Whether you visit an area to discover its history or to go shopping or to savor its wineries and restaurants, the one thing that these experiences all have in common is that they are the result of “makers”—the people behind the scenes whose hard work has resulted in the attractions that visitors enjoy today.
In York County, PA, these entrepreneurs are now celebrated and their accomplishments highlighted through a new set of cultural trails that celebrate the strength, diversity, perseverance and can-do spirit that have made the central Pennsylvania region such a unique place to visit.
“Diverse businesses make York County special, and we wanted to share the stories that might not otherwise be told,” said Rasheeda Martin, director of sales for Sport York, a division of Explore York, which held a launch event introducing the first two new trails—a Women in Business Trail and an African American Excellence Trail—this past February. A Military Cultural Trail is expected to launch later this year.
Visitors who follow the Women in Business Trail have the opportunity to meet a wide-ranging group of female entrepreneurs who have successfully started everything from Refillism, a modern, boutique-style refill and eco-lifestyle shop focused on products for a cleaner home and planet, to Nature’s Platter, a store that produces hand-crafted live-edge charcuterie boards created from dead, fallen or damaged trees.
Those who like to take a hands-on approach to traveling can sign up for a class at Nature’s Platter to learn how to design a charcuterie board, or visit Sunrise Soap Company, where they can make their own soaps at The Creation Station, located in the downtown York store. While visiting, make sure to check out the antique soap cutter designed in the 1800s that they still use today!
Speaking of the 1800s, The Front Porch Tea Room & Gathering Place, located in a Victorian-era home built in 1869, is the perfect place to enjoy a full-course meal or an afternoon repast before venturing further along the trail.
History abounds in York County, which actually served as the capital of the nation for nine months in 1778. And that history comes to life on the Northern Central Railway of York, a lovingly restored replica 1860s steam locomotive with a GP9 diesel engine, which provides a wonderful way to see the area while learning more about the people whose legacies remain.
You can ride along the same route that carried President Lincoln from Washington, DC to Gettysburg, PA, and even get to meet Honest Abe during a special themed ride, or hear the story of William C. Goodridge, a station master on the Underground Railroad, from an actor portraying the man himself.
Goodridge was born into slavery in Maryland and was set free at age 16 with a Bible and a clean set of clothes. He later became a barber, and owned a five-story emporium as well as 13 railcars that he used to help enslaved people travel across the state in hidden compartments. He also used his home, now the William C. Goodridge Freedom Center & Underground Railroad Museum, as a hiding place for freedom seekers.
You can learn even more about African-American history at the Lebanon Cemetery, York County’s oldest and largest Black-owned cemetery. The final resting place of former enslaved people, veterans and prominent community members, the cemetery honors the early African American community members of York County by remembering their legacies and sharing their stories.
The trail also offers a chance to meet today’s Black history-makers, including vintner Mark Rhodes at Mark & Val Wines, who creates high-quality, small-batch wines at one of the state’s first Black-owned wineries, and Victoria Kageni, an entrepreneur who empowers women and celebrates cultural diversity through fashion, language lessons and sewing classes.
And if you get hungry, stop into the family-owned and operated Skillet2Plate Soul Bistro in the WeCo District of downtown York, which has provided soups, sandwiches, entrees and soul bowls “created with love and care” since 2020.
“Our goal through these new trails is to help bring local American heroes to life,” said Martin of the diversity of the options that the new cultural trails offer. “When we learn from the past, it creates a better future based on the pillars of equality and inclusion.”
Where to Stay:
While there are many lodging options available in York County, two are especially attractive to history buffs. The Yorktowne Hotel, part of the Tapestry Collection by Hilton, recently underwent a $54 million, six-year renovation that modernized the hotel while remaining true to its historic lineage. Built in 1925, this “cornerstone of York” features original terrazzo flooring, brass mail chutes on each floor, a Cornelius Hicks’ mural and the more modern works of 12 artists whose work was commissioned specifically for the hotel. Make sure to check out the Frank Sinatra/Ella Fitzgerald mural in the lobby as well!
The Haines Shoe House, located just a few minutes from downtown York, is a privately owned Airbnb that is located in, well, a shoe. Built in 1949, the shoe was designed by Marlon Haines, a master salesman who owned a chain of shoe stores in the northeastern U.S. Started as a marketing tool, Haines raffled off stays in the Shoe House to customers in the days before Airbnbs existed. After iterations as a private home, a public attraction and an ice cream shop, the shoe is now open for nightly rentals. Most everything in the four-story shoe reflects the Art Deco time period, and there are fascinating shoe-related keepsakes scattered throughout the historic property.
To learn more about the Cultural Trails as well as other York County attractions, visit www.YorkPA.org.