York’s tiny tram station stood in the center of the center



When York County’s streetcar system served much of its more than 900 square miles, York’s Continental Square served as the hub.

And the little green gazebo known for years as “Teapot Dome” and “Copper Top” served as the hub of this hub.

The iconic cylindrical structure in York’s Continental Square is officially known as the Trolley Master Station.

You saw it and maybe you wondered what it was for. The short answer: The streetcar and bus dispatchers worked from there, as did the police.

After Jerri Worley moved into an apartment on Continental Square several years ago, she wondered about the deterioration of the gazebo.

She wanted to fix. And she wanted to explain why he was there.

‘I’m not a millionaire,’ she told the York Daily Record about five years ago, ‘but I looked (out my window) at this little kiosk, and said ‘I think I can do it.'”

She took on the project, raising funds for its restoration by the Kinsley Education Center. And she asked historian Jamie Noerpel to research its past use and write the script for the plaque.

The story of this restored tram station is, in miniature, the story of the restoration of the city center that rises around it.

Busy continental plaza

The bandstand stood at its longtime post at the northeast corner of the square on a Saturday morning earlier this month. Instead of carts racing around him, he stood at the center of a confluence of activity on this cold autumn day. Dozens of people, dressed in Alice in Wonderland costumes, were taking part in a virtual Escape Room-style themed event.

The William Penn Senior High School Homecoming Parade unfolded with his orchestra playing and the homecoming yard waving.

Across the square, the Prince Street Café was packed. Others passed by Continental Square en route to the late 1880s Central Market, a Saturday rite that has lasted about as long as the kiosk is old.

Indeed, the rise of the central market and other indoor venues and a growing tram system prompted a move to demolish two market sheds in the middle of the square. Carts didn’t have enough elbow room with those bulky old sheds.

After:Here’s what Lancaster Conservancy does with its 3,000 acres in York County

After:The Changing View of Coventry Road in York Township, 1999 and 2022

Jerri Worley saw a need – a deteriorated and unexplained Main Trolley Station – and started a do-it-yourself urban planning project that raised funds to rehabilitate the small structure and create an explanatory plaque for the old building.  The fund will also cover future maintenance of the station.

Pedestrians to increase

The restored kiosk will soon have a new neighbor. He will share his quadrant with Ocean 10, a tech company moving into the long-vacant Citizens Bank building.

South of George Street, the old York Post Office building is in public hands and proposals are being accepted for its possible use. And to the north on George Street, two new projects are in sight involving the former Station House (Gloria’s and Cupid’s) and Ballpark Commons, next to PeoplesBank Park.

A large play is brewing to the east of the bandstand, with the restoration of the Yorktowne Hotel on East Market Street in its final stages.

In response to a media article, Michael Blum, General Manager of Yorktowne, provided an update on Facebook: “Opening mid-late November…A great glimpse of a hotel that is taking shape and ready to…welcome you. again ! ”

All of these projects will increase foot traffic in the plaza and in front of the bandstand.

And that’s not counting all the historical and cultural projects that have just been completed or are in progress. For example, there are the renovations of the Martin Library and the Appel Center.

Work on a new museum at the Old West Philadelphia Street Steam Plant History Center is underway.

Planning is underway on the new Crispus Attucks Historical and Cultural Center on the South Duke Street campus in California. The missing link of the railway in the North-West Triangle has been filled. And landscape planning for Codorus Creek is underway.

Continental Square was bustling mid-morning on a Saturday in October – participants in a virtual Escape Room-like event, market visitors and William Penn's homecoming parade.  This view overlooks the plaza of the busy Prince Street Café - another destination for pedestrians - as a policeman stands ready to direct traffic as the parade approaches.  Interestingly, the prominent WWII monument was sculpted by famed York County artist Lorann Jacobs.  His granddaughter, Jamie Noerpel, wrote the description on the newly installed explanatory plaque on the restored carriage master station, just behind the photographer.  Two different generations of York County residents have therefore contributed to York's townscape.

Young people enjoy the city

All of this activity might come as a surprise to some people who haven’t been downtown recently or left town years ago.

A suburban resident who was planning to visit York on the first Friday in October expressed the mixed feelings about the city centre. ” Yes I will be there ! I have friends who haven’t ventured downtown in years – pick one of the many great restaurants or breweries and go!” she said on Facebook.

When planned projects are released publicly, opponents often speak out.

It is their right, of course. But cynicism is never helpful. And when they criticize, say, the restoration of Yorktowne and its $50 million+ price tag, they usually fail to find an alternative, even when asked if they would simply let the huge 1925 building stand. deteriorate and fall on itself.

Some speak of crime, which hardly concerned the dozens of pedestrians this Saturday or those who strolled in the streets on the first Friday of the day before.

They complain about the lack of parking, a problem that these same pedestrians seemed to have solved.

I think the dissenting voices will fade as young people – fearless about issues like parking and unencumbered by memories of what York was like 50 years ago – fill the city centre.

Indeed, many of the outfits from Alice in Wonderland and other pedestrians who crowded around the carriage master station were under 50 years old. And if you walk into an always crowded Prince Street Café on, say, a Sunday afternoon, most of those on their laptops or meeting in small groups are under 40.

The Trolley Master Station also served as a space - however small - for dispatching buses and as a police outpost.

Obstacles to overcome

That’s not to say York’s rebound is uniformly higher. Some businesses are struggling and the pandemic has clearly hurt the little ones. The Old Forge Brewery, a key anchor at the intersection of Beaver and the Market, is closing. Prominent stalls, which house longtime vendors, are vacant at the central market.

The restorations discussed so far have meant investments in the city centre. Some will recognize that the city center needs to be strengthened, but it is time — and more than time — to invest in the neighbourhoods.

A response to this came in June when the Helfrich city government introduced the York Connector Partnership, a local procurement strategy designed to boost business, primarily in neighborhoods. Under the plan, locally based anchor institutions would purchase goods and services from local businesses.

WellSpan, UPMC, York College, York Revolution, and the governments of York County and the City of York represent local buyers.

Consultant Eric Kirkland surveys neighborhood businesses to understand the products they make and sell.

The administration’s Community Ecosystem Initiative is a second neighborhood program. Coordinators are in place in the Salem Square and North neighborhoods and a third coordinator floats between the neighborhoods. The program is looking to expand into the northeast neighborhood.

The initiative is designed to help identify resource barriers for residents in 16 neighborhoods across the city and then overcome them.

York's extensive tram system began with horse-drawn carriages in the mid-1880s and ended amid automobile and bus competition in 1939. Trolleys ran from York Haven to Littlestown and Dover in Bittersville, east of Windsor.  Continental Square served as a hub for these lines, and the Main Streetcar Station functioned as an important part of this hub.  The station,

View from his window

Worley’s vision, born from the view from his window, was completed on the first Friday in October.

Mayor Michael Helfrich and other business leaders marked his project with a ribbon cutting next to the restored gazebo.

His vision to restore and explain the little green building had come true.

The rehabilitation of the kiosk, in fact, is indicative of the restoration work taking place around and above it. But it differs on one essential point, a local movement that is gaining momentum.

Worley’s project is an excellent example of do-it-yourself urban planning. As government resources dwindle, self-reliant people in the county increasingly see the needs and work to meet them.

Work at the Lebanon Cemetery, a historically black cemetery in North York, and the City Cemetery, York Region Pottery Field, are other examples.

Ultimately, both models – do-it-yourself initiatives by individuals and publicly and privately funded projects – are needed to improve the quality of life in York and other communities.

This plaque, written by Jamie Noerpel, answers an often asked question: what was this building used for?

Milling at the crossroads

Part of Worley’s project was carried out on the Saturday in which Alices, Mad Hatters and Cheshire Cats roamed York Square.

As escape room participants crowded around this intersection and York High worshipers lined up to march, someone stopped to admire the gazebo and read the plaque.

And then moved on.

There was so much to do downtown that day.

Sources: York City Center Fall 2022 Downtown Update, interview with Mayor Michael Helfrich.

Jim McClure is a retired editor of the York Daily Record and is the author or co-author of nine books on York County history. Join it at [email protected].

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