YORK'S COLONIAL COMPLEX 

 

Our April 2011 meeting was held at the York Colonial Complex. Dan Roe, YCHT Director of Education was our tour guide.  We started with the Colonial Courthouse.

Colonial CourthouseOriginally, the courthouse (built in 1754) was located in the center square of York but was torn down in 1841. Court activities in York necessitated a larger courthouse. In 1976, members of the community decided to recreate the courthouse for the bicentennial. Much research was done – even excavation in the square to determine the exact dimensions of the original courthouse.  The courthouse was built in the Georgian style and furnished in a style similar to Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Thirteen tables – one for each of the colonies –set in order from the northern part of the county to the southern part. York was chosen as the seat of government after the fall of Philadelphia in the fall of 1777.  Originally, the Continental Congress had hoped to base itself in Lancaster – but that was also the center of activities for Pennsylvania – thus housing and meeting places were at a premium.  The Congress moved to York – it still provided a central location in the colonies for the government.  Although, the delegates found York to less desirable in regards to food, housing, and social activities.  Local citizens also took advantage of the wealthier delegates and charged higher prices for basic necessities.  Meeting on the second floor of the courthouse, the delegates passed two important legislative documents – The Articles of Confederation in Nov 1777 and the French Alliance in May 1778.  By June 1778, the delegates happily returned to Philadelphia. (Several members of our group said that SCPGS had placed a time capsule in the courthouse when the reconstruction was completed).

We next toured the Plough Tavern. Built around 1751, by Joseph Chambers, the tavern was the center of local life. The tavern is two stories, with a basement and an attic. It was built in typical English style – half timbered – the bottom of wood and the second floor used bricks.  There are 3 rooms on the first floor and a storage room. It is furnished and set up as it would have been in the mid 1750’s. The tavern was used up until the 1960’s – some of our members remembered that it had been a cigar store and also the home of a well known local business – “Mike’s Nuts”. Restoration was begun on the tavern, when it was discovered that the much of the original building had survived and was still intact.

Gate's House and Plough Tavern (rear view)Attached to the tavern, is the Gates House.  Built by Joseph Chambers in 1751 to provide a home for his family; it reflects the lifestyle of a wealthy Yorker in 1777.  The house was rented to General Gates. It is here that the famous “Conway Cabal” was supposed to have taken place.  Gates had invited Lafayette to a dinner party on the second floor of the house. During a toast, Lafayette confirmed his loyalty to General Washington and put an end to any ideas of Gates becoming the commander in chief. An interesting feature of the house is the expandable walls on the second floor. The large room on this floor could be divided into two smaller rooms. The center wall was built as two large panels.  The panels could be lifted up and attached to the ceiling of the room, making the two rooms into one large room.

Bobb HouseOur last stop was the Bobb House. The house was built in 1812 and originally was on the property where the William Penn High School is located. When the school needed to expand, the house was offered to the Historical Society, and was moved in its entirety to the Colonial Complex. It features dovetail notching in its walls. It is believed that a weaver’s shop was located on the second floor and the family lived on the first floor. During the 1900’s the house was subdivided and records show that 19 people lived there.

The visit was an interesting look at early York history and the tour was fascinating. It is hard to visualize how York looked during the 1700’s and the complex gives a very good look at early life in York.