continental Square is a microcosm of American architecture.

When one thinks "architectural museum," York is perhaps not the first thing to come to mind. Or even second or third.... Yet when you delve into York's history, the town's architectural heritage becomes more apparent. In the early 18th Century, the York area became home to settlers from Germany, Scotland, and Ireland. The oldest remaining homes in York County the Shultz houses in East York and Hallam - date from the mid-1730s. York Town was laid out in 1741 in a grid formation, similar to Philadelphia. The
Golden Plough Tavern was built that same year. In the 1770s, York Town was home to the Second Continental Congress.

Throughout the 19th Century, York's agrarian heritage combined with industrial know-how, producing the first coal burning locomotive and first iron steamboat. As York grew, so did the architecture. The wealthy built lavish homes. Many beautiful Victorian-era structures (homes, institutions, businesses) still remain. York was the largest city north of the Mason-Dixon Line to be occupied by the Confederate Army, but some quick thinking by the local residents spared York the destruction that many other towns witnessed.

As the Industrial Revolution geared up, York's architecture followed suit and larger structures were built, incorporating new technologies like cast iron facades. York became a boomtown, and at one point had so many automobile manufacturers that the area become known as "Detroit East." Movie houses, ballrooms, and large department stores were built to provide activities for the burgeoning populace. The city of York's population peaked around 1950, before residents and businesses moved to suburbia. Still, the greater York area grew and grew, and today is home to almost 400,000 residents who still value the nucleus of their community: York City. As a result, York's architectural heritage continues. The towering new York County Judicial Center and Susquehanna Commerce Center are changing the skyline of the downtown, juxtaposed nicely within the historic fabric of the community.

Ready to learn more?  Continue to our Geographic Channel for a Virtual Walking Tour, or the Architectural Channel, for a lesson in York's architecture.


2000 - 2003 by Scott D. Butcher

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