York County, PA, is like stepping into a time machine, with stops in Colonial America, the Civil War, and a quirky not-so-distant past. Here are some of the top historical sites and landmarks to check out:
One of the most popular things to do in York, PA, is an hour-long guided tour of the Colonial Complex, part of the York County History Center. The complex’s four historical buildings showcase York County during the 18th and early 19th centuries, from the tools and furniture they used to the work the Second Continental Congress accomplished there.
Three of the four buildings are the original structures. The Golden Plough Tavern is the oldest structure in York and served as a home before becoming a tavern. You’ll also find The General Gates House within the complex. It was once the most beautiful home in York and a temporary residence to Continental Army commander Horatio Gates. The Barnett Bobb Log showcases the typical local dwelling in the early 1800s.
The Colonial Courthouse, which currently stands, is a replica of the 18th-century courthouse, which served as the meeting place of the Second Continental Congress. It harbors antiques, such as the Lady Justice statue.
Burning of the Bridge Diorama
“Don’t burn your bridges” is good advice. But burning THIS bridge was a necessary sacrifice, preventing the Confederates from marching east, capturing Pennsylvania’s state capital and Philadelphia.
The Burning of the Bridge Diorama depicts when Union militia set fire to the Wrightsville-Columbia Bridge, one of the longest-covered bridges in the world. Knowledgeable guides retell the story to curious visitors.
The diorama resides in a building next to the Susquehanna River on the Wrightsville, PA, side – waters the Confederates were denied crossing.
The Picket Bronze Statue in Hanover
Picket duty was one of the most dangerous Civil War jobs. Pickets guarded outposts ahead of the main force to warn of enemy advances. A statue named “The Picket” commemorates the 4,000 Union Cavalry members killed in the 1863 Battle of Hanover. It was the first Civil War battle on Northern soil, immediately preceding the Battle of Gettysburg not far away. The bronze likeness of a soldier on a horse was unveiled in 1905. Its granite base stands 20 feet high in the square of Hanover.
York County is trademarked the “Birthplace of American Whiskey.” One of the best places to learn about that history is Dill’s Tavern. The Dillsburg Tavern is a stop along the Keystone Craft Spirits Trail because it features a replica of a Pennsylvania rye whiskey distillery. Beyond whiskey, the tavern also showcases life on Pennsylvania’s frontier. The building was constructed in 1794 and later restored by the Northern York County Historical & Preservation Society.
The Haines Shoe House
Don't miss your chance to stay in one of York County's most iconic properties. The Haines Shoe House, a historic landmark, is a shoe-shaped home large enough to accommodate your whole family! Constructed in 1948 by Mahlon Haines to market his shoe business, the five-story home is shaped like a work boot and has a shoe-shaped doghouse. The living room is in the toe, the kitchen in the heel, a recreation room in the instep, and two bedrooms – named “Ankle Abode” and “Shoelace Space” – are in the ankle. Stained-glass windows are a charming nod to the house's original purpose. Featured on “The Amazing Race” and “What’s With That House” television shows, the lovingly updated Shoe House now features a fire pit and hot tub among the many delightful amenities.
York County Parks
Some York County, PA, parks feature historical buildings or ties. For example, the Heritage Rail Trail County Park contains Hanover Junction, which President Abraham Lincoln visited on his way to and from the Gettysburg Address, and where his funeral train passed.
History is found everywhere, in parks, buildings, and museums, including the William C. Goodridge Freedom Center & Underground Railroad Museum and the Indian Steps Museum. Come and Explore York history for yourself!