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Exploring South-Central Pennsylvania’s History at the York County History Center Museum

There’s little doubt that the city of York is one of the most historic places in Pennsylvania. From its founding over 250 years ago, it has been an important cog in the development of the state of Pennsylvania and the founding of the United States.

While York might be better known today as the Factory Tour Capital of the World, there are also plenty of places to learn about the city’s fascinating history. One of these places is the York History Center Museum.

This museum functions as the official historical society museum for the county and offers a great look at the history of this important region of the country.

The York County Historical Society was formed in 1895 and had its first museum inside the county courthouse. In 1959, they settled into their current home in downtown York.

Since then, the York County Historical Society has merged with other groups that controlled historical downtown properties such as the Agricultural and Industrial Museum and the Fire Museum of York County. The York Colonial Complex is also part of your admission when the properties are open for tour.

Since early 2016, the group, which was once known as the York County Heritage Trust, is now known as the York County History Center.

Visiting the York History Center's museum.
The entrance to the York History Center’s museum.

The York County History Center’s museum features two floors of displays related to the history of York County. These displays are very well done, though somewhat outdated in places. However, they offer a unique glimpse into the history of the people who lived here and the industries that transformed York County.

The first floor features their Street of Shops, which recreates a commercial street from early 19th-century York. This area gives great insight into the industries that dominated what was the edge of the frontier 200 years ago. This display has been here since 1955, but has held up well enough to still provide an interesting lesson. 

Streetscape at the York History Center's museum.
The early-19th-century streetscape inside the museum.

The museum’s second floor contains the majority of the historical society’s displays. These range from military items donated by locals to a great collection of grandfather clocks. Representing many different aspects of York County history, these heirlooms offer visitors a taste of what it was like to live and work in the region many years ago.

One display that I especially enjoyed was their collection of Pfaltzgraff Pottery. The pieces on display are on loan from the company and celebrate their history since starting in York County in the early 1800s. It was very interesting to see some of the early pieces from a pottery company that still exists and see to how their pieces changed over the years.

Pottery at the York History Center's museum in Pennsylvania.
Antique Pfaltzgraff Pottery on display at the museum.

Another interesting area was the museum’s collection of Civil War memorabilia. While York County gets overshadowed by nearby Gettysburg, the region played an important role in the war and there were some minor skirmishes here in the action leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg. The museum does a nice job covering how the county’s involvement in the war and especially the story of York’s capture by the Confederates.

The museum also features a very large collection of both grandfather clocks and of quilts. These common household items offer a nice look into what life was like in the past. Of course, I also enjoyed looking at the very impressive handiwork that went into these handmade pieces.

Civil War at the York History Center's museum.
A portion of the museum’s military artifacts collection.

The York County History Center’s museum also features several interactive elements that are perfect for kids. Known as the Rutter’s Discovery Center for Children, this area features hands-on activities for children and antique toys that they can touch and play with. This area is a great way to teach children how their ancestors lived.

While the York County History Center’s museum might not be the largest or most impressive historical society museum in Pennsylvania, it offers a great chance to learn about the region’s history.

Even better, if you can combine a visit here with a stop at one of their other historic sites (which are included in the price of admission), you are certainly in for a great day learning about the history of York County, Pennsylvania.

Looking for other places to visit in the reason? Check out a tour of Sunrise Soaps, the Cumberland County Historical Society Museum, and the Chester County Historical Society.

Note: My visit to the York County History Center’s museum was hosted by the site. However, the opinions expressed are my own.

York County History Center Museum

Hours: Wednesday-Saturday: 10am-4pm



Cost: Adults: $15, Children: $7

Dec-March: Adults- $12, Children- $5
Includes admission to all open York History Center sites.

Website: YorkHistoryCenter.org

Address: 250 E Market St
York, PA 17403


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