York County History Center begins work on new site after seven years of planning

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

An endeavor seven years in the works finally has York County History Center officials happy to see a light at the end of the tunnel. 

A groundbreaking ceremony last week celebrated the $28 million project to consolidate the organization's many buildings into one space, said Joan Mummert, president and CEO.

"We were located in five different areas in the city. And for visitors, it was very difficult to make sense of the history of York County because it wasn't a coherent way of experiencing York County's history," Mummert said. "It was primarily because we wanted to rightsize the organization."

Construction at the former Met-Ed steam plant, 57 N. Pershing Ave., commenced earlier this year, with completion expected by the end of 2023.

More:Whispering Wind Bear Spirit: Two journeys cut short on one night in York City

More:Fact check: Will middle-class taxpayers really face an ‘army’ of IRS agents?

More:Ex of man charged in mass stabbing said he raped her in 2016: Court records

The new face of the York County History Center is expected to open in the spring of 2024, Mummert added. 

The undertaking by the history center started as a 2015 survey of community members — who said they wanted to see the new building along the Codorus Creek. That year, the history center moved forward with its purchase of the building, Mummert said.

And though the steam plant purchase happened seven years ago, it has taken officials that long to get to this point. Selecting an architect, hiring a construction firm, completing an economic study and organizing a capital campaign — among other tasks — were essential in the project's long timeline.

Currently, the York County History Center operates two museums in York City: the Agriculture and Industrial Museum, 217 W. Princess St., and the Historical Society Museum, Library and Archives, 250 E. Market St. The nonprofit also owns the Colonial Complex, the Bonham House and the Fire Museum, all of which are open seasonally.

More:'Labor of love': How detectives followed the trail of York County's missing artifacts

More:New Civil War records recount the exploits of York Co. militia unit

President and CEO Joan Mummert, of York County History Center addresses a $7 million grant to York County History Center, announced during a press conference outside of the center at 147 W. Philadelphia St. in York City, Friday, Dec. 22, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"It's taking the best of those museums and putting them together in a way for people to understand York County's history," Mummert said. "Call it an overarching story of York County that we've never been able to offer before."

In addition to consolidating museum exhibits, Mummert said, she hopes that putting the museum in the heart of downtown York will help improve visitation and tourism for the city overall.

The building, located at the intersection of West Philadelphia Street and North Pershing Avenue, is 82,000 square feet, of which 12,000 square feet will be available for exhibit space, Mummert said. 

Construction at the former Met-Ed steam plant on West Philadelphia Street commenced earlier this year, with a completion date expected by the end of 2023. The $28 million project will house the York County History Center. Photo credit: York County History Center.

>> Please consider subscribing to support local journalism. 

Of the interestingly shaped building and large steam stack extending to the sky, York County residents might ask — why choose that location?

"We've seen other power plants go through an adaptive reuse in museums, and we thought this would be a great use of a cavernous space that had good bones and was not presenting well to the community," Mummert said.

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.