That’s right, York is both a place steeped in Colonial history as well as a place to get away from it all. Just like the Second Continental Congress did.

In November 1777, the British Army was getting a wee bit too close to Philadelphia for comfort. So, John Adams and friends packed up for an extended vacation and high-tailed it out of Philly. To Lancaster they road – and planned to stay – until they realized that there was, er, "no room at the inn." Alas, the Susquehanna River afforded a nice buffer from the Redcoats, and soon the likes of Thomas Paine, John Hancock, Sam Adams, and John Witherspoon found themselves, literally, "away from it all."

Yes, they found themselves away from "civilized" Philadelphia, on the edge of the American frontier. In fact, they found themselves in the Black Forest of Germany. Well, figuratively, at least. See, even though Penn’s Woods was settled by the English, immigrants from the Palatine region of Germany found the rolling hills of central Pennsylvania to their liking, and dropped plough. Fortunately, this particular plough was golden, and served beer. 

As it happens, the "Golden Plough Tavern" is still standing in downtown York, 260 years after it was constructed. Its medieval architecture is exceedingly unique. In fact, if you can visualize the tavern standing along the banks of the Codorus Creek, surrounded by woodlands – very much as it looked when first constructed – images from the writings of the Brothers Grimm come to mind.

Okay, okay … so we’ve managed to mix Germanic fairy tales with Pennsylvania architecture and the Second Continental Congress.

Which is to say that Mr. Adams and company must have literally felt like they had entered a different world. Never mind the fact that many of the locals spoke German!


Well, these founding fathers visited our little town for the better part of nine months, and had a pretty busy schedule. In between rollercoaster rides, windsurfing, and mountain biking, they managed to squeeze in such little things as adopting the Articles of Confederation, ratifying a treaty with France, and declaring the first national Thanksgiving (turkey not included). Read more about their visit on our History Channel.

But we were discussing your pending visit to York, weren’t we? Mind you, we don’t actually expect you stay nine months – unless you like it here so much that you decide to relocate. When you are here, however, we’ve got a little history for you.


As evidenced by content elsewhere on this site, a trip through downtown York is a stroll through history. In fact, within the borders of York County you’ll find over 28 centuries of history.

If you enjoy Native American lore, be sure to visit Indian Steps Museum in Airville, where you’ll find a unique – if somewhat eclectic – collection of artifacts, housed in a beautiful Bungalow Style structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


If Colonial America and the Revolution tickles your fancy – or any other parts of you – you’ll find a multitude of offerings in York. At the Historical Society Museum, you’ll find three centuries of York history crammed into 10,000 sq. ft. The York County Heritage Trust also operates the Colonial Courthouse, Golden Plough Tavern, General Gates House, and Barnett Bobb Log House, located at the intersection of Pershing Ave. and West Market Street in downtown York. (Next door you’ll also find a York County Visitors Center.)

The Colonial Courthouse is a replica of the building where the Second Continental Congress met from 1777 – 1778. It was originally located in Centre Square (now Continental Square) two blocks to the east. Even though this particular building dates from 1976, it is authentic to the original 1755 structure. 

The Golden Plough Tavern opened for business in 1741, and is connected to the General Gates House, circa 1761. Here Frenchman Marquis de Lafayette proposed one of the most important toasts in American history: a drink to General George Washington’s health. This particular toast derailed a plot to oust General Washington known as the Conway Cabal. The conspirators were counting on the support of France, and Lafayette would have none of it. To the back of this complex is the Barnett Bobb Log House, a log home dating from 1812. And yes, all of these buildings are open to visitors.

For the Civil War buffs, here’s a bit of forgotten trivia: York was the largest town north of the Mason-Dixon Line to be occupied by the Confederate Army. (Read more here.) The longest covered bridge in the world (spanning the Susquehanna River) was burned down to keep Confederate troops from advancing. (If you are in town on a Sunday, be sure to visit the Historic Wrightsville Civil War Diorama for a guided tour.)


Of course, true Civil War aficionados know of the Battle of Hanover, a York County cavalry skirmish that may have changed the outcome at Gettysburg. Briefly, the Union Cavalry (Generals Armstrong and Custer) and Confederate Cavalry (General Stuart) unexpectedly ran into one another on the streets of Hanover. A daylong battle ensued, ending in the retreat of the Confederate Cavalry, who fled to the northeast. Where they needed to be, however, was to the west: Gettysburg. 
The day was June 30, and they didn’t find their way to Gettysburg until the end of the second day of battle – far too late to be of much help. Today, you’ll find historic markers and statues in Hanover Square. Be sure to visit the Hanover Chamber of Commerce Web site for information.  

For unique lodging, stay in one of York County’s quaint Bed & Breakfasts. In northern York County you’ll find Farm Fortune Bed & Breakfast, housed in one of the oldest buildings in York County. In fact, the cottage dates from the 1730s, and the main building dates from the 1770s, so a trip back in time awaits! And in Hanover you’ll find The Beechmont Inn. The Inn witnessed the Battle of Hanover, so you’re sure to soak in a bit of history.

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© 2002 by Scott D. Butcher

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