History Center raising millions for downtown campus

Jason Addy

The York County History Center is forging on in its yearslong mission to create a historical campus in downtown York City.

From left, the Golden Plough Tavern and Gen. Gates House, both part of the Colonial Complex, are shown in York City, Tuesday, May 23, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

At the beginning of May, the York City Council approved the sale of three properties to the history center, with the group scooping up the deeds to the Colonial Court House, Golden Plough Tavern and a parking lot in the 100 block of North Pershing Avenue for just $1.


The York County History Center was already operating out of the two buildings under a 99-year lease, but the organization will have better chances of securing funding and grants with the deeds in hand, York City Council president Michael Helfrich said at the meeting.

The historical organization is embarking on a $20 million capital campaign to raise the necessary funds to downsize its properties and holdings into a centralized campus stretching along the east bank of the Codorus Creek and North Pershing Avenue from West Philadelphia Street to West Gay Avenue.

The York County History Center is in the middle of the “silent phase” of its capital campaign, but the organization will begin appealing to the general public for donations and funds toward the end of June, said Joan Mummert, the organization's president and CEO.

The public phase will run from July 1 to Sept. 30.

The $20 million goal includes $2 million in grants, $3 million in new-market and historic tax credits and $5 million from the silent and public fundraising phases. The $10 million raised in the capital campaign will then be matched with a $10 million redevelopment grant from the state, Mummert said.

History center officials hope to open the new campus to the public in 2020.

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Visitation: By “right-sizing” and centralizing its assets, the York County History Center will increase its visitation and help to create economic development for other business located in the city, Mummert said.

Mummert said the history center conducted an economic study on its campus plans, which projected a 50 percent increase in visitation.

With an extra 15,000 people coming through the history center’s doors each year — and the pending completion of the Heritage Rail Trail to further fuel traffic in the area — that means more business for the Appell Center for the Performing Arts, the York Revolution and other city businesses, Mummert said.

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Local bed-and-breakfast establishments and, eventually, the Yorktowne Hotel  also will  greatly benefit from an increase in the high-value heritage tourism market, Mummert said.

By selling some of its buildings to right-size its property portfolio, the York County History Center can also shed $12 million in deferred maintenance, Mummert said.

“If we can lose some of our deferred maintenance, we can give a better history experience,” Mummert said.

With nine buildings around York City, the York County History Center has more square footage and exhibit space than many major metropolitan museums, and “it’s very difficult to sustain that,” Mummert said.

“We’re trying to create a museum that’s appropriate in size for the community, that’s sustainable by the community,” Mummert said.

Hands-on history: Over the decades, the role of museums in education has evolved from places to quietly view historic artifacts to a place for the community to gather, converse and experience history together in a hands-on way, Mummert said.

“The traditional museum would tell you ‘here is an artifact,’ and how it was manufactured, who owned it,” Mummert said. “Today we really tell stories. We really help people understand the history behind the artifact, the story that is associated with it.”

The modern museum is no longer the “edifice on the hill,” Mummert said. Today, museums are committed to community enterprise and adding value and vibrancy to the communities they are in, Mummert said.

History center officials hope to span all of York County’s history within the campus when it opens in a few years.

Officials are envisioning that tours will begin in the former Met-Ed steam plant on the corner of West Philadelphia Street and North Pershing Avenue, where the museum’s library and archives will be located, Mummert said.

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Then, guides will walk tourists to the Colonial Complex — which includes the Colonial Court House, Golden Plough Tavern and the General Gates House — where people can learn about York County during the Revolutionary War period, before continuing through time as the tour carries on, Mummert said.

In an effort to put the community first, York County History Center officials will be taking suggestions from York City residents at a forum at 6 p.m. June 20 at the organization's headquarters at 250 E. Market St.

History center officials will host a similar community-input meeting in Wrightsville at 6 p.m. June 29 at the John Wright Restaurant at 234 N. Front St.