By Jacquie Kubin
York, Pennsylvania… There are many great colonial, revolutionary and civil war history sites along the Great Mid-Atlantic seaboard.
However York, Pennsylvania has the added attraction of free hairnets!
The York settlement, purchase in 1782 by William Penn, is nestled within the Susquehanna River Valley a scant 125 miles north of the Washington D.C.
This now peaceful colonial town is home to many great historical and manufacturing watermarks.
The town’s proximity to a navigable waterway, the Susquehanna River, and the early train rails made it a perfect stopover for traveling visitors and manufacturers looking for a way to ship their goods North and South.
The Susquehanna River Valley (Photo by Jacquie Kubin)
York is historically important because in many ways here was where our country was born.
George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John Adam, Benjamin Franklin and hosts of military leaders and diplomats have called York home.
From September 30, 1777 to June 27, 1778, York served as the seat of newly growing nation, hosting the Continental Congress of a country not fully born.
York’s early position as a governmental seat led to the first printing press being brought to the county so that military and legislative news could be distributed to the colonies.
York is where we were legally named “The United States of America.” The Articles of Confederation were drafted and ratified by the required two-thirds of the colonies, established our country in 1783.
And while Philadelphia, PA, Boston, MA and Lancaster, PA might debate their claim to being the “First Capital,” there is a lot of preserved history in York.
Because of its location York grew quickly. The people that settled into the area were all highly skilled farmers, dairymen, and inventors.
Those early settlers from France, England, Germany and the Netherlands brought with them farming and manufacturers skills.
York quickly became a colonial center of commerce – the place to go if you needed to buy, or sell, goods. It was a place of political decision-making and industrial growth.
Today York is recognized as one the nation’s most historic places but for those that live there, it is so much more. For modern destination travelers, it just keeps getting better.
York is the home of great vineyards, fabulous foods, rolling countryside, balloon festivals, county fairs and more.
One of the areas most unique draws is the “factory tour,” an unassuming way of saying that York is a place where things get made, sometimes in very much the same way they have been made for decades.
The York County Heritage Trust Agricultural & Industrial Museum should be an early stop on your tour of York as American Manufacturing history springs alive through the museum’s impressive collection - automobiles to early telephone switchboards, weight lifting to refrigeration equipment and exhibits on the growth of land, rail, air and water transportation that allowed this country’s western environs to grow.
Harley Davidson York, PA plant (Photo by Jacquie Kubin)
A leading heavy manufacturer is the Harley-Davidson Company. This location is the largest Harley-Davidson manufacturing facility in the country, employing more than 3,200 employs that work around clock assembling Touring and Softail model, as well as limited production and factory-custom made motorcycles.
Exhibits at the plant show the company’s history alongside the history of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The factory tour takes visitors 13 years of age and older through the manufacturing and assembly process, from the parts being formed to the finally assembly and polish.
Chips being salted (Photo by Jacquie Kubin)
Known as the “The Snack Capital of the World,” York County, Pennsylvania factory tours visit Martin Potato Chips, Snyder’s of Hanover pretzels, Revonah hand made pretzels and the very yummy Wolfgang Candy Company chocolates.
And while each of these companies is unique in that they all share a long American, and York County, heritage.
Most are generational-family owned and operated and each seems to foster that feeling of family kinship amongst the people who work there.
Grab your first free hairnet at Martin’s Potato Chips, a family owned and operated company for more than 60 years, is a lesson in recycling as visitors learn how the trucks come in filled with potatoes and leave filled with the peels and leavings from the production process to be used as pig feed.
Even the water from the washing process is dumped not into a sewer but back onto the earth where it nourishes a lovely wild field.
It is interesting to see that the potatoes are inspected, and rejected, by hand. There are some things that a machine will never be able to do.
Cleaned, approved and thinly sliced the raw potatoes are quickly fried into crisp chips and their famous “Kettle Cooked” chips, producing more than 1.5 million bags of crunch per month.producing more than 1.5 million bags of crunch per month.
The tour gives you a first hand look at the production from the raw spud to the finished packaging, a process completed mostly by hand!
The hard sourdough pretzel comes from Pennsylvania and Julius Sturgis Bakery, founded in Lititz, PA in 1861.
Today, Snyder’s of Hanover is feeding the pretzel snackers of the world. Known as America’s Pretzel Bakery since 1909, the Snyder’s tour shows how tradition and teamwork is combined with technology to create a streamlined production to packaging line for the companies numerous pretzel products.
Continuing the tradition of the hand-twisted pretzel is the Revonah Pretzel Factory. Still using “Grandpa’s Sourdough Recipe” the men and women at Revonah twist every pretzel by hand, but they claim true flavor excellence comes from Old Time Pretzel Racks where the pretzels are allowed to rise before being baked resulting in superior flavor and crunch.
They are very good. And it is fun to see how things “used to and still are” done, including the large, revolving baking kiln that the pretzels, once twisted and dunked, are browned to crispy goodness in.
It’s not all just things crunchy and salty. Wolfgang Candy Company offers visitors yet another fashionable headpiece and shows visitors how some of the sweetest confections have been made since 1893.
Before the tour, give yourself some time to look around their museum area including some incredible antique chocolate molds.
Mike Schmid of Wolfgang Candy Company (Photo by Jacquie Kubin)
On the tour there is plenty of sweet treats to behold. Chocolate enrobing peanut butter, almonds become tasty almond butter crunch, chocolate bunny rabbits and other seasonal candies are made and one of their newest products, Fresh Chocolate Covered Raspberries and Blueberries that I was thrilled to find available at our local Whole Foods grocery.
I also really liked seeing how the candy company used cornstarch to mold some of their candy products.
It was an interesting look at how something so many crave is created.
The Wolfgang Candy Company remains a family business with the great-grandsons of two of the original founders, Delphi and Mima Wolfgang, at the helm.
On the tour, listening to the intense pride that Michael Schmid has for his family business you know that Wolfgang Candy is special.
Etching a pitcher at Susquehanna Glass Co. (Photo by Jacquie Kubin)
For my wedding, over twenty-years ago, I received a set of hand etched, ruby red stem glasses and I found out where they are made — at the Sussquhanna Glass Company. Here a group of talented women work to hand etch patterns into stemware, vases, glasses and more. It is quite fascinating to watch!
A very special place to visit in York is the Hope Acres Fully Robotic Dairy Farm tour. At this farm the cows literally milk themselves as they enter the robotic-milkers in search of their reward, a cow cookie.
There is of course plenty of technology to keep the cows safe and ensure they only step into the milkers when they are sufficiently full for milking.
The Hope Acre cows lead pampered lives complete with waterbeds to protect their bones, peanut shells on the ground, large vista windows that allow views of the green fields beyond and automatic back scratchers that help to keep the animals clean.
Visiting on a rainy day, the herd was happily inside and glad to have the company of the tour group that was able to see how the robotic milk machines worked and meet a newborn calf.
A visit to Hope Acres would not be complete with out a stop at their retail store and restaurant, The Brown Cow, where tour goers are treated to a scoop of their “Super Premium” rated ice cream that contains 16-18% pure jersey cream and no forced air – which is the cause of the deadly brain freeze.
A visit to York, for the day or a long weekend will provide plenty of historical and present day information, along with some bags of freshly made snacks.
Vist York, Pennsylvania Part Two of Two and learn about the UnCork York Wine Tours and the fabulous historic YorkTowne Hotel. Check out Donne Travels recipes for great new recipes from the Yorktowne’s Executive Chef Mark Pawlowski!