Adams County Bicentennial Tidbits

July, 1999


7-4-00-          Adams County's beginnings

          Bicentennial Committee to offer lessons in history

          Editor’s note: In celebration of Adams County’s 200th anniversary. The Evening Sun will feature weekly stories about the county’s rich history. All stories have been researched and prepared by the Adams County Bicentennial Committee.

          The Adams County Bicentennial Committee’s Research Committee begins today a series of articles dealing with many aspects of Adams County history, from the time of first settlements to the present. The articles will appear every Sunday on this page and will follow no definite chronological or topical order.

          Every effort will be made to present the reader with information which is based on the best credible sources currently available. Members of the research committee are aware of errors in previously published materials and also in oral history. And so, the committee will use the best credible sources, since it knows that not all sources on many subjects have been found. The group is also aware that it is not always able to give full proper meaning and perspective to all of the facts which are before them.

          More than a year ago, the Adams County judges and commissioners established a committee to plan for and carry out a proper observance of the county’s bicentennial. Consisting of about 40 people from all parts of the county, this committee is sponsoring a series of events from about July 1, 1999, to about July 1, 2000. More will be said about some of these events later.

In The Beginning

          The Pennsylvania legislature passed and on Jan. 22, 1800, Gov. Thomas McKean signed into law a measure creating a new county, given the Adams with its seat of government at Gettysburg. All of its territory was taken from the county of York. It was the 26th county to be created in Pennsylvania by 1800 and the first of 10 in that year. Most of the other nine were not ready to function immediately as separate counties, but clearly Adams was ready to go at once.

          Just two days after he signed the act creating the county, the governor appointed James Duncan to serve as recorder of deeds, register of wills, clerk of courts and prothonotary. The first estate was created on Feb. 13. The first deed was recorded on March 14. The first court session convened on June 9. The first three commissioners were elected on Oct. 14, 1800. The county government which began functioning so promptly in 1800 is still in business.

          Some of the very earliest Europeans in the original York County, which is observing its 250th anniversary as a county this year, found homes in what are now south-western York and southeastern Adams counties. They settled in what people then called the Conewago settlement, named after the stream flowing northward through it. Many of them lived within the limits of a Maryland grant of about 10,000 acres which was called Digges Choice and extended from near Hanover southwest to near Littlestown.

          Surely anyone engaged in a serious study of the pioneers in the Conewago settlement or in Digges Choice must include in that study residents on both sides of a county line which was drawn many years later, after most of them had passed from the scene.


7-11-99-          Immigrants lived together in harmony

          The providence of Pennsylvania grew rapidly during the course of the 18th century. With an estimated population of 18,000 in 1700, it ranked behind five other provinces: Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Maryland and Virginia. When the first United States census was taken in 1790, the state’s population was 434,000, growing by 24 times since the 1700 count.

          There were a number of reasons why people flocked to Pennsylvania after 1700. It was known to be one of the few place in British North America where there was a very substantial amount of guaranteed religious an political freedom. Also, an important factor for most immigrants, it was known to be a place where there was enough economic activity and good soil that, with hard work, a family could make a decent living.

          By 1750 there were so many people coming into Pennsylvania that political leaders such as Benjamin Franklin were greatly concerned that it was in danger of losing its English identity. They were worried, but they stopped short of advocating that the doors be closed against the newcomers.

          One of the two largest groups of immigrants were Scots whose families had lived in Ireland for several generations. Embittered by what they thought was shabby treatment by the English government which had urged them to go to Ireland in the first place, these Scotch-Irish left for Pennsylvania determined to cast their lot where their treatment promised to be fairer.

          The other large group of immigrants consisted of Germans and Swiss who, since they were not British, were required after 1727 to take oaths of allegiance to the Penn proprietors and the Crown. Since the lists of these foreigners have been preserved, we know who came and when. There is nothing comparable for the Scotch-Irish, who slipped into the province, without asking permission or taking an oath to anyone.

          Scotch-Irish, German and other immigrants began coming in numbers into what are now York and Adams counties in the 1730s. It is abundantly clear by examining the first surviving York county tax list, the one for 1762, that in such Adams County townships as Menallen, Cumberland and Hamiltonban there is an overwhelming preponderance of Scotch-Irish names. There are Armstrongs, Dunwoodys, McPhersons, Agnews, McGaugheys, Stevensons, Carsons, Gillilands and McConaughys galore, but one would be hard put to find more than a very few names which were clearly German.

          If we go looking for German or Swiss names in what is now Adams County in 1762, we will find them in such eastern and southeastern townships as Huntington, Berwick and Germany. Even there, names such as Chronister, Ellicker, Fickes, Berkheimer, Bittinger, Slagle, Kitzmiller, Lohr and Miller shared billing with names of British origin.

          The Scotch-Irish in early Adams County were politically active. They were chosen by appointment or election to fill such positions in county government as commissioner, treasurer, sheriff, justice of the peace and assemblyman. It appears that most Germans were content to be left alone and enjoy life in free Pennsylvania. It took some time for their names to begin to appear on the lists of these offices.

          Not all early Adams countians were Scotch-Irish or Germans. There were some who were English, like John Abbott. Some were Scots. Some were Irish. In the 1760s persons whose families had lived in New Jersey and New York began acquiring land, mostly in Straban and Mount Pleasant townships. In origin, these recent arrivals were Holland Dutch or Low Dutch. Among their family names were Brinkerhoff, Cassatt and Van Arsdalen. In York County records of the time, these names were spelled in a number of different ways.

          In some ways, for a long time these immigrants had little to say to each other. It was rare for a German boy to marry a Scotch-Irish girl. Few German Lutheran parents would choose Scotch-Irish neighbors as godparents for their children. The Dutch and German language were different enough that we should regard them as interchangeable. And yet, when we carefully study the information which has survived, it becomes apparent that in small ways at first these strangers begin to place some degree of trust in, and reach out to, each other.

          If we had a 1762 Heidelberg tax list (which unfortunately we do not) we would know a little more than we now do about an area west of Hanover (part in York and now in Adams County) in which Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Reformed and Mennonites lived together as close neighbors. While undoubtedly they well knew the differences among them which had led to great animosity in Europe, there is evidence that in free Pennsylvania they soon learned to live together in relative harmony.


7-18-99-          New roads brought trade, travelers

          After settlements of colonists sprouted along the east bank of the Susquehanna River, the Penn family purchased a sizable tract of land from the Native peoples on its west shore in 1736. At that time, those lands become part of Lancaster County.

          Within a short time, mostly Scots-Irish began to settle in the Bermundian, Conewago and Marsh Creek watersheds. Residents soon realized that to protect their life, liberty and property adequately, and to promote immigration and commerce in the area, they needed easier access to the county seat.

          In 1736 the ink was barely dry on the Penn family’s land purchase from the Indians when one of the first public roads west of the river was laid. That roadway paralleled present Route 11 from a point opposite Harrisburg south to the Potomac River. About the same time, the Monocacy trail was officially laid out as a public road. Its trace today parallels approximately old Route 30 from Wrightsville via York to Route 116, then southwesterly to Hanover, and then Route 194 to the Maryland line.

          In 1741, the town of York was founded along the Monocacy Road. According to James T. Lemon in his book, "The Best Poor Man’s Country," the town was located towards the Susquehanna River in the hope that it would help direct commerce towards Lancaster and the port of Philadelphia.

          Six years passed before the next public roads were laid out through what would become Adams County.

          In February 1747, people petitioned Lancaster county government for a road to be laid out "from the Conocheague (sic) through the gap in the mountains of Lancaster." Known as the Black’s Gap Road, this roadway approximately followed the present trace of old Route 30 from York to a point 2 miles west off to New Oxford where it bore off to the northwest and passed through the present sites of Hunterstown, Mummasburg and the Cashtown Pass.

          Later that same year, a second major east-west artery was surveyed that linked the headwaters of the Antietam Creek with York and Lancaster. Later known as the York-Nichols’ Gap Road, this highway branched off the Black’s Gap Road about two miles west of New Oxford and approximately followed present Route 30 to the site of Gettysburg. From there it paralleled Route 116 through Fairfield and the Monterey Pass.

          However, the gamble to draw trade west of the Susquehanna towards York and Lancaster did not pay off. Within a short time, farmers realized that it was less expensive and time consuming to haul their wares to the Patapsco River in Maryland than to transport them across the Susquehanna to Lancaster. Over six decades, new public roads running north-south, or linking with same, were requested more than east-west roadways by a ratio of about 3 to2.

          The development of the city of Baltimore owes much to the trains-Susquehanna trade. This orientation remains until the present. People in Lancaster County root for the Philadelphia Phillies, the Eagles, or the 76ers whereas the folks in York and Adams counties tend to root for the Baltimore Orioles, the Ravens or the Bullets.


7-25-99-          Adams aviator completes daredevil mid-air repair

          Probably one of the most flamboyant of the early Adams county aviators was Paul D. Charles, a 21-year-old "orphan," who flew for the Gettysburg Flying Service, whose field was located on the old Forney Farm near Oak Hill on the Battlefield.

          As note in the June 4, 1928, edition of the Gettysburg Times, Charles was described as "the youngest commercial pilot, wing-walker, stunt flier, and student instructor in the United States… He had been operating (flying) under a special permit from the department of commerce since early last summer and has been flying since he was 15 years of age. He was a pupil of his (older) brother, J. Shelly Charles, of Winston-Salem, N.C., winner of third place in the New York-Spokane air derby in 1927."

          In that story, the writer reported on one of the more flamboyant escapades of young Charles.

          On Saturday afternoon, June 2, 1928, Charles and a student pilot named C.C. Moller flew to Thurmont, Md. Their mission: drop flags over the cemetery there during a memorial service for Confederate veterans. Early in their flight, Charles realized it wasn’t going to be a milk run.

          On the flight down, Charles noticed that the "right wheel of his plane was hanging awry." With Moller manning the controls, Charles walked onto the wing to check the damage. Apparently after dropping the flags over Thurmont, they returned to the Gettysburg Flying Service air strip. Charles signaled his ground crew and dropped a message. Charles wanted to attempt a mid-air repair.

          Gathering a length of rope and wire as specified by Charles in his note, an associate pilot of the Flying Service, Captain J.H. McKenny and James Mitinger, a son of the airport manager, took off in a second craft, the newspaper reported. While flying in close formation, "the landing gears of the plane piloted by McKenny at times (came) to within 18 inches of the top wings of Charles’ plane."

          The transfer did not go smoothly. Winds were blowing upwards of 35 miles an hour. The 50 feet of rope was lowered, but became entangled in the rudder of Charles’ plane. "(B)y clever manipulation of his machine, (Charles) extricated the rope and after several more efforts got the rope on board." Once the transfer was completed, Charles walked out on the lower wing…(Charles hung the top part of his body down) and after two hours’ effort lashed the struts holding the (damaged) wheel to the struts on the other side securely enough to permit a landing." After an hour, Charles’ plane was again air-worthy.

          Three months later, in September, Paul Charles piloted Gettysburg’s entry in an air race between New York and Los Angeles. Named the "Gettysburg Bullet," he was forced out of the race near Pittsburgh due to mechanical difficulties and bad weather.

          (Picture caption reads: Paul D. Charles poses with the "Gettysburg Bullet," Adams County’s entry in the New York to Los Angeles Air Derby, in September 1928.)


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Copyright 1999 Adams County Bicentennial Committee