New history center design focuses on York County's connections

Midway through its multiyear effort to open a new Museum & Library Archives in the former Met-Ed steam plant in downtown York, the county's history center is finally ready to unveil its preliminary designs for the building.

The York County History Center hired Chantilly, Virginia-based PRD group, which has done projects for the National Park Service as well as two presidential libraries and the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., to conceptualize the space.

Design rendering of the upcoming York County History Center Museum and Library Archives at the former Met-Ed steam plant, scheduled to open in 2021.

Four roundtable discussions will be held throughout the county in January 2019 for public input.

Exhibit designer Kim Nelson is helping to reshape the story of York's collections — and a unifying theme she saw was connectivity.

"The network of York is very inspiring," Nelson said. "Everything is interconnected, and that’s really important to the community."

She shared the group's vision at the first of five roundtable discussions for community feedback on Tuesday, Jan. 8, at Shank’s Mare, in Lower Windsor Township.

The modern and historical will be combined, she said, and each moment in history will show the network of people behind it — with those stories branching off into more stories.

Design rendering of the upcoming York County History Center Museum and Library Archives at the former Met-Ed steam plant, scheduled to open in 2021.

Four roundtable discussions will be held throughout the county in January 2019 for public input.

It's also an opportunity to reimagine stories — for example, adding a reproduction of the Hall and Sellers press, which printed more than $1 million in continental currency, to the Revolutionary War story.

The current location of the press in the Agricultural Industrial Museum's print shop "doesn't resonate this important role in York's history," said center director of education Parthena Bowman.

More history: The fact that York County has so many stories to tell is a major reason why the history center is going through an update.

For the first time, the center will have two rotating exhibits, allowing it to showcase more of its collections than ever before as well as feature others from more than 20 local historical societies, said President and CEO Joan Mummert.

“It’s a lot to put in, but it’s exciting," said Zach Flaharty, of Hellam Township.

The new museum is part of a yearslong project to consolidate history center properties and centralize operations into a downtown York campus, which started with the purchase of the Met-Ed building at the end of 2015.

More: York County Heritage Trust buys Met-Ed steam plant

More:Heritage Rail Trail under construction in Springettsbury Township

The new campus will stretch along the east bank of the Codorus Creek and North Pershing Avenue from West Philadelphia Street to West Gay Avenue.

The Met-Ed steam plant, which will be the new home to York County History Center's Museum and Library Archives in 2021.

It will also include the Colonial Complex — Colonial Court House, Golden Plough Tavern, General Gates House and Barnett Bobb Log House — along with the Fire Museum, Agricultural Industrial Museum and Bonham House.

The history center owns an adjacent parcel that will be used for parking and is working with the city to turn another nearby lot into green space.

The AIM will eventually be closed and its collections moved to the new museum, and the center's Historical Society building on East Market Street will also be shut down, but future plans for the space are unknown, said spokeswoman Corinne Elliott.

The project's $20 million capital campaign has received $6.5 million from donations and $7 million from the state, with $2 million expected from National Park Service historic tax credits. The total cost of the project is about $22 million.

More:York County History Center scoops up $19K grant

More:History Center raising millions for downtown campus

Officials are also applying for state and federal grants and federal new market tax credits — some of which are on hold because of the government shutdown.

Design of the museum is expected to wrap up in the summer, with the opening projected for spring 2021.

Updates: Other improvements include updates to the center's library and archives, more digital access, better preservation and more options for a variety of learners.

Nicole Smith, assistant director of library and archives, said 13 new 10-foot condensed storage stacks will allow for a more efficient use of space, and windows will make the archiving process more visible.

A photo storage room — with lower temperature and humidity — will also  improve preservation methods. 

In the museum, officials hope to have options for everyone from the toddler to the history buff, including tactile learning features, science and math elements and digital experiences.

Elizabeth “Betsy” Shaw, a retired Harvard professor who spent 15 years as a volunteer in the rare book room, said she had been disappointed in lagging digital options, but officials said improvements are on the way.

They are currently cataloging the center's more than 90,000 artifacts, with the catalog eventually uploaded online, and they also have plans for a lobby computer to look through photos and family info.

Finally, Nelson said she wants to make sure visitors to the museum get the message that they are also part of York's connected stories.

They will have opportunities to look at what's next and weigh in on ongoing stories, such as the York Plan, and also leave piece of themselves behind in postcards that will be projected for all to see.

"York has a can-do spirit that hasn’t gone away," Nelson said. "That’s something that doesn’t endure in a lot of other communities."

If You Go: 

Four additional roundtable discussions will be held for community input from 6-8 p.m. at the following dates and locations:

Tuesday, Jan. 15:  Guthrie Memorial Library, Hormel Reading Room, 2 Library Place, Hanover

Thursday, Jan. 17: York County History Center; Historical Society Museum, Library and Archives, 250 E. Market St. York City

Thursday, Jan. 24: Dover Township Community Center, 3700 Davidsburg Road, Dover Township

Thursday, Jan. 31: Paul Smith Library of Southern York County, 80 Constitution Ave., Shrewsbury Township