Exploring York, PA’s Unique History
With roots predating the American Revolution, the history of York is as rich as any city in Pennsylvania. The site of many important firsts, it is often called America’s original capital, as it was the site where, in 1776, the Continental Congress began drafting the Articles of Confederation.
Today, York, PA is a thriving city with vibrant cultural, educational and commercial opportunities. Let’s take a look at how it got there with a brief overview of some of the most important events in York’s history.
18th Century: A Colonial Capital
The City of York — also known as Yorktown in the early years — was laid out by Thomas Cookson in 1744. For nearly a decade prior to that, Cookson and other settlers from the Philadelphia region had been putting down roots in the region. With the formal establishment of the town, York became what is thought to be the first permanent European settlement west of the Susquehanna River.
The establishment of the town demanded the building of roads and other infrastructure, many of which were laid on top of existing Native American trade routes. The Christ Lutheran Church of York served early settlers’ spiritual needs, erecting its first log building in 1744, on the same site where the congregation can be found to this day.
During the Revolutionary War, York’s strategic location made it an ideal choice for the temporary home of the Continental Congress, at which time the aforementioned Articles of Confederation — the first legal document referring to the United States of America by name — was drafted.
19th Century: A Growing Center of Industry and Agriculture
For much of the first half of the 19th century, York routinely ranked among the top 100 most populous U.S. urban areas. But it wasn’t until after the Civil War — following a brief period of occupation by Confederate forces — that the city experienced its first true boom, emerging as an important hub for both farming and the manufacture of steam engines, railway products and paper.
As the city grew, more modern conveniences came to it, with the first telegraph line installed in 1850, and household electricity was made available with the founding of the York Overland Telephone, Telegraph and Electric Light Co. in 1881.
20th Century to Today: A Dynamic City Weathers Turbulent Times
York’s fortunes mirrored much of the country’s throughout the 20th century, experiencing in turn the economic and social strains brought about by the Great Depression, the civil rights movement, the flight of manufacturing jobs overseas and the 2008 economic crisis.
Today, York is just the 11th largest city in Pennsylvania — a far cry from its former prominence. But don’t mistake size for quality. For its 43,000 residents, York is great place to live, work and raise a family. A growing Latino population has brought an influx of cultural diversity, while traditional attractions such as the historic York Fair and the York Little Theatre continue to draw visitors from all over the state and beyond.
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