Z4 Tour: York and the Susquehanna River


I’d wanted to tour the historic town of York, Pennsylvania for a long time. I figured that York, an early capital of the U.S., would likely have a great combination of history, old buildings, and scenery, plus any number of twisty, interesting roads surrounding it. I wasn’t disappointed.

After working until 8:00 or 9:00 PM every night prior to Sunday, April 18, I was more than ready for a change of pace. I quickly looked up some York historic sites on the Internet and mapped out a route east from there to the twin towns of Wrightsville and Columbia, on opposite sides of the mighty Susquehanna River. After adding a few points south of Wrightsville, my plan was set.

I’d gone by Lake Redman many times without getting off the Interstate to look around. I took the time on this trip, and promptly found the Hess Farm, with its particularly scenic barn and pond. It was also a good place to put the top down for the rest of the trip.

In downtown York, I located the extraordinary Hahn House without trouble (discovering in the process that it’s now a funeral home). It was originally the home of the Emerton family and was built in 1918. Financial problems forced the Emertons to convert the massive home into apartments in 1921. It later became the “Hahn Home” for unmarried women of good character over age 50 and operated as such for almost 50 years before a major fire laid it to waste in 2003. The home’s board of directors had to decide between razing the building, selling it as a ruin, or rebuilding it and selling it. They chose the latter, thank goodness.

Heading toward Cookes House, I ran across the imposing neo-gothic St. Patrick’s Church, built in 1895. I arrived just as the congregation was arriving for the morning service. Fortunately , they didn’t seem to mind a gawky, picture-takin’ tourist.

Cookes House sits on the banks of Codorus Creek, which runs north through the center of York before eventually feeding into the Susquehanna. Cookes House is one of the older buildings in York (1761) and was the home of Thomas Paine of Revolutionary War fame while he served in the Continental Congress here. Paine is often called the “Father of the American Revolution” because of his pamphlet series Common Sense, and it is believed that he wrote The Crisis while living in this house (“These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”)

The oldest building still standing is the Golden Plough Tavern (1741), on the left in this picture. (For some reason, taverns have a way of being the first to arrive and the last to leave…) On the right is the Horatio Gates House (1751). In the early stages of the Revolution, the “Conway Cabal” plotted to overthrow General George Washington and to install Gates as the leader of the army. Legend has it that the Marquis de Lafayette, to counter the plotters, made a toast in Gates’ house to George Washington, forcing Conway and others to drink to the health of their intended victim. Historians differ on the accuracy of this story—but it sounds good to me.

You have to admire a city that does things like this:

Other interesting sites in York included the Barnett Bobb log home…

…and the Hotel Codorus.

Did you notice the mural in the background of the prior photo? York has dozens of them, such as this one commemorating famous buildings (including Cookes House) and events.

Charles Billmeyer build this Italianate home in 1863, complete with Italian ceiling frescoes. Billmeyer earned his fortune building railroad cars.

My most favorite building in York, however, proved to be the Rex & Laurel Fire House (1878), also built in an Italianate style and complete with a belfrey on the Rex (left) side and a bell tower on the Laurel side. Quite impressive.

PA route 462 runs right through York, as Market Street, and continues east to Wrightsville and then further east across the Columbia-Wrightsville bridge to (naturally) Columbia. It’s one of the prettiest bridges I’ve seen in a long time. Note what appears to be a small island behind the closest arch in the photo.

The “island” proved to be one of the stone piers that supported an earlier bridge across the Susquehanna. At 1 1/4 miles, at the time it was the longest covered bridge in the country. Union soldiers had to dynamite and then burn the bridge to prevent Confederate General Jubal Early from seizing it—thereby thwarting Robert E. Lee’s plans to capture Harrisburg, Reading, and Philadelphia and leading to the pivotal battle at Gettysburg. The fire from the bridge spread into Wrightsville, and Gen. Early’s army worked valiantly to help the townspeople save their town. In exchange, the women of the town helped care for a train-full of wounded Confederate soldiers.

I’d been through Columbia once before and enjoyed its historic homes. This time, I discovered many more, including these two:

I also rediscovered the David Forry Tobacco factory, which used to produce smoking and chewing tobacco but is now an antique store (but none the less dramatic-looking).

On the hills overlooking the Susquehanna, this friendly cat arrived to see what I was up to. He appeared to be distinctly unimpressed with my 3.0i. I’m convinced that if I’d had an M roadster, he would have hopped right in for a ride.

After looking around Columbia and nearby Washington Boro, I drove back over the C-W Bridge and drove south alongside the river. I discovered that not all ducks are content with placid rivers and lakes. This one clearly enjoys running the whitewater rapids.

Speaking of placid streams, this one was once the home to the little-known but always-feisty Colonel Thomas Cresap. He settled here in 1730, and his land and “Cresap’s Fort” (his house) overlooked the Susquehanna. The Colonel promptly lobbied for this part of Pennsylvania to be made part of Maryland. Eventually, agents of William Penn attacked Cresap, burned his house, and took him prisoner. At trial in Philadelphia, Cresap announced that it was “the nicest city in all of Maryland.” He was banished from the area and, among other things, established his next “Cresap’s Fort” in Oldtown, Maryland.

Whenever I stopped for pictures, I couldn’t help noticing the distinct signs of Springtime.   =D>

Continuing on, I soon came to PA route 425—a gem of a road that twisted every which way, occasionally bordering the river, other times climbing hills, and always featuring interesting old houses, churches, ruins, and so forth. Well worth a visit for anyone in the area.

The St. Luke Lutheran Church featured a surreal combination of flowers, graves, clouds, and sky.

A little further on, Otter Creek emptied into the Susquehanna at an area called Lake Aldred (formed between the western shore and an island in the river, seen here on the left). Did I mention how scenic route 425 proved to be?

This building served as a tavern and the tollkeeper’s home for the York Furnace Bridge and the nearby Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal. The bridge is long gone, having been destroyed twice—first by winds and later by ice flows. Remnants of the canal and its locks still exist.

Everywhere I turned on 425, there was something interesting. It’s tough to cover much ground when you stop every 500 feet for another picture…

One of the fun things about driving along older roads is spotting intriguing-sounding road names, such as Garvine Mill Road—and then discovering that there actually is a mill (in this case) or a cave, church, school, or whatever still present. The Garvine Mill was originally built in the early 1800s, burned at some point, and was rebuilt in the late 1800s, serving as a grist mill and later a cider mill. It was in surprisingly good shape and is being restored.

As my trip was coming to an end, I chanced to pass through Stewartstown, PA, which also featured numerous striking homes and other buildings. I especially liked this one:

A couple of doors down, as I was trying to get an HDR picture of a cherry tree, an attractive young lady came out of the house and asked if I needed assistance. (Well, I don’t get these offers just every day, you understand!) We chatted about Stewartstown for a few minutes, and then I continued on. Only later did I realize that she had shown up in the third of my “bracketed” pictures, surrounded by a wreath on her front door!

On the outskirts of the town sits this lonely and disheveled railroad car. (One of Charles Billmeyer’s perhaps? No, probably too recent.) A long way from its prime, it still was an imposing sight.

Only a few more back roads beckoned before I hit the Baltimore Beltway and drove on home. I enjoyed this miniature-burro farm…

…and the attendant miniature burros, who were quite friendly and loved to have their ears scratched.

And, just for my friend Cathy, I managed to stumble across the historic Gunpowder Baptist Church, which dates back to 1806. Its congregation now meets in a much newer building across the street, but the old church still stands proudly.

All in all, it was a most enjoyable day trip, full of history and challenging roads that offered a great opportunity to take advantage of the Z4’s power and handling. If anyone would like a gpx file of the route, just let me know. In the meantime, get out there and drive someplace interesting and fun!

Rick F.


Written by Rick

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