York, PA: Mansions, Movements & Peppermint Patties

“You Should Move To…” is a new column in which Lindsay travels the country scoping out beautiful, under-the-radar old house towns where big charm can be had for little cost. Have a city, town or neighborhood to recommend? Send it along to letters@circahouses.com!
If you live in a big city then I’m sure that you, like me, have spent hours daydreaming of a quieter life where your rent or mortgage buys you not just substantial indoor space, but some outdoor space too (and maybe even a laundry room). But if, like me, you are also slightly frightened by the slow pace of small town life, then you snap yourself right out of those daydreams and carry on with the hustle and bustle of city life, pushing calm and quiet out in favour of culture, convenience, and variety. As it turns out, when it comes to where you live, you don’t have to choose one over the other, and what better example to dispel that myth than the historic town of York, Pennsylvania.


The York, PA home of architect John Dempwolf. Image courtesy of Yorkblog. 

Founded by westward-bound settlers in 1741, York is just about as all-American as it gets. You don’t have to look far for a good dose of history either — be it the drafting of the Articles of Confederation in the 18th century, York’s role in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, or its 19th and 20th century prominence as a centre of industry and manufacturing. What other city can boast all of that and lay claim to being just a hop, skip, and a jump from Gettysburg and Lancaster Country? What makes York even more intriguing is its proximity to some of the East Coast’s largest cities: three hours from New York, two from Philly and DC, and only an hour from Baltimore. No wonder this quaint little city of 45,000 has a growing reputation!

York’s 1811 Barnett Bobb Historic House 

Urbanophiles worry not: I know that number seems frighteningly small, but York has quite a lot to offer culturally, with a number of restaurants, bars, and theatres, as well as the Central Market, built in the late 1800s and recently restored, full of more restaurants, speciality food shops, and local farm stands. For retail shopping look no further than the Market’s surrounding area on North Beaver Street, where you’ll find a number of unique shops and art galleries. No lack of city perks here! If you’re still not sold on the home of the Peppermint Patty, just wait. I promise you will be if you read on.

Central Market. Photo by Jared Kofsky. 


Central Market, way back when. Images courtesy of Yorkblog and the York County Heritage Trust. 

It’s hard to imagine a buyer’s market in a city with a dense and intact historic downtown — full of row houses that stretch for miles — but that is exactly the scene in York. With buildings ranging from Colonials to Victorian mansions and Craftsman bungalows, York is the historic house buyer’s dream. Your mind is racing: “What’s the catch?!” No catch, I promise. During the 20th century York experienced a long period of post-industrial economic struggle and population decline. A decade ago potential buyers were told to steer clear (if they came looking at all), that their investment just wasn’t worth the risk. More recently though, and thanks to groups like iloveyorkcity, Growing Up Green, and countless others, York has seen some pretty significant changes, including an almost 10% increase in population in just ten years. The city is on an upswing and now is the perfect time to be a part of it.
A number of old house lovers have already caught wind of this and are taking advantage of how far their cash stretches toward York’s old house real estate (I’m talking serious value for money here). For as little as $25,000 and a little elbow grease you can follow in the footsteps of Kristel Railsback Bohan, who, inspired by York’s charm from her very first visit, is now the proud owner of a turn-of-the-century, wood-frame house with five bedrooms. Like her, we just can’t resist the idea of a fixer upper in York, especially since it’s home to the architectural salvage store Refindings. Did I mention that there are a number of great vintage stores that specialize in mid-century furniture and fixtures? I’m already imaging myself kicking back on my low-profile 1950s sofa with a cup of tea after a Saturday morning at Central Market. Fixer uppers aren’t for all of us though, so if you’re not in the mood to test the strength of your relationship, have no fear — $150,000 will snag you the Victorian mansion of your dreams. Who’s ready to play Vanderbilt family?

2355 N Susquehanna Trail is for sale for $275,000. This is on the high end of prices. 


505 Madison Avenue is on the market for $59,900. 


Lindsay is a Brooklyn,NY-based architectural historian with a soft spot for all things Victorian. Her obsession with beautiful houses began when she discovered her dad’s collection of house plan and construction books as a child, to which she attributes her enthusiasm for hunting down the most perfect wooden windows, most over-the-top gingerbread, and the most impressive arrangement of Minton Tiles.



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