A Place in Time spotlights a significant cultural resource - a district, site, building, structure or object - entered in the National Register of Historic Places.

In November 2012, the Pierceville Run Historic Agricultural District in southern York County was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. The district lies just north of the Maryland line and covers one thousand rolling acres of farmland and woodlots encircling fourteen historic farms. The nomination was part of an intensive study of Pennsylvania’s agricultural heritage, tracing the natural features and cultural influences that shaped the buildings and landscapes of various regions and gave them each a distinctive sense of place and purpose.

The study explores more than two centuries of farming in York County and explains that after 1830 its farms were becoming more mechanized and opening to new markets. These changes were encouraged by new rail lines linking Baltimore and York, extending east to Lancaster and Philadelphia, and traveling north to Carlisle and Harrisburg.

The railroads and the wide Susquehanna River bridge between Wrightsville and Columbia later attracted the attention of Confederate soldiers in the days leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. With orders to destroy or capture telegraph lines, rail yards, bridges, and communication and transportation resources — the ultimate goal being to capture Harrisburg — Confederate soldiers swept across York County’s countryside. Some Southern soldiers commented about these Pennsylvania German farming areas in diaries and letters home, noting the prosperous farms, huge barns, neat houses, and orderly farmsteads. Several described the area as a land of plenty and one soldier remarked that “a Dutchman’s pride is in his large well-filled barns.”

Confederates succeeded in destroying many York County telegraph lines, rail yards, and bridges, and confiscated horses and other supplies. They were unable, however, to capture the Wrightsville-Columbia bridge. Union forces burned the bridge to halt the Confederate advance, altering the outcome of the Gettysburg Campaign.

Some of the types of York County landscape features and farm buildings that impressed Confederate soldiers in 1863 remain today within the Pierceville Run District.

 

April E. Frantz is the National Register of Historic Places reviewer of the Eastern Region for PHMC’s Bureau for Historic Preservation.