Skip to main content

York County, Pennsylvania: A Farming Heritage


It was a tempting thought to separate Agriculture from Industry when I wrote about the York Agricultural and Industrial Museum, and while I certainly had far more than enough images for more than one blog, along the way it occurred to me that while I could write two blogs, I really couldn't separate the two ideas.

P1210829Pennsylvania is apple country, and the York Imperial, developed by a local clockmaker and farmer, was one of the great market apples of the 1800s

Agriculture, to start with, obviously is an industry. Maybe more than one when you start thinking about dairy farmers, ranchers, wheat and grain farmers, and more. But the big learn for me from this fascinating museum is how closely connected agriculture and industry have been in the area's history.

P1210835P1210837No surprise, then, that York also became a producer of apple and berry presses and stoneware jugs to ship cider, vinegar, and wine.

The title image for this article, at top, and the two below (you'll have to excuse me; I have a fascination with large wooden machines) are from milling installations in York County. Clearly, these are sizable mills, and while a farmer might have ground his own in earliest times, by 1735, when the oldest of these mills is from, it had become the county's first big industry...but one that clearly could only exist where the raw material was grown.


Farmers would bring their harvests to the mill, and would pay for the grinding most often by a portion of the output. Grain in the hopper, out into the bags.


Central Pennsylvania also has a long history in dairy products; the museum has a sizable collection of locally-made butter churns of various kinds, as well as milk containers.


The milkman's wagon is here, too, but it's been wrapped for transport to its new home; the museum is moving to new quarters over the next few years. For now, it's housed in a huge former machinery factory.


The museum doesn't ignore machinery on the farm itself, either, starting from the simple wagons and hand- or horse-operated machinery to later harvesting and threshing machines and tractors, all of which were made, at one time or another, in York County factories. This one seems especially interesting: a plow made not for farmers, but for railroad builders who were cutting through soil that had never been tilled. Available in models for up to eight horses!


Harvesters and threshers like these began to change farming in the 1800s, but were powered mainly by horses or oxen, until steam engines became more widely available. A York company, in 1838, built the B&O Railroad's first American-made locomotive


A. B. Farquhar of York built stationery and movable steam engines for the farm trade, and built threshing machines, too. Notice in the ad below who was counted on to move engines to the field so they could power the thresher.


And, while steam engines have disappeared from the fields, York industries didn't. Although they're no longer made, R.H. Sheppard's heavy-duty tractors were among the first to use powerful diesel engines, which Sheppard just happened to make. The tractors are gone, but the company is still around, making power steering systems for large trucks and farm equipment.


So, whether your mind is on agriculture or industry, this is a place to go. From New York City, an easy one-day round trip, or you could make it an overnight and spend some time in the morning at the Lancaster Central Market, about half an hour east.


Images (40)
  • P1210803
  • P1210804
  • P1210805
  • P1210806
  • P1210807
  • P1210808
  • P1210809
  • P1210810
  • P1210811
  • P1210812
  • P1210813
  • P1210814
  • P1210815
  • P1210816
  • P1210817
  • P1210818
  • P1210819
  • P1210820
  • P1210821
  • P1210822
  • P1210823
  • P1210824
  • P1210825
  • P1210826
  • P1210827
  • P1210828
  • P1210829
  • P1210830
  • P1210831
  • P1210832
  • P1210833
  • P1210834
  • P1210835
  • P1210836
  • P1210837
  • P1210838
  • P1210839
  • P1210840
  • P1210882
  • P1210884

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

Add Comment

Comments (0)

Link copied to your clipboard.